Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shifts in School

Thought partner, Tom Vander Ark at Singapore American School.

I had the privilege of listening to Tom Vander Ark (@tvanderark) address members of the Leadership Cohort at Singapore American School yesterday and of listening to him talk to a smaller group of leaders this morning. Futuristic and energized, Vander Ark spoke about our rapidly changing world. He posited shifts we need to make in education and framed everything with awe. Indeed,  as he said, "It is an incredible time to be an educator."

Vander Ark referred to several shifts that will be as world-changing as the shift from print to digital has been. He framed this part of his talk with us using these big questions: What does it take to be a capable human being? What are the most important capabilities? The shifts we will see in education are look to answer those questions. Vander Ark's three shifts include:

1. Moving toward measuring, marking and communicating the broader aims of education. These aims at Singapore American School are called Desired Student Learning Outcomes (DSLOs). Other schools on the planet call them dispositions or character traits. Our DSLOs include creativty, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, cultural competence, and content knowledge.

As a system, we will need to expand our reporting dashboards so that a learner's profile captures more than just content knowledge or criterion-referenced data.

2.  A move toward more active learning where learners co-construct experiences and have agency over what, how and when skills and content are learned. Imagine project-based learning schools. Good work, as he said, is being done right now on this front around the world.

3. A move from awarding credit based on time (seat time) to credit based on competency.

Really, sit silently with these shifts for a moment. They are huge. They are complex.  What will it take? How will we get there? We've not yet created the systems or tools that would make such a leap forward entirely possible yet.

What is most important? What is most important at work? What is most important at home? What is most important in relationships? What is most important in civic life?  These are the types of questions that will guide learners and leaders of learning in the future.

It's likely that the ability to tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor is not most important --but it is a content knowledge I've taught in English language arts classes. It has been important to me at some level as I make meaning in the world.

Content, from all of the academic disciplines, is important, but I am continually reminded that content is the context in which we learn. We learn to empathize through literature in English language arts. We learn to collaborate by conducting investigations with others in science class. We learn to think critically when we study history (and math, and science and English and everything, really). Content is the context for the learning we must do to become capable human beings.

I am sure I will be thinking about all that Tom Vander Ark shared with us for quite some time. Don't miss his work on current trends we educators need to pay attention to now on Getting Smart.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Math-tastic Practices

Holy cow, today was a math-tastic day. Here are five reasons why (and you know they are serious reasons because I'm counting down from ten):

5. Monday began with coffee and breakfast in a middle school math teacher's room: egg-salad sandwiches, fresh fruit, crispy bacon, coffee, tea--a literal buffet of healthy breakfast items set up by one of the kind people from our school's cafeteria and catering group.  Food is not the most important thing, but it sure is a kindness. I did not have to stop along the way to school to purchase snacks for teachers. I did not have to bake items to contribute to the buffet.  We are well cared for here at Singapore American School.  I do not want to take that for granted.

4.  We practiced five practices for math discussion from Smith and Stein's 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussion, 2nd EditionEven though the teacher-coaches at my table processed the answers to the questions we were working verbally, so I didn't have to do the math... I enjoyed a teaching ah-ha moment.

3.  I can adapt and connect the math practices to what I would do in an English language arts class with writers.

Imagine this:
Our goal is to generate toipcs for writing an informational piece. Imagine setting students up for a writing problem or challenge-- you might frame it around recent readings or personal learning about topics of interest. Students get right to talking and writing (on a shared document or on white boards or on chart paper or in notebooks--that how is not as important as the thinking they are demonstrating).   Imagine monitoring how small groups of students used strategies to address the writing challenge. As groups worked on that task I could walk the room, listen in and take note of strategies students were using to meet the challenge. Some students may generate ideas in a list, some may make and reject suggestions, some may use questions from earlier in the unit to guide topic selection, others may talk about a mentor text and connect topics, others may do some sort of mapping (imagine a bubble map or a circle map to borrow language from Thinking Maps). Then, imagine that I want to feature specific strategies in the sharing out. Instead of calling for volunteers, I would make intentional selections so that students could see a range of strategies and hear a range of thinking processes that gets at the challenge. We may even be able to critique each other's strategies and talk about which were most effective for generating ideas. During this sharing process, I would connect what students say to the learning goals for the lesson.

2.  Mind blown. Of course, this isn't really evidence for math-tasticness, but honestly, my mind zoomed to applying the practices in English and in science and across learning contexts. These practices make Yetta Goodman's "kid-watching" more transparent or explicit almost. As a teacher, if I am anecdotally noting which leaners are doing and saying what, then using that data to make instructional decisions on the spot: wow! Powerful practice. For pictures of some of our work and to learn with us, follow Steve Mead and others tagged in his tweet.

1.   Be intentional. Think about where different clusters of learners are and choose a variety of learners to make their thinking visible. Critique and discuss the thinking-- about math, about writing, about book/genres choices.

Simple, right? Maybe I need to start more Mondays with math.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

PLCs Reflections

The table I am sitting at is made up of moveable pieces: one rectangle and two half-moons. The half-moon pieces are pushed up against the short sides of the rectangle, so the table is a long oval. The rectangle table-top has a whiteboard, dry-erase finish whereas the half moons are a beige-y wood-grain laminate. There are seven teachers around the table who teach the same subject at the same grade level.

Here at Singapore American School collaboration is highly valued. PLC groups meet once or twice a week depending on group or division (elementary, middle or high school). Last year, teaching English in the high school, I belonged to three PLC groups: English 9, AP Language and Catalyst (like a senior project for my friends in FL who used to do such things). We met weekly.

This year, I am one of three "teachers on special assignment" working in a gift-funded position on competency-based personalized learning initiatives for the Pre-K thru 12 future. (There is more to the new position, but that is another story.) We've begun by connecting with PLC groups in our respective divisions: elementary, middle and high school.

I love learning in PLC groups. Listening to how teachers facilitate the group's work, address student needs, co-plan... all of it intrigues me. PLCs are complex-- relational and dynamic-- there is more to their work than first impressions would imply. Back to that table, where I'm sitting this morning. I am listening in on a PLC meeting with a group to whom I'm new. It's my third visit.

Today the PLC group is doing a variety of things: checking in around group norms, reviewing a rubric, ordering supplies, planning a goal for the year and reflecting on their PLC.  I am intrigued by the PLC Reflection.

I can see how this tool moves groups forward. It's simple (one page). It invites conversation.

The sequence (noted below the rubric) is sublime. Today, I enjoyed how it invited conversation in the group I'm sitting with--especially when participants differed in terms of levels for specific criteria.
 PLC Reflection

  • Give each PLC participant a copy of the reflection rubric (the entire reflection is linked to the image above) to complete individually without conversation.
  • Share.
  • Pass reflection pages to the PLC leader.
  • Read score levels aloud and/or tally each criterion. 
  • Invite conversation when members score criteria more than one indicator apart.
  • Discuss. 
  • Contribute and commit to PLC reflection level(s).
  • Set goals for future work.