Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Big Idea in Education That May Have Been Wrong All Along

A Big Idea in Education That May Have Been Wrong All Along

"I submit that rather than spending endless weeks in the classroom plugging away at finding the main idea or drawing conclusions with traditional leveled texts, we make a concerted effort to confront the status quo. Exposing children to grade-level complex texts (as called for in Standard 10), employing carefully crafted text-dependent questions, and building students’ knowledge base ought to be the paramount objectives in our classrooms. In the primary grades, this exposure manifests through read alouds of rich texts, thoughtful discussion, and the explicit commitment to developing students’ fluency. In the intermediate grades, this manifests through consistent exposure and scaffolding so students can read complex texts independently at the upper end of each grade band. In both, it manifests through the building of knowledge about the world from high-volume reading." - Steve Figurelli

YES! I've believed that a major issue of international schools' expectations on fluency and learning in general is a lack of "prior knowledge"; which can be sadly argued as meaning "white western" knowledge. The majority of current decision-makers grew up in a time and place in which we had a collective common experience and therefore a core knowledge base that is reflective in our curriculum goals.

As a librarian, I find it amazing to think that our international students would have any idea if an article in "Time" magazine (online or hard copy) is any more or less valid than one from BBC's "Focus" magazine. National Geographic was a gold standard in information gathering - now it's owned by FOX!

As a North American, I grew up with a general knowledge of news source hierarchy. I was also exposed to numeracy through board games and cards played with older siblings and cousins. My mother was nurse and my father a farmer that discussed birth, life, and death at the dinner table. Our farm was an experiential learning environment - 3 cats can turn into 100 cats very quickly and only certain materials make good river rafts.

TV in the 70s and 80s taught us how to "McGyver" anything and how to examine our own values and social issues in "Family Ties" and "All in the Family". Walt Disney's sunday night programming took us to fantastical worlds and investigative journalism wasn't yet dead. And we read a lot! We read to escape our own little lives, we read to understand our own experiences - Are you there God? It's me Margaret. We read to empathize with others in a tough world. We even read encyclopedias and Reader's Digest when we were bored. We GET all the inferences and imagery of the western canon of literature. A West African child reading text that involves a "babbling brook" may not get the poetic device being used to influence the reader.

I still wonder if this canon of knowledge should even be our end goal in international schools if we hope to move towards conceptual learning... "but that's another story" for the poor tortured Hammy the Hamster.

