If you are wondering about #OSSEMOOC, here is the story of how we are working to connect leaders, and helping Ontario learners, to thrive in the complexities of teaching and learning in today’s rapidly changing world.
What an exciting day!
Educators gave up Saturday to meet in a school and learn together, and shared the learning online for all who wanted to join in the conversation. It’s powerful stuff, and as we all reflect on how best to meet the needs of all learners in the system, these success stories move our thinking forward.
What did I learn? Lots! Here is part 1: the morning…
First, Mark and I learned lots about technology. Mark has been playing with combinations of video and livestreaming, figuring out how he can be a catalyst to spread this f2f learning around the province and indeed the world. As we know, the one doing the work is doing the learning, and Mark did most of the tech learning, but I still needed to figure out how to best follow the day on my end.
There is other learning that is easily overlooked. Just seeing the board showing the sessions helps me to understand what people want to learn about.
As I watched the LiveStream for the first session, I heard someone talk about the immensity of the difficulty to effect change at the system level. Where do you start? How can you be effective?
Mark and I texted about this thinking and we believe this would be a great #OSSEMOOC question. It’s also a terrific topic for a blog post – something to reflect on current thinking, then build as I learn more and as my thinking evolves.
And here is a key point – *access*.
Access is vital. Fullan, in “A Rich Seam“, often cites internet access as the critical piece in moving to “excellence”. WRDSB obviously understands this.
I was able to listen to/watch much of the Digital Citizenship discussion and these are my key learnings:
- Students have capacity. Student voice must be central in our work on digital citizenship.
- The concept of digital citizenship continues to evolve and change. It is not static. We need to keep up.
- So much of our work in #digcit is reactive. Let’s make it proactive and positive (including modelling) instead.
- How do we support/create digital leaders in our schools?
- Where do we start on all of this at the system level?
(Incidentally, I curate #digitalcitizenship resources as part of our ongoing OSAPAC work on creating a valuable #digcit resource for Ontario teachers.)
Last week, Jan Wong, currently an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communications at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, wrote an article for the Chronicle Herald outlining her concern about her Journalism students cheating on quizzes.
The sentences from her post that most resonated with me are below.
It should be no surprise at all that some students at a university are “conditioned to work for marks and only marks”.
The only criterion for acceptance to the university is “high marks”.
When universities filter applicants based on marks, so that only students with really great marks can enter the institution, the students who arrive and attend class there will include those who have learned to play a game very well, and who will continue to play that game when they arrive.
Any senior high school teacher can attest to the fact that learning is not the priority for many grade 11 and 12 students. The priority is getting the highest two-digit number possible through whatever means are necessary so that he/she can get access to a university program.
The ramifications of this selection process are numerous, and often do not relate to learning at all. Some are, in fact, very negative.
- Parents may bully the teachers who don’t give the needed or expected grades.
- Students may select courses based on who they know will give them the marks they want.
- Parents will track down a Principal in the summer and demand that their child’s marks be changed.
- Students tell teachers that the mark they have received for their assignment is “unacceptable” and that they will need something higher.
- “Cheating” is rampant on tests, exams and assignments.
- Students learn to seek out exams from previous years, tests and student notes from previous years.
- They learn how best to get as many marks as possible on every test and exam.
- They will do almost anything for “bonus marks”, and they learn to manipulate a teacher to offer those “bonus marks”.
Students and parents figure out how to play the game.
Alfie Kohn has been writing about the problem with grades for many years. One of his best articles is “From Degrading to De-Grading” (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm), where he explores, among other things, the observations that grades reduce a student’s preference for challenging tasks, the quality of their thinking, and their interest in learning.
The lack of interest in learning by students who have been told that marks are what matters is well-documented, as in the observation below from Janice Fiamengo:
Those who do well are called “good students”. Some schools give out awards to students with the highest marks, encouraging competition instead of collaborative learning, and reinforcing that marks are what is really important at that school.
While there is a large and growing movement to put learning at the centre of the what school is about, as long as that final mark is the only requirement for university entrance, marks will remain the focus.
And universities will get what they have selected for. When students don’t get the marks they want at university, they will react exactly as they have learned to react.
Once again, Janice Fiamengo:
Fortunately, even the straight-A students are questioning their school experience and why “marks” are seen as so important. Afraj Gill from “An A+ Student Regrets His Grades“:
Learning to manipulate teachers to get good grades becomes an art form in itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8s13_yOLeE
We need to deeply question a system with these values. Is this the best way to graduate innovators and entrepreneurs?
I believe that we are rethinking what schools are for, how to nurture natural curiosity, and how to use focused innovation in our teaching in the K-12 sector. I also see evidence that some post-secondary schools are beginning to understand that marks are not the best predictor of learning.
But as long as marks are the sole filter for entrance to university, we will be challenged to put learning, not grades, at the centre of what schools are for.
*Add-On -> A favourite post from @KarlFisch: http://thefischbowl.blogspot.ca/2013/10/your-gda-is-more-important-than-your-gpa.html
This video is everything I believe about education.
If you do nothing else today to further your professional learning, take 13 minutes and watch this video.
Our kids need you to do it.
Last night during the Learning 2030 rebroadcast, one of the tweets that came across my screen was a statement that said, “Technology does not replace good pedagogy”.
I see this quote quite frequently in my work, and I worry about it a bit.
I worry because in the same way that “good” standardized test scores can be used to keep technology out of classrooms, I think that this quote can be used by educators to justify avoiding change.
Let me explain…
It might surprise people to realize that there are classrooms, and in fact entire schools, where technology is not being used in learning.
How to help those teachers, schools and school boards embrace technology-enhanced learning is the topic of much discussion and much interest.
I have said many times, that I don’t believe in 2014, that our kids can possibly go to school and not have access to technology. I won’t go into the arguments why right here – that is another blog post – but technology needs to be there.
When a teacher who is not using technology in his or her class sees this quote, they can use it to justify what they are doing.
“Oh yes, I am a great teacher, so I don’t need technology in my classroom.”
It’s the same as seeing entire schools misuse standardized test scores to justify avoiding change. “We have great test scores so we are doing everything right, we don’t need to change.”
Quotes like this are dangerous.
I would ask the question, “In 2014, can good pedagogy exist without technology?”
I would also ask the question, “Does technology replace poor pedagogy?”
I think we need to be very careful about our choice of words.
When we look at the SAMR model, we see that technology-enhanced learning can be so much more enriching.
If we are not allowing our learners to connect and build learning networks, what exactly is our excuse?
As we celebrate the first anniversary of #etMOOC*, I am overwhelmed with the stories of growth and sharing and learning.
* For those who hear about how MOOCs are a trend, a fad, a failure or a passing phase, here is the kind of MOOC I am referring to:
#etMOOC connected people.
It wasn’t about content. It wasn’t about assignments. It was about experiencing the world of people out there who care about learners, who advocate for change, who take risks, who share their learning every single day.
It was about creating together, playing together, learning together.
I am fascinated by how the experience blurred our professional and personal lives.
We didn’t draw a line between the two.
We allowed, and continue to allow, our best traits, our life experiences, our travels and our learning to inform our time together, be it online or f2f.
We learn together whether we are “on the clock” or “on the road”.
We model what learning can be: self-directed, shared, always available. Supported, stretched, generous and courageous.
#etMOOC brought out the best in us. #etMOOC brings out the best in us.
Happy #etMOOC anniversary. Keep learning and sharing.
The revelation earlier this week that Canadian Cycling hero Ryder Hesjedal had been a doper and a cheater came as no surprise to those of us who have spent good chunks of our lives involved in the world of elite cycling. Road racers claim the culture of doping gives them no choice but to cross the line into dishonesty to survive in their sport. Clean cyclists are robbed of their funding and their ability to make a living when cheaters hog the podium, and some of the best athelete role models never get to compete for their country.
Cheaters also “hog the podium” in school.
In a culture of learning, there should not be a “podium”, but we all know that there is. It’s called “Recognizing Excellence” or “Academic Awards”, or some other such thing that allows us to celebrate the “winners” of the competition called school.
