Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Expertise" Among Us - Sharing Our Learning Day

This year we have modeled our pro-d on Google's 20% Time .  Teams of teachers have been meeting regularly to explore and learn.  I have blogged about some of the "discoveries" that our teachers have made in their respective teams.

On April 20th the entire staff will come together to "share in our learning".  Recently the planning team for the day came together and created an agenda for the day.

Take a look at some of the great topics that are being shared and discussed below - proving that you should never underestimate the ability of a group of dedicated professionals to inspire, engage and discover.   

9:00 am           Welcome / Prayer / Overview of the Day 
9:15 am           LITERACY SKILLS across the curriculum (specific teaching strategies)  

10:00 am         Break

10:15 am         Breakout Sessions:  
       TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION (Building Class Websites)
       MOTIVATING STUDENTS (what our student have said)  
       ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING - Update of CISVA team 
 11:00 am         Break
11:15 am         Breakout Sessions
       TECH INTEGRATION (File Sharing, Social Media & other Web 2.0 tools) 
       PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING (What worked, what didn't)
 12:00 pm         Lunch 

1:00 pm           PERSONALIZED LEARNING (Making sense of it)  

1:45 pm           DEBRIEF TIME  

2:45 pm           Appreciation & Feedback 

A huge thank-you to the staff who have worked so hard to make this happen - confirming that autonomy, purpose and mastery are the proper drivers to professional development!

On a side note - if you are in the greater Vancouver area and want to join us for this day of learning - you are welcome.  Let me know via twitter @johnnybevacqua or contact me at St. Pat's and we'll make room for you!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Personalized and Standardized: The Tension

I've doing a lot of thinking and reading lately about the idea of personlized learning.

 I am struggling with a concrete definition and vision for how such a concept can be implemented within schools and within our school system.

The word itself - personalized - tends to throw me off.  For example, is the idea personalized learning congruent with personal learning?  Furthermore, how does personalized learning "look" within a standards based education system (where the curricular learning outcomes are prescribed)?

Powell and Powell,  in a recent Ed Leadership article are clear in their opinion:
A curriculum without learning standards has neither rigor nor credibility.  It virtually ensures confusion and mediocrity. 
As I think about this, I tend to agree.  As a society we have a vested interest in determining what skills and knowledge we want our youth to acquire.

I don't think the "show up and learn what you want" type of "personal learning" is in our collective best interest.

So how does personalization interact effectively within a standardized system?

Curriculum Reform 
I have written about this topic before.  I believe this will be the spark we need to reform our system.  In essence, we need to ask ourselves "what is worth knowing".  Many have written about 21st Century Skills and competencies so I won't belabor the point.

Nonetheless, I believe that we need to adopt a thematic and skills based model of curriculum.  In the Powell and Powell article they talk about "a shift to concepts" in curriculum.  The authors go on to ask a series of questions to determine the value of any chosen concept:

Does the concept have enduring value? Does the concept  reside at the heart of the discipline?  Does the concept require analysis?  Does it have the potential to engage students?

These are great questions.  As we look to update curriculum I think they are questions that should be kept in mind.

Assessment Practices
I believe that sound assessment and grading practices are at the heart of any personalized learning system (not technology).

Assessment practices that identify the individual needs, challenges and strengths of each learner will drive personalized learning (I am essentially talking about formative assessment here).

In the same Powell and Powell article  , the authors definitively state that the "form of assessment can usually be personalized, but the criteria should not be".  They go to write "the criteria we use to evaluate students' achievement should not be differentiated.; we should hold all students to the same high standards."

I have mixed feeling about this statement.  Firstly, not all assessment is the same.  In our effective use of formative assessment we may need to differentiate some of the criteria  for individual learners.  I also think we need to be careful when we talk about "high standards."  Any talk about "high standards" need to be commonly understood and applied - particularly when it comes to the assessment and evaluation of students.   To best achieve this I would suggest the following practices:
  • Outcomes Based Grading - linking grades to learning outcomes in a deliberate and concrete way. I recommend reading this great article from ASCD on standards based grading. In my opinion this is the best way to authentically capture student grades that are consistent and reliable. The students in Mr. Seltzer's class deserve to be graded according to the mandated learning outcomes -consistently applied within a school and/or department.  (A disclaimer: Attaching letter grades and percentages is not the best of way to measure and inspire learning. Nonetheless our current education "system" requires us to do so.)
  • School Wide Grading Protocols - Having clear and common expectations when grading students is something we have implemented at our school. You may want to see our school's grading policy here
  • Collaborative Grading - Teachers coming together to examine, review and grade student work promotes collaboration, common standards, and consistency.
As I navigate the changing landscape of education I am becoming keenly aware of the necessary tensions between personalization and standardization.  It is within this tension that reform needs to occur.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

BE the change....don't just talk about it

Here is a story about Gandhi that resonates with me: 
During 1930′s, a young boy had become obsessed with eating sugar. His mother was very upset with this. But no matter how much she scolded him and tried to break his habit, he continued to satisfy his sweet tooth. Totally frustrated, she decided to take her son to see his idol – Mahatma Gandhi; perhaps her son would listen to him.
She walked miles, for hours under scorching sun to finally reach Gandhi’s ashram. There, she shared with Gandhi her predicament. -
“Bapu, my son eats too much sugar. It is not good for his health. Would you please advise him to stop eating it?”
Gandhi listened to the woman carefully, thought for a while and replied,
“Please come back after two weeks. I will talk to your son.”
The woman looked perplexed and wondered why had he not asked the boy to stop eating sugar right away. She took the boy by the hand and went home.
Two weeks later they revisited Gandhi. Gandhi looked directly at the boy and said,
“Boy, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health.”
The boy nodded and promised he would not continue this habit any longer. The boy’s mother was puzzled. She turned to Gandhi and asked,
“Bapu, Why didn’t you tell him that two weeks ago when I brought him here to see you?”
Gandhi smiled,

“Mother, two weeks ago I was eating a lot of sugar myself.”
As parent and an educator this story is one I carry with me daily. It is not without personal challenge. For example when I tell me children to limit their "screen time", I'm keenly aware that I need to limit my own (this can be really difficult when the Canucks are on television).

So it goes for schools and the adults who work within them.

Schools need to be places of integrity.

Schools, inspired by integrity, align the day to day expectations required of students with day to day expectations required of teachers.

We need to my mindful that the expectations we have for teachers and students are congruent.

Young people are particularly astute at seeing right through hypocrisy

Here are few potential double standards that can occur in schools:

Falling Short of Expectations 
When, as teachers, we are overly punitive with students who fall short of our expectations......we need to be mindful of how we, as teachers expect to be treated when life happens and we can't meet expectations.

Mobile devices
I am noticing more and more adults in schools checking their mobile devices at school.  I do.  How do we treat students who do the same?

Balanced Work Load
Most working adults are very mindful of their workloads. As principal, I am extremely mindful of not "piling on" the work for teachers. How mindful are we of the workload we give our students?

Boring Workshops
As a principal I want my pro-d (learning) to be engaging and relevant to my needs.  Often times, if I'm attending a workshop and that falls short of being relevant or engaging, I might get up and leave.  We need to be mindful of making the learning relevant and engaging for our students.

Students require modeling more that lectures. Students require teachers who have high and realistic expectations but who are also highly empathetic to the human condition.

In my opinion, schools and teachers who value this type of integrity have a greater likelihood of developing safe, nurturing, and engaged learning communities.

As Gandhi says:
Be The Change You Want To See.....