Differentiation Self-Assessment | How are you doing?

Champion blogger Bianca Hewes, someone I reference here often as she is brilliant, prolific, and indefatigably generous, has done it once again with today’s Evidence Based teaching Practices Self-Assessment – Standards Aligned offering. Below is a sample image. If you fancy yourself someone committed to differentiation of instruction, try her self-assessment on for size and see how it fits. If you wonder about this kind of instruction, wonder how you might need to adjust your practice to provide for all your students, or maybe just wonder about all the fuss, I’d encourage you to give it a look as well.

bh_diff

For the California readers of this blog, the Department of Education provides resources on  Multi-Tiered System of Supports that comprise best practices standards for California Educators, and Core Component Number One is Differentiated instruction. Visit the CDE webpage MTSS Core Component 1: Differentiated Instruction for more information.

And a quick reminder to my California Ed Tech colleagues, in the 2012 Education Technology Task Force Recommendations was the strong and clear message that 1:1 student:device ratios were optimal for modern instruction. The Task Force observed that the ready availability of Internet-connected devices was key to the provision of differentiated instruction. See page 9 on the report.

If there was ever a time to make the case for making learning happen for every child in our classrooms, this is it. The plunging cost of devices, the vast ocean of knowledge available to all those connected, and the systems available to deliver it to children of the world make this a sweet time to be an educator!

Advertisements

Data: our reputations – our students – our collective future

testingIn learning environments, particularly schools, where teachers have yet to engage in a conversation about common assessment, that is, participating in a shared instructional environment and reflecting on teaching with colleagues, it is all too common to hear the following statement offered in argument against it:

“It may reflect on me negatively as a teacher if my students do not perform well on a given test.”

This is a true statement.

Like all true statements, though, it deserves some unpacking, and I’ll do that by asking the following questions:

1. If your student doesn’t do well on a test, whose problem is that, really? Is your ability to make a living and function in the culture threatened? In the long run it is clearly to our collective detriment as the social fabric will be weaker, but will next month’s paycheck shrink?

2. Let’s say you can teach circles on a given topic around the teacher in the room across the hall, and your students do better than his/hers on a test as a result. What right do you have to secret mastery in teaching that topic? Do the students in class across the hall have any rights? If it’s a competition (and no doubt teachers become very competitive), who are the actual winners and Hanshin-Awaji_earthquake_1995_Kashiwai-building_001losers?  If you and a friend suffered from the same cancer and your friend’s doctor had the cure, would you feel entitled to the same access to the cure your friend enjoys?

3. Do you have the right to a good reputation just because you show up and have the keys to the room? Does an architect with a cool studio but whose buildings fall down have a right to a good reputation? How about the doctor who judges his own competence based on the bell curve?

4. Do the people who sign your paycheck and the kids whose futures you hold in your hands have the right to expect that some evidence exists, somewhere, indicating you know what you’re doing?

5. Should each student expect you to figure out how best to educate them, or should every 15-year-old already know the best way to learn whatever you choose to offer up? (I said 15 because my own 15-yr-old just left the room).


Staff_meetingSo the above is all very negative, but do grant that the phrase in question has the word “negatively” actually in it.

What teachers discover when the competition no longer makes any sense, when they start to share the best practices available to get the job done for students, that they begin to grow again, and that teaching returns to the joyful, vital, hopeful profession they thought they entered in the first place.

Teachers, students, the world, deserve no less.

Are you worried about Minecraft?

Minecraft has grabbed the attention of parents and educators alike due to its phenomenal appeal to kids, and now it’s international news in this BBC story today. One of my favorite bloggers, Bianca Hewes, has even suffered through battles as her own son has worked to educate the world on the awesomeness of Minecraft as an educational tool. In fact, Minecraft, now owned by Microsoft (never the slouch in identifying a great opportunity) is marketing itself as a teacher’s secret weapon.