By Steve Figurelli
If you’ve ever experienced an English language arts classroom—especially at the elementary level—I’m certain you can picture this: 3rd grade children are working in small pockets around the classroom. Some are independently reading a “just right book.” Others are seated in a book club engaged in a dialogue around a work of fiction at their level. Still another group is listening to interactive, leveled e-books on devices. And all of this is happening while the teacher is working with a small group of struggling readers to facilitate a guided reading lesson with a level J book. All students are reading—some are engaged in grade-level texts; some are not, as determined by a running record assessment.
But what if for more than two decades, we’ve been doing it all wrong? What if by leveling children—specifically in the elementary classroom—we as educators have been inadvertently setting up students (specifically those “struggling” readers) to perpetually be behind? And, in spite of our best intentions, what if we have actually sustained (or perhaps slightly widened) the achievement gap?
The Common Core State Standards (and life) call for students to negotiate complex texts. How, then, do we reconcile the fact that for the majority of the time students spend in American classrooms, they only interact with texts at their level and are bombarded with lesson after lesson in grade after grade on, for example, author’s purpose? I have often inwardly questioned the allocation of time we spend in classrooms on comprehension skills. I cringe every time I hear a teacher lamenting that students cannot make inferences, draw conclusions, or identify a cause-and-effect relationship. The truth is, they can. In various contexts in their world (video games, art, sports, film/TV, and even about us as adults) students think critically and employ comprehension skills masterfully. They don’t forget how to do it when they pick up a traditional text.
What’s been most overlooked is that knowledge is the largest factor that affects a student’s reading comprehension ability. Strategies alone won’t solve the problem. To catapult our students to future success, we must build and strengthen their knowledge base and, subsequently, their vocabulary. A child doesn’t simply have one level; rather, a child has many levels depending on knowledge and content.
In some of the most profound research that amplifies the critical nature of building knowledge in students, the “Baseball Study”—conducted in 1988 by Recht and Leslie—found that knowledge of a topic has a much greater effect on comprehension than generalized reading ability. The study illustrated that students at lower reading levels but with sufficient prior knowledge of baseball performed similarly to students at higher reading levels. In fact, statistically speaking, the difference in performance was insignificant.
So what are the implications for instruction in our modern classrooms? Students can think critically. Students know how and can utilize comprehension strategies. The research concludes that it all boils down to knowledge. Students may enter our classrooms with a roughly 30 million word gap. We know that inequity exists based on several factors outside of school. We must commit as an educational entity to maximize our time inside the classroom to expose students to increasingly complex texts to help build their knowledge, their vocabulary, and their understanding of the world. It’s our ethical and moral obligation. “We’ve spent so much time accessing students’ background knowledge, that we’ve ignored the necessity to grow this knowledge,” researcher David Liben poignantly stated during a recent presentation at Student Achievement Partner’s Annual Core Advocate Conference, Elevating Instructional Advocacy, in Denver, Colorado. Leveling students—and only exposing low-ability readers to texts that are “on their level”—may actually preclude them from future success.
I submit that rather than spending endless weeks in the classroom plugging away at finding the main idea or drawing conclusions with traditional leveled texts, we make a concerted effort to confront the status quo. Exposing children to grade-level complex texts (as called for in Standard 10), employing carefully crafted text-dependent questions, and building students’ knowledge base ought to be the paramount objectives in our classrooms. In the primary grades, this exposure manifests through read alouds of rich texts, thoughtful discussion, and the explicit commitment to developing students’ fluency. In the intermediate grades, this manifests through consistent exposure and scaffolding so students can read complex texts independently at the upper end of each grade band. In both, it manifests through the building of knowledge about the world from high-volume reading.
We must also give students multiple opportunities to experience various texts on singular topics to build knowledge and vocabulary. Research by Landauer and Dumais illustrates that “students acquire vocabulary up to four times faster when they read a series of related texts.” Texts sets are a means to this end, as they merge various genres, media, and complexities to capitalize on students’ interests while simultaneously exposing children to a wide range of tier two and three vocabularies. Contemplate reorganizing your classroom library into topics, not levels! Encourage high volume reading, not simply to build students’ knowledge of words and the world but to foster a true love of literacy.
I challenge educators to alter their mindsets regarding teaching a mile wide and inch deep—not only in terms standards but in terms of knowledge. Despite our best intentions, research suggests that we may be approaching reading instruction all wrong. Knowledge, not isolated strategies, drives comprehension. Our kids deserve your reconsideration.
Steve Figurelli serves as a supervisor of elementary education with the Public Schools of Edison Township in New Jersey and currently oversees the district’s K–5 science and gifted and talented programs. He is an ASCD Emerging Leader, serves on Remind‘s Teacher Advisory Board, supports instructional advocacy with Student Achievement Partners, co-organizes EdTechNJ, and is a member of the steering committee for the NJ/PA Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) conference. Follow him on Twitter @SteveFigurelli.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

More Universal Design for Learning (UDL) needed in the IB

I just finished reading a summary on the need to employ more UDL in IB schools. One of the main challenges for the DP is the very nature of the limited assessment format... which is under pressure from higher education's limited assessment format.

Here is a great list of digital tools to help bring more UDL into your classrooms.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

How ‘twisted’ early childhood education has become — from a child development expert

Excerpt from Nancy Carlsson-Paige's acceptance speech for the Deborah Meier Award

I have loved my life’s work – teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.
So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.
Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively — they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of 4 are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”
And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.
Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.
But play is disappearing from classrooms. Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”
I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would have to fight for classrooms for young kids that are developmentally appropriate. Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers. Stress levels are up among young kids. Parents and teachers tell me: children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school. Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.
I could not have foreseen in my wildest dreams that we would be up against pressure to test and assess young kids throughout the year often in great excess — often administering multiple tests to children in kindergarten and even pre-K. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

LEARNING TO LEARN Developing critical thinking skills

Here's a good lesson on Critical Thinking strategies from the University of Sydney


Monday, December 28, 2015

Greed, competition, and selfishness - the current DNA of schooling

WARNING; I've been watching too much news.

Greed, competition, and selfishness continue to thrive in schools that use traditional subjects and report cards to value a child's worth. Focusing on the shallow goal of "career ready" skills, "test preparation", the SAT, and university essays on "What I Believe (I should say to get me into your university)" drives me crazy! 

Just do as you are told and you will get through the next gate... take your golden ticket and follow the yellow line to the dollar signs... keep your head down- ignore the Global Warming signs, avoid the extremists and the outbreaks, eat as much poison as you can, and DO NOT FEEL empathy - it is the sure death of any "winner". Good luck competitors.

Ask any educator at the top of their profession and they will mostly agree... none of this makes sense anymore. But what can we do in a system that is the "game of school"? It has little to do with wonder, discovery, determination, joy, independence, play, exploration, and the freedom to be a naturally developing human being. If we move this way - we will have better "career ready" skills, higher test scores, better SATs, and more impressive university essays - if that is the measure. 

Moving away from a content driven subject defined curriculum towards a conceptually based, character driven ecosystem just might change the nature of schooling.

The Common Ground Collaborative hopes to be that change. I hope they are right and I want a ticket!
  • Competency Learning
  • Conceptual Learning
  • Character Learning

Personal Meaning
Learners understand how both personal and social identities are 
constructed. They understand the role that beliefs and values 
have played in shaping human societies, can articulate their own 
beliefs and values and understand where these came from. 
These understandings support them both in developing a sense 
of personal purpose and in respecting the beliefs and values of 

Creative Expression
Learners understand that, while we may not all agree on what is 
beautiful, we all respond to beauty. They understand that 
humans have always expressed their interpretations of the world 
through a rich range of creative media. They understand the 
ways in which the arts can influence societal development by 
challenging commonly held perspectives with creative ideas. 
They recognize that we all have a capacity for creativity. These 
understandings equip them both to develop their own creative 
potential and to appreciate the creative products of other 
individuals and cultures.

Physical Wellbeing
Learners understand the value of physical well-being, of 
remaining fit and healthy throughout life. They understand the 
contribution of a balanced lifestyle, healthy diet and physical 
activity to their overall well-being. They also understand and value 
the range of learning embedded in individual and team sports. 
These understandings help them leave school “fit for life”.

Systems for Problem-Solving & Predicting
Learners understand that by recognizing and describing patterns 
in the world around us, we can both come to understand the 
world better and harness that understanding to predict and 
manage our environment. They are familiar with a broad range of 
systematic ways for describing and modeling the world. These 
understandings equip students to translate their natural wonder 
about how the world works into inquiries that build knowledge 
and understanding.

Sustainable Production and Consumption
Learners understand the central significance of production and 
consumption in shaping human society and the impact of these 
human activities on local and global environments. They 
understand economic systems and how these are interdependent 
with both social systems and the natural world. These 
understandings equip learners to be innovative producers, 
informed consumers and responsible conservers.

Communications Systems
Learners understand how communication systems have shaped 
human interactions. They understand how advances in 
communication, particularly technological ones, have changed 
the way human beings interact, simultaneously enabling certain 
possibilities while sometimes diminishing others. These 
understandings equip learners to be skilled, ethical users and 
consumers of a range of communications media.

Connections to Our Environments
Learners understand how the natural world works. They 
understand the concept of interdependence between and within 
ecosystems. They also understand the ways in which humans 
have manipulated environments and the connection between the 
way a space is constructed and the effects that is likely to have 
on those who live in or use the space. These understandings 
support students in developing a strong sense of their place 
within both the natural and built environment and in coming to 
value the critical importance of nature to human well-being.

Group Membership
Learners understand the human need to be part of a group. They 
understand the forces and influences that shape groups, their 
cultures and their power structures. They are able to put these 
understandings into historical and geographical contexts to 
understand how and why groups are different and the factors 
which are likely to cause conflict within and between groups. 
These understandings equip learners to work towards a world 
with a greater level of social justice and equity

If you build it

Good education starts with an engaging story...but how do we find them?

My focus this year is to make deeper connections to our storybooks in our School Library - instead of typing in a book search for "insects", "fantasy", "homes", or "emotions"... I want teachers to find book lists on concepts of; change, causation, open-mindedness, thinking, reflection, empathy, perspective, collaboration, cycles, conflict, adaptation, flexibility, and interdependence.

I think this way of searching tells us a lot about good education - what type of searcher/categorizor are you?

Are you more comfortable in a concrete, linear, structured world? Do you see your business/school/classroom/family embracing the abstract, organic, creative world that is evolving?

If we want our students to walk away from a story about collaboration, thinking, adaptation, can we then go on to model the opposite in our school systems and personal lives?

Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

Keep your goals to yourself

Learning Environments

Very specific learning targets.
Students are told reasons why content is important - helps to clarify lesson objective.
Relatively easy to measure student gains.
Is a widely accepted instructional method.
Good for teaching specific facts and basic skills.
Can stifle teacher creativity.
Requires well-organized content preparation and good oral communication skills.
Steps must be followed in prescribed order.
May not be effective for higher-order thinking skills, depending on the knowledge base and skill of the teacher.
Content must be organized in advance.
Teacher should have information about student prerequisites for the lesson.
Helps foster mutual responsibility.
Supported by research as an effective technique.
Students learn to be patient, less critical and more compassionate.
Some students don't work well this way.
Loners find it hard to share answers.
Aggressive students try to take over.
Bright students tend to act superior.
Decide what skills or knowledge are to be learned.
Requires some time to prepare students. to learn how to work in groups.
Factual material is presented in a direct, logical manner.
May provide experiences that inspire
- useful for large groups.
Proficient oral skills are necessary.
Audience is often passive.
Learning is difficult to gauge.
Communication is one-way.
Not appropriate for children below grade 4.
There should be a clear introduction and summary.
Effectiveness related to time and scope of content.
Is always audience specific; often includes examples, anecdotes.
Involves students, at least after the lecture.
Students can question, clarify and challenge.

Lecture can be interspersed with discussion.
Time constraints may affect discussion opportunities.
Effectiveness is connected to appropriate questions and discussion; often requires teacher to "shift gears" quickly.
Teacher should be prepared to allow questions during lecture, as appropriate.
Teacher should also anticipate difficult questions and prepare appropriate responses in advance.
Experts present different opinions.
Can provoke better discussion than a one person discussion.
Frequent change of speaker keeps attention from lagging.
Personalities may overshadow content.
Experts are often not effective speakers.
Subject may not be in logical order.

Not appropriate for elementary age students.
Logistics can be troublesome.
Teacher coordinates focus of panel, introduces and summarizes.
Teacher briefs panel.
Listening exercise that allows creative thinking for new ideas.
Encourages full participation because all ideas are equally recorded.
Draws on group's knowledge and experience.
Spirit of cooperation is created.
One idea can spark off other ideas.
Can be unfocused.
Needs to be limited to 5 - 7 minutes.
Students may have difficulty getting away from known reality.
If not managed well, criticism and negative evaluation may occur.

Value to students depends in part on their maturity level.
Teacher selects issue.
Teacher must be ready to intervene when the process is hopelessly bogged down.
Entertaining way of introducing content and raising issues
Usually keeps group's attention
Looks professional
Stimulates discussion
Can raise too many issues to have a focused discussion
Discussion may not have full participation
Most effective when following discussion
Need to obtain and set up equipment
Effective only if teacher prepares for discussion after the presentation
Pools ideas and experiences from group
Effective after a presentation, film or experience that needs to be analyzed
Allows everyone to participate in an active process
Not practical with more that 20 students
A few students can dominate
Some students may not participate
Is time consuming
Can get off the track
Requires careful planning by teacher to guide discussion
Requires question outline
Allows for participation of everyone
Students often more comfortable in small groups
Groups can reach consensus
Needs careful thought as to purpose of group
Groups may get side tracked<
Need to prepare specific tasks or questions for group to answer
Develops analytic and problem solving skills
Allows for exploration of solutions for complex issues
Allows student to apply new knowledge and skills
Students may not see relevance to own situation
Insufficient information can lead to inappropriate results

Not appropriate for elementary level
Case must be clearly defined
Case study must be prepared
Introduces problem situation dramatically
Provides opportunity for students to assume roles of others and thus appreciate another point of view
Allows for exploration of solutions
Provides opportunity to practice skills
Some students may be too self-conscious
Not appropriate for large groups
Some students may feel threatened
Teacher has to define problem situation and roles clearly
Teacher must give very clear instructions
Allows students to think for themselves without being influenced by others
Individual thoughts can then be shared in large group
Can be used only for short period of time
Teacher has to prepare handouts
Personalizes topic
Breaks down audience's stereotypes
May not be a good speaker
Contact speakers and coordinate
Introduce speaker appropriately
Opportunity to explore values and beliefs
Allows students to discuss values in a safe environment
Gives structure to discussion
Students may not be honest about their values.
Students may be too self-conscious.
Students may not be able to articulate their values in an effective way.
Teacher must carefully prepare exercise
Teacher must give clear instructions
Teacher must prepare discussion questions

Did You Know 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015

My NEW favourite Educational Thought Leader