Ryder Hesjedal chose to race on a bicycle and he chose to cheat to win. Jesse Jakomait continues to choose to race on a bicycle and chose NOT to cheat to become an Olympian. Choosing to compete can be healthy and fun and push you to stretch your personal limits if it works for you, but it is a choice.
But children do not choose to come to school. They have to.
They come to school to learn, not to compete for marks. We know that learning works best in an environment of collaboration. Competition for the highest mark, and practices like bell-curving, work against collaboration, and against best learning.
We know that feedback from teachers is a powerful way to move learning forward, and we know that when that feedback is accompanied by a number, a grade, students look at the grade and ignore the feedback.
This recent article/interview on CBC Radio Day 6 outlines the problem of awards and extrinsic awards for learning:
“[But] you don’t just get rid of awards assemblies because they make the kids that don’t get rewards feel bad. You get rid of awards assemblies because they’re not useful for any kids. Everyone loses in a race to win.”
Changing the rules of the game is hardest for those who are winning at the game, as demonstrated by the interviews of “furious parents” at the beginning of the audio interview.
And when learning is a competition, just like elite cyclists, students cheat.
As a Principal, I spent more than a few hours dealing with students who “cheated” on tests, exams and assignments.
But why do kids feel they need to cheat? If kids are supposed to be learning in school, how does cheating enter the picture?
It comes down to how performance differs from learning. Comparing yourself with others, fighting for the highest mark, competing for a spot in a university program or trying to meet parent demands for high marks sets students up to find the easy way out, which can be cheating.
This math major says it well. Math is hard, but you can do it. “Stop comparing yourself to that other student!”
Schools need to be a place where children and young adults feel valued, are encouraged to reach their full potential, and learn to work with others to achieve excellence. There is no room for the message that winning is the only thing we value.
Save that for the cyclists.
Note: Thanks to Louise Robitaille (@Robitaille2011) for sharing this thoughtful post by @terryainge: https://deltalearns.ca/terryainge/2013/10/28/understanding-assessment-how-i-fell-out-of-love-with-the-grading-program/
Please also see this collection by Chris Wejr (@chriswejr): http://chriswejr.com/thoughts-on-awards-ceremonies/
Below are my notes (with personal annotations) from his presentation.
What are our beliefs as educators?
Photomatt28 via Compfight cc
We have beliefs around what classrooms should look like and what should happen in schools. Parents have beliefs around what they expect for their children. There is a shared experience of what school is, and the ‘one size fits all’ approach is essentially the universal past experience for adults.
These beliefs have a stronghold on our vision for schools.
We KNOW that the current approach and structure are not adequate. But shifting our beliefs to align with what we know is very challenging and tough work. Changing the ‘rules of the game’ is most threatening to those currently winning at the game (just try to remove competition from classrooms and awards ceremonies for ‘top students’).
If we are going to shift, we need to support teachers. They need to learn to use technology meaningfully to engage students and enhance instruction. They need training in 21C skills, or should we call them 22C skills now that we are almost 15 years into the 21C? There can be no easy outs. We have to do the work and stop making excuses.
Teachers need to deeply know their students. They need to understand their passions, strengths, and especially their needs. Teachers need an inquiry stance that asks what they can learn from their students. It takes a genuine process of integrating student voice into school planning. How will we authentically know, engage, serve and learn from students? What has to change to really do this?Kerri Lee Smith via Compfight cc
A student-centered approach to teaching and learning is only possible where the culture of the entire system is supportive. What does this look like? Focusing at the student level means that classroom decisions are key, learning must be personalized, and teachers need exist in an environment that allows them to do the work. Classroom work must “bubble-up” and inform work at the system level to support teachers in determining and responding to the greatest needs of their students.
If we want a culture at all levels that encourages continuous improvement (and we really need to think about that because it means constant change), then the culture needs to promote and embrace risk-taking. Educators are a vulnerable group because they have been seen traditionally as those with the knowledge. Teachers need to understand that they don’t have to (and can’t) know everything. They need to feel safe learning how we expect students to learn, taking risks, receiving feedback, and growing within that supportive structure.
Does your system work like this?