With ten-year-olds making YouTube channels for sharing their creations, setting up home servers to make it all go, and building virtual Lego worlds with their friends, if you haven’t paid attention to this growing world before now, I suspect it’s time to start. I’m rather looking forward to having a little time to spare to get into it myself. I’m told it wasn’t created exclusively for kids. Heh heh.

minecraft

SAMR in 120 Seconds

I am a home coffee roaster. After my first batch of roasted coffee (granted, it was delicious) I thought I was pretty good at it, until I realized I really didn’t know anything about what I was doing. More roasts, sharing with friends, some failures, some sharing of failures with friends (sorry!), and I realized there was far, far more to know and learn. Life is like this, in every endeavor and adventure worth seeking.

And so it is with teaching and technology:

People who have wallowed in education technology for awhile will recognize themselves in this nicely designed video on tech evolution in teaching practice. I’ve always seen Interactive whiteboards as giant play spaces for teachers moving through these stages, and these folks have described those stages of development nicely.

Here’s the blog post that first led me to this video in the first place, and shame on me if I don’t pass it on.

How do teachers think about the Achievement Gap?

educational inequality balanceThis title wrecked my morning, specifically around selecting the first word. There is no question teachers think about the Achievement Gap. I have not met a single teacher who has not given the entire issue a great deal of thought, so the question requires some form of relative pronoun, hence the use of “How?”

This is not a post about grammar, but about beliefs. I think.

This question is a genuine one, and I’m hoping for serious help in addressing it. I know a lot of teachers, and to a person they are admirable professionals who seem to be in our business for the right reasons. My confusion stems from the very different contexts in which they do their teaching, particularly in two districts I can’t help but contrast. I know teachers working in a district that has managed to close its achievement gap putting them among the top ten in California according to Ed Trust West, and doing this with a diverse student and parent population of varied ethnicities, broadly distributed parent education levels, and significant socioeconomic challenges. Simultaneously I know teachers working in a district which occupies the absolute basement of their regional achievement gap stats, within a much more privileged demographic community. None of these teachers, from both districts, actually talk much about it, and they are all professional people of good will.

The districts I’m contrasting have obviously addressed their respective achievement gaps differently, making very different program choices, and I am neither naïve nor ignorant as to how they operate on a system level leading to this outcome. It is also clear that instructional practices in the two districts are quite different, so there is a clear cause and effect thing happening. None of these strategies are terribly mysterious, having been well-described in publications such as this one that was released a full five years ago.

As tempting as it is to speculate about teachers’ internal processes, I will continue to scratch my head. This is clearly more complicated than mere denial or delusion. If a teacher winds up working in either of these districts, how does he or she process either reality? I think of sitting in a restaurant, having ordered a house salad because the guy at the next table did that and it sounded good. His salad comes out magnificent, gourmet greens garnished with fresh peppers, capers and sprouts, sliced parmesan and the best balsamic, and he’s offered fresh, aromatic ground pepper. The salad set before me is a quarter head of iceberg with a dob of mayo, no pepper. Do I notice? Am I curious about why this disparity exists? Do I wonder if my business is valued, or whether my neighbor has connections? How does my neighbor process this disparity?

Please help me here, readers. What is happening in the heads and hearts of the great human beings that do this difficult work that allows them to keep smiling in the face of naked inequity? How do you explain the silence?

So teacher, are you just about the technology?

Last week Doug Johnson featured the article 7 Myths About Empathy, and it recalled a powerful memory for me that made its way to a guest post on his blog. I reprint it for  you here, as a courtesy to those of you patiently awaiting a new post.

Doug,

While reading your 7 Myths About Empathy post, I found myself looking for a description of not just what empathy is or isn’t, but also how it actually functions in the course of instruction. Then I wondered, “Why am I looking for that?”  As I read I remembered I had been provided with exactly that insight in the middle of my teaching career.

