Fluid Learning, A must read

Add this article to your delicious feed, then email it to every leader and teacher you know and you will have accomplished a lot today.

Will tipped me off to this article by Mark Pesce and it captures so much of what is critical and important in understanding what education must do to remain relevant.  You need to read it but I’ll give you a few snippets of what resonated with me.

He discusses RateMyProfessors.com and sums it up this way,

If we are smart enough, we can learn a lesson here and now that we will eventually learn – rather more expensively – if we wait. The lesson is simple: control is over. This is not about control anymore. This is about finding a way to survive and thrive in chaos.

Taking a page right out of Disrupting Class,

The administration has gone, the instructor’s role has evolved, now what happens to the classroom itself? In the context of a larger school facility, it may or may not be relevant. A classroom is clearly relevant if someone is learning engine repair, but perhaps not if learning calculus. The classroom in this fungible future of student administrators and evolved lecturers is any place where learning happens.

He ends with four recommendations. The first is Capture Everything.

I am constantly amazed that we simply do not record almost everything that occurs in public forums as a matter of course. This talk is being recorded for a later podcast – and so it should be. Not because my words are particularly worthy of preservation, but rather because this should now be standard operating procedure for education at all levels, for all subject areas. It simply makes no sense to waste my words – literally, pouring them away – when with very little infrastructure an audio recording can be made, and, with just a bit more infrastructure, a video recording can be made.

The second was has a special place in my heart, Share Everything. (He really meant share(ski) anything, but I’ll let it go)

The center of this argument is simple, though subtle: the more something is shared, the more valuable it becomes. You extend your brand with every resource you share. You extend the knowledge of your institution throughout the Internet. Whatever you have – if it’s good enough – will bring people to your front door, first virtually, then physically.

Recommendation #3 is Open Everything.

Services like Twitter get filtered out because they could potentially be disruptive, cutting students off from the amazing learning potential of social messaging. Facebook and MySpace are seen as time-wasters, rather than tools for organizing busy schedules……All of this has got to stop. The classroom does not exist in isolation, nor can it continue to exist in opposition to the Internet. Filtering, while providing a stopgap, only leaves students painfully aware of how disconnected the classroom is from the real world. Filtering makes the classroom less flexible and less responsive. Filtering is lazy.

Finally, Only Connect.

…for all its drawbacks, connection enriches us enormously. It allows us to multiply our reach, and learn from the best. The challenge of connectivity is nowhere near as daunting as the capabilities it delivers. Yet we know already that everyone will be looking to maintain control and stability, even as everything everywhere becomes progressively reshaped by all this connectivity. We need to let go, we need to trust ourselves enough to recognize that what we have now, though it worked for a while, is no longer fit for the times.

Read the whole thing and then share it.

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Why Michelle Rhee gets its wrong

I’ve been opposed to the use of standardized testing as accountability tools for a long time. Not as passionately and strongly as some but in principle, the use of one time testing to determine the fate of schools and students, isn’t the model of education to which I’d ever subscribe. Fortunately for me, I’ve lived in a province that has resisted them and even today would never acknowledge the use of them the way my southern neighbours and even western neighbours have. But that’s starting to change and I don’t like it.

Without going into the specifics and details of our provincial situation, I’m writing out of passion against articles like this that seem to validate an “improve your test score or perish” mentality. The article features Washington’s chancellor of education, Michelle Rhee and her relentless efforts to improve schools. I admire her passion. I’m not all that impressed with her perspectives.

“The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely,” she tells me one afternoon in her office. Then she raises her chin and does what I come to recognize as her standard imitation of people she doesn’t respect. Sometimes she uses this voice to imitate teachers; other times, politicians or parents. Never students. “People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning,'” she says with a drippy, grating voice, lowering her eyelids halfway. Then she snaps back to herself. “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

Rhee has fired a number of teachers and administrators who haven’t improved test scores. I don’t have a problem with firing teachers. I recognize that it’s very difficult in most jurisdictions to the this but the idea of having the best possible teachers is not arguable. What is arguable is how we find those teachers and how we determine who are best teachers are.

I’ve been in a number of schools of late and seen students whose reading scores are the least of their problems. If you’ve been in schools lately you know what I mean.  15 year olds, living on their own, coming to school high, 1st graders so full of anger they threaten classmates lives and the list goes on. These students do not need to see their reading scores meet or exceed grade level by the end of the year, they need “touch-feely” teachers. By “touchy-feely”, I mean teachers that have time, expertise and passion to help them function as human beings, never mind reading. Reading is priority number 236 in their list of needs.  I spent a few hours watching these at risk students building a canoe from scratch. Students who, for a change, were attending school, interacting politely with adults, finding a purpose. No standardized test in the world could measure this. But the gains made by these students because of “touch-feely” teachers is unquestionable. These teachers deserve a raise.

I’ve also been in schools with students who are so far above reading level and ability that the curriculum and classroom activities are laughable. They sit in their desks and hate it when teachers ask them to consider how they learn or what they want to learn, they just want to be told what to do because they’re good at it and have had years of success playing that game and are upset when a teacher wants to change the rules.m They need opportunity to show their creative side. They need to be teaching others.  They might ace a standardized test and the teacher might be seen as successful. I’m not sure the teachers or students have done anything worthwhile.

These two diverse groups of students are the reason standardized tests and Rhee-like one-size-fits-all education isn’t valuable. Again I applaud the efforts to improve but the hard nose, testing attitudes may demonstrate short term gains and look excellent on a spreadsheet but is it really making a difference for kids? Modern education suffers from the simple problem that we are driven by multiple outcomes and agencies. Ask 10 people what schools are for and you’ll get 10 different answers. Maybe not 10 but at least 3, that while may not be diametrically opposed, but certainly require very different approaches. Teaching someone how to read and write, someone else how to create healthy relationships and someone else how to design a well, require vastly different skills and different measuring tools. Currently the same person is often asked to do the same thing and use the same measuring tool for all three.  All three are equally important and while maybe not mutually exclusive, our schools are not currently structured to blend them.

Disrupting Class outlines the future and possibility of customized learning. It involves assessing students as individuals and designing customized learning for every student. Individualized instruction has been talked about for a while but today’s technology is making it more of a reality. Again, this is not just about technology but it is about reforming educations and schools to meet the needs of students, not arbitrary tests on reading and math as if those are the two most important things in the world.   Many have seen the Ken Robinson video and this quote says a lot:

But something strikes you when you move to America and when you travel around the world: every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one, doesn’t matter where you go, you’d think it would be otherwise but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on earth.

And in pretty much every system too, there’s a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? I think this is rather important. I think maths is very important but so is dance.

Is there anyone that disagrees with this? And in today’s world, I’d add character.

So if those like Michelle Rhee had a little broader understanding of education and want to improve schools, I’d be all over it.

  • Find the best teachers. These are teacher that in addition to experts in pedagogy and content, understand how to design customized learning and have the resources to find out who is best able to help every student.  Fire those that can’t or won’t figure this out. Good teachers don’t need accountability because they feel responsibility and would welcome an
  • Customize learning. Stop the assumption that reading and writing and math are the most important things everyone needs to learn.  Anyone who suggests reading is more important than art scares me.
  • Measure learning. Not with a ridiculously one time test but with a variety of assessments, over time, that actually measure what each student NEEDS to learn.

As it stands right now, I’m not sure Washington is any further ahead with leadership like this. Is it better than doing nothing? Maybe, but we can do better and from what I see in schools, we need to do better.

Geography Shouldn’t Matter

As I dig deeper into Disrupting Class, I’m finding more ideas resonating. This one in particular speaks to the dominant categorization of schools…geography. We place students together mostly because of where they live, not what type of learner they are. This is convenient and cost effective. The same is true for Professional Development. What the web enables is customized, personalized learning.

Christensen talks about the tool of separation, that is the ability to break away from the norm and create new and innovative structures. Charter schools are an example of this. Not that they totally get it right but the challenge facing public education remains the battle of what is and isn’t the right way to reform. This battle, unfortunately, will rage on and likely never resolve itself. What we need are pockets of separation that identify specific niches in learning and truly move to a more individualized approach. Schools that do not feel the constraints of their organizations and the pull they have on meeting rigid, one-size-fits-all-standards.

Disrupting Professional Development

The beauty of the K12 online conference is that you don’t need to panic that you haven’t been able to keep up. It doesn’t matter. The presentations are all there waiting for you. While online learning implies an anywhere, anytime approach, there is great value in sharing the experience face to face. Duh.

So on Tuesday I invited a few folks together to watch some presentations, talk about them and share our own experiences. It was good. There were people there for whom they had never heard of many of the ideas and really needed to wrap their heads around the implications for teaching and learning. For those without a network to support them, this is invaluable. Even if one person can come away with a plan or at least a connection, I’m pleased.

And here’s the other thing. Traditionally we send a teacher to a local conference, pay sub costs, registration fees, mileage, meals and maybe accommodation. You can conservatively estimate a cost of about $500 a day.  I brought it supper at about $10 a person and I would say we had an experience, equal if not better than a day at your typical conference. I’m in the midst of reading Disrupting Class and Scott McLeod’s presentation deals with some of the ideas in this book. This is really an example of disruptive professional development.

I’d encourage you to plan your own local events. Use the essential questions at the bottom of each presentation to guide you. If you have something in the works or just want to flesh out the ideas some more, leave a comment.

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