Teachers care. They are maxed out on dedication and time they put into their profession.
We need to work differently, to think differently about the type of instruction, the learning conditions, and support teachers in the learning process.
“The only way to provide what our students need, is to collaborate together to learn from one another, to take risks, ask questions, experiment and respond to what our students are saying, creating and doing. Support each other to be brilliant.”
“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek suggests that great leadership begins with asking the question, “Why do we do this?” as a focal point for our actions. Understanding our purpose, our philosophy, is fundamental for educational leaders. I have written about the importance of this in the past (You Need to Know What You Stand For), and Shelley Wright explains it beautifully in her blog.
Organizations, too, have learned the value in examining their purpose and collaborating to document group beliefs. Over the past year, SGDSB in northwestern Ontario engaged stakeholders in examining their purpose, and writing a new Strategic Plan.
But just knowing the “why” is not enough to succeed in creating the learning opportunities we want for our students. Once the “why” is established, how do we continue to move the school system forward?
Shelley Wright asks this question in a recent blog post:
As individuals, it can be very difficult to try to change our practice in a group setting that is not supportive. I do agree with Shelley that sometimes fear keeps us from teaching how we know we need to teach. The number of comments on my post on “When the Principal Is a Bully” tells me that this is an issue that affects teachers all over the world.
But there is more.
Sometimes the personal answer to “Why?” does not align with the organizational answer.
Not everyone works in public education for the “right” reasons – the “why” that results in the best learning opportunities for our youth. This isn’t referring only to teachers. Administrators can choose that path for personal gain, status, financial reward or other reasons that are not best for students.
And how do we tackle that?
We can start with who we invite into the organization in the first place.
Let’s go back to Simon Sinek for a moment.
“But if you don’t know why you do what you do, how will you ever get anyone to … be loyal, and want to be a part of what it is that you do?”
Do your education leaders know why they do what they do?
“The goal is not hire people who just need a job. The goal is to hire people who believe what you believe.”
“If you hire people because they need a job, they will work for your money. If you hire people who believe what you believe, they will work for you for blood, and sweat and tears.”
Who we hire to work with our children and to lead our schools is a critical decision that cannot be taken lightly.
We should never settle for someone who will not provide the learning environment in the classroom or the leadership and support in the organization that we know would make our school system the best for our kids.
Whenever someone is presenting on the value of Twitter for teachers and educators, and there is a shout out for “tell us who you are and why you love Twitter for education”, there is always a flurry of people talking about how they love twitter for connecting with other educators, for conversation and for sharing ideas. But how often is that really happening?
The most valuable moment in my growth as a twitter user came several years ago when I posted a math resource. Ira Socal (@irasocal) replied that he didn’t think I was the kind of educator who used resources like that. It caught me completely by surprise. I had not critically judged the resource I shared. It was being used at my school. A teacher had recommended it. I tweeted it. But I had no idea if it was effective.
How often do we share without thinking? How often to we quickly scan something and share? There is so much information out there. How often do we take the time to read, think, reflect, and ask questions of our PLN? How often do we engage our PLN in critical thinking, or in conversations that challenge our beliefs?
Stephen Katz talks about the importance of not trying to cover a “mile”, but to pick the right “inch” and then dig in deep.
There is nothing wrong with sharing. I hope that what I put out there is useful, that it provokes thought and helps kids. But it is worth taking the time to really read something carefully, to reflect on what is being said, and to challenge the thinking of others.
So how do we start digging deeper into what we are learning from our colleagues on Twitter?
Think about taking part in a chat. Everything you need to know to take part in a Twitter chat can be found here: Cybrary Man’s Educational Chats on Twitter. If you want to see samples of chat discussions, check out the #edchat archives here.
Or, just read something that is posted. Blog about it. Ask questions about it. Think more deeply about it. Who would use this? Do you agree with it? Does it align with the Strategic Plan where you work? Do you have experiences to add to it? Can you refer to it in a discussion on another topic?
There are real people with great brains behind those Twitter handles. Let’s make sure Twitter is more than an “echo chamber” and instead, a place where we can challenge each other to think critically about our practice.