The path to understanding this many years ago was my biochemistry professor’s manner of delivering excruciatingly complex material; at least it was that for me. I was an adult learner, early forties, taking some career-necessary coursework at UC Davis. I was drowning, and apparently I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and was seriously considering dropping the class. I remember the moment… at one point, the professor put down his dry erase pen after filling half the board with yet another enzyme reaction series. He turned toward the class, and with deep compassion in his eyes he proceeded to talk to us about knowing how difficult his was for us, how our brains needed time to unravel it on its own, and to not worry that we didn’t comprehend the complexity right at that moment. He then, as he had occasionally before, talked about the nearly miraculous nature of what it was we were trying to understand, that it was the essence of life itself, a complex process shared by virtually every living thing on the planet. He advised us to just take it in, relax, return to it often, and give our brains time to quietly sort it out.

That moment was a huge gift. Not only was he right about our brains and we how we come to understand complicated things, he used it as a teaching moment to share his love for the subject matter, and his compassion for us. He completely drew us into his discipline and communicated to us that both we and the content mattered, and the effect on us was quite amazing. I aced the damn class. My study partner (a second-career older adult) and I earned the two highest grades out of fifty or so in the class, but even our  desperate-looking whippersnapper classmates did quite well.

I’ve had other experiences like this, with inspiring professors and teachers, but this particular one informed my own practice as a teacher because of his precisely directed, caring advice. I came to understand that the empathy relationship was bi-directional in a classroom, and that the deeper that relationship became the more powerful and permanent the learning. I became a much better teacher, and had much more fun. Teaching this way was personally more challenging, more emotionally risky, but I look back on my teaching days as having been very successful thanks to that understanding.

For me, this is the heart of why the teacher cannot be removed from the learning of complex subject matter. Learning a “discipline” happens when the learning setting is informed by a discipleship of following and seeking rather than 19th century discipline for punishment and order (The flogging will stop when morale improves.) Learning is often hard, at every age and level of development, and we can only be drawn to it as willing participants, not driven by compulsory anything.

The glorious admission of bad teaching

Elsewhere on this blog I have admitted my fandom of Bianca Hewes, prolific PBL blogger and English teacher in SW Australia.

Yesterday, though, she outdid her usual literate self by describing her despair over having approached her job badly, deluding herself into thinking she was doing stellar work when in retrospect she evaluated her performance as just mediocre. Clearly Bianca brings great gifts to her students on her worst days, but this blog post goes significantly beyond her usual descriptions of best practices and explores how a teacher perceives his/her own practice.

What is the most professional and productive response to one’s realization that the experience you just required 30 or more young people to have was a first-class waste of time? We all recognize there are a number of choices, but which one leads to change so that we avoid repeating our own mediocrity?  Here are a few I recall from my own teaching days:

  • I blame the curriculum. “If this stuff were just more interesting it would engage the students more. I’m doing my best with the drudge I’m given to teach.” I taught science, so no excuse there.
  • I blame the kids. “If they could perceive the importance of this material, if they were mature enough, if their hormones would cooperate, if they knew how much I cared, if they’d had their breakfast, if they had learned what they should have last year (with that other teacher, of course).”
  • I blame the technology. OK, I concede this one. Current education funding and the limits on instructional material spending create technology nightmares. How does a teacher use Edmodo instructionally when the lab is antiquated, there are no devices in kids’ hands, ad nauseum. On the other hand, was it my failure to plan for inevitable tech challenges? Was I realistic and informed?
  • I blame myself. “I suck.” From here one can take a few different paths. Because the bell does ring and the road leads away from campus, it is tempting to leave one’s failure at school and spend free time investigating retirement options or investing in the hobby. Another path involves adding new tools to one’s repertoire, new arrows to the quiver, then energizing and blazing a new personal path to making it right for students.

When failure visits, whether due to habit or the day’s circumstance, “I suck” can represent an opportunity to change tools, to pull a different arrow and shoot at a new target.  Bianca’s post is a glittering example of a remorseful, healthy professional taking a fresh look after letting failure go public and stinky.

[Addendum: True to form and as predicted, Bianca self-diagnosed today and pulled a fresh arrow from her quiver, describing it in today’s post.]