Monthly Archives: January 2014

What Can Scouting Teach Us About Proficiency-Based Learning

Scouting does pretty good work with curriculum.

I think our Customized Learning work (both for kids and the professional learning for educators) shares many characteristics with theirs: learning is customized; individuals progress at their own pace; they progress by demonstrating proficiency; learners have lots of voice and choice simultaneously with clear guidelines and expectations; learning is chunked into modules, instead of large all-encompassing courses; proficiency requires a mix of knowing and doing and applying/creating; responsibility for the teaching & learning is distributed; etc.

Auburn has a Distributed PD System Design project going on right now. They (we) just posted two activities that might help others think about curriculum organization and managing learning in a proficiency-based system:


Is Our Phases of iPad Integration Ready?

(Note: Cross posted to the Distribute PD Project)

Last August, one of our Auburn-and-friends work groups developed a draft Phases of Tech integration.

Draft Phases of iPad Integration

We wanted to think about developing teachers’ skills at leveraging iPads for teaching and learning beyond just googling topics and word processing. Beyond just projecting material. Beyond just thinking about getting good at various tools. Beyond just using apps connected to the curriculum.

We wanted to think about technology as a tool to help us customize learning. We wanted to focus more on pedagogical goals than technological goals. And we wanted to think about where technology could take us that we couldn’t easily go without technology.

So we set up our professional learning continuum, our phases of implementing technology integration, to be similar to our Phases of Implementing Customized Learning, and how such a structure helps support plementation and teachers. (Driver 1)

And we based it on our current thinking about powerful uses of technology for learning. (Driver 2)

And we tried to think about how the SAMR Model might inform our work. (Driver 3)

Now, we don’t believe any of our work is permanent. We know that as we get better at what we do, we’ll figure out how to improve our models. After we use this Phases of Technology document for a while, it will be ready for a revision.

But right now, we’re wondering if our draft is developed enough to be the one we live with for 12-18 months before we revise it again…

So, as you look at our draft,

  • Does the document adequately reflect our three drivers?
  • Does the sequence of the phases seem right? Does the progression make sense?
  • Does each phase seem to have the right elements for demonstrating mastery and moving on to the next phase? Does it adequately outline advancement (recognizing there will be plenty of support documents)?
  • Is anything missing? What should be added?
  • What needs to be edited or revised?
  • How do we make it better before living with it for a while?

We don’t need “perfect.” We’ll learn a lot by living with the model for a while. But we want to kick the tires on this version a little, and insure it is “good enough” to live with for a while.

So, what do you think?


Starting to Design a Distributed PD System

A while back, I described our need for a distributed system of professional development (as part of our comprehensive plan to support professional learning, including: workshops and trainings; coaching and formative feedback; educator lesson invention and tryouts; and opportunities for educators to get together to share successes and trouble shoot challenges).

So, we've put together a work group to start designing. We will focus first on building a system that will support educators learning to better integrate iPads into teaching and learning. Frankly, we could use the same kind of distributed PD system for our Customized Learning work, as well, but we'll work out the bugs on our iPad work first.

We have 1to1 iPads in K-2 and 7-12, and various clusters of iPads in between. Our work group has K-12 representation. But we know others are interested in this work and we often partner with folks from other districts, and several are participating in the workgroup. We love it when others come to play with us!

Distributed PD Website

And, if you're interested, there is an opportunity for you to lurk, or even participate.

We have created a Distributed PD website to help organize our work. We have pages for each key component of the design work and the Updates & Activities is our blog where we'll regularly publish (yes) activities and updates.

So if you want to lurk, check back at the site periodically to see what we've been up to (and I'll occasionally cross post or post updates to this blog, too).

If you want to participate, you can leverage the comments section of any of our posts or pages.

And if you're REALLY interested in rolling up your selves and being part of the work group, shoot me an email.


MLK, Poverty, Schools, and the War Against the Poor

Today is Martin Luther King Day.

As much as we remember Dr. King’s civil rights efforts for African Americans, he was above all else a civil rights activist. A civil rights activist for all. In fact, he was in Memphis at the end, working to improve wages for garbage workers. All garbage workers, not just African American garbage workers. If there was a category of people he worked the hardest for, that category wasn’t a race. It was poverty.

And 5 decades later, the civil rights movement has widened its efforts, most recently working to insure that gay and lesbian people are treated simply as people, with all the rights of people.

But I worry we have forgotten about poverty. Or worse, that we have substituted “the war against the poor” for “the war against poverty.”

We have made poverty a scapegoat. By blaming people of poverty for their own lack of resources, we are seeing a trend toward cutting social services and programs, all while increasing support to government contractors, corporate bailouts, and tax breaks for the rich. In a country many claim to be Christian, I can think of few things less Christian.

Even if the motivation is not greed, but rather simply recognizing that programs for the poor are expensive, I would reply with a corollary to one of my favorite expressions about education, “If you think programs for the economically disadvantaged are expensive, you should try not having them!” What is the impact on society, on the economy, and on employers of not having supports in place?

Did I hear you suggest that the poor need to take responsibility for themselves and for providing for their families (as some of Nicholas Kristof’s readers do in his editorial, “Where is the Love?“)? One of my favorite Dr. King quotes is “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

Dr. King Bootstrap quote

Perhaps nowhere is the war against the poor stronger that in public education. (Or maybe I just notice it more because schools are where I try to do my social justice work.)

We have known – at least since I was in my teacher preparation program in college (and my slate tablet tells me that was a VERY long time ago) – that the strongest correlate to standardized test scores was the socioeconomic status (SES) of the students. Almost no factor came close to SES. Not the curriculum. Not the educational program. Not the qualifications of the teachers. Not time on task. Not attendance rates. Not high expectations. Certainly not the level of threats of punishments and consequences for schools and teachers not raising their test scores. Just SES. Just poverty.

And yet, politicians are cutting funding to education programs that make a difference.

They are cutting early childhood funding to things like Pre-K, and Head Start, despite the evidence that each $1 spent on early childhood education returns $16 later.

They are creating school report card systems designed to “prove” our schools are failing. (Sorry, when you set the report card system up not with criteria for passing or failing, but rather to insure x% are “A” schools and y% are “F” schools – regardless of performance! – then run around proclaiming schools are failing and the school report cards prove it, you have constructed a lie to propagate a lie.) Surprise, surprise! Researchers at the University of Southern Maine found that Maine schools with higher poverty levels have lower student performance, that although poverty doesn’t explain everything, it was the single best predictor of student performance, and that SES was the strongest correlate to school report card grade.

And politicians are using the cry of school failure to shift public dollars to private schools and corporate run “public” charter schools. And where “school choice” makes good rhetoric, it ignores the fact that the poor don’t have the mobility and transportation resources to take advantage of school choice.

And politicians have set up school improvement grants so that a major evaluative component of your proposal is actually showing that your test scores are already on target (I thought the schools with struggling test scores needed the support to improve…?). And if test scores are strongly correlated to poverty, how do schools with the largest populations of low SES students ever get those supports? I guess politicians are only interested in supporting the race for those who are already at the top.

And yet, more than a 150 years ago, this country made a compact with its citizens to educate all the children of all the people.

So if we really want to address achievement and test scores (I mean, if we are serious about doing that and aren’t simply using it as an excuse to shift public dollars to private entities), or even if we simply want our schools to prepare all students to become contributing citizens, then we have to forget about the war on the poor and return to the war on poverty.

Thanks Dr. King. Thinking of you this morning.

The Good and Bad of Extrinsic Motivation: The Series

The issue of extrinsic motivation is a pretty complex one. When the motivation comes from outside the student, driven often by the desire to receive some reward or avoid some sort of punishment (such as grades, stickers, or teacher approval), the student is extrinsically motivated. The use of rewards, prizes, incentives, consequences, and punishments are certainly common practice in schools. And the work people do in the real world is often regulated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. But there is also evidence that a focus on punishments and rewards can be counterproductive to learning. Turns out that here are different kinds of extrinsic motivation and each can either improve learning or shut it down.

These posts explore productive and counterproductive types of extrinsic motivation:


Moving Towards Standards-Based Grading

One aspect of transitioning to Customized Learning is finding systems for tracking and monitoring student learning, as well as, ways to report learning progress, especially to parents. One piece of this is some sort of standards-based grading system.

But moving too quickly to a new system of grading (and report cards) can be problematic. For example, it takes time for parents to be ready for iconic changes like approaches to grading. They might need to see other Customized Learning changes work first (like student pacing, multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery, etc.) before they believe that a new grading system is needed. In fact, we put making structural changes to school one of the last steps of transitioning to Customized Learning.

(Note: a colleague in another district believes that moving early to a new grading system forces important community dialog about the changes toward customizing learning. I think there is much to learn about doing school change work well by following the multiple approaches and how they evolve over time. I may write about how we are approaching school change, but that doesn't mean I believe it is the only effective way to do the work.)

Saving large scale change in grading practices until late in the Customized Learning implementation process that doesn't mean in the meantime teachers shouldn't find ways to move toward standards-based grading practices. There are a couple key intermediate steps that can be pursued:

  • Trying standards-based grading-like practices within the traditional system
  • Looking for models and examples of how others are doing standards-based grading practices
  • Getting feedback from the students on how it is going (to let you know when you are on track, or what course corrections need to be made)

I recently came across Frank Noschese's blog, Action-Reaction. Clearly, he is not only working on standards-based grading in his classroom (among other things), but he is sharing what he is learning via his blog. He may not know it, but he is addressing the three intermediate steps above: