2014 on It’s About Learning

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 27,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Ban the average. Design to the edges. Nurture talent.

Most days, at some point in the day, I am prompted to think about a Sir Ken Robinson quote that goes basically like this:

School should concentrate on identifying “How are you smart?” instead of concentrating on “How smart are you?”

This morning, as I watched Todd Rose’s TEDxSonomaCounty talk “The Myth of Average,” I was again reminded of Sir Ken’s challenge to all of us school people. As Rose detailed a U.S. Air Force issue and used it as an entry analogy for school, I pictured, among other things, the traditional school report card, filled with subject-area course titles and numerical averages listed to the right of each.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with that progress monitoring construct. At the very least, shouldn’t our progress reports disaggregate the averages and make visible the essential criteria, traits, and characteristics that we say we hold dear in a person’s learning and schooling. If content knowledge or mastery is a critical component in one’s school, then by all means report on it. But don’t skew the report by boiling together all of the dials and gauges that belong as separate meters on the proverbial dashboard. If work ethic, as represented by certain observable traits, is a critical component, then give it it’s own dial on the dashboard. And let the previously mentioned content knowledge component be a truer indicator of that unencumbered domain. And if classroom participation and collaboration are critical components, then allow them to be visible well beyond wondering what that “Math….88” means, in all it’s jumbled complexity, on a semi-annual report card that may have actually outlived its usefulness, given our more modern means of communication, digital exchange, and 2.0 capabilities.

Yesterday, I was privileged to be in a professional learning session with Jeff Moore of Moore Leadership and the Striver Quotient. Moore explained that Strivers feel an almost continuous sense of “incompleteness” – that they find it reasonable to be in an “uncomfort zone” as they strive to make things better and to make themselves better. Also, yesterday, I was blessed to be a part of the Innovation Diploma team as they worked through their Gallup Strengths Finder results, as individuals and the collective team (see here and here), with Ed Psychologist and Strengths Coach Elizabeth Payne.

Those threads of striving and building strengths are wonderfully tangling together for me with Sir Ken’s quote, Todd Rose’s ban-the-average-and-design-to-the-edges message, and my near 40-year history with the traditional report card. What if we designed progress monitoring systems – whole, coherent systems – that more fully demonstrated what we value in learners and want to make visible for further striving and strengths finding?

Moore also shared that Strivers are motivated by a purpose that transcends winning. Well, I’d love to work the progress monitoring system with a team of other strivers who see the immediate and critical need to ban the average and design to the edges – for the benefit of helping all of our learners see more fully how they are smart, rather than worrying about how smart they are.

A 21st century framework for designing student success and demonstrating student mastery requires Mount Vernon to develop a [v]igorous, relevant, and innovative learning and assessment map for each student…. (from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s (i)Plan17)


Hat tip to Lawrence Smith, at St. Paul’s School, for sending me the Todd Rose TEDx talk and sparking this morning’s reflective writing for me.

Assessments that overvalue and undervalue – what are we doing about them?

I’ve changed my routine for watching TED talks. Because I have pivoted from viewing one a day, I watch a few on the weekends. As I was “catching up” this morning, Susan Etlinger’s talk, “What do we do with all this big data?,” stopped me in my tracks.

He was teaching himself to communicate, but we were looking in the wrong place, and this is what happens when assessments and analytics overvalue one metric — in this case, verbal communication — and undervalue others, such as creative problem-solving. Communication was hard for Isaac, and so he found a workaround to find out what he needed to know. And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense, because forming a question is a really complex process, but he could get himself a lot of the way there by putting a word in a search box.

I am thinking a lot recently about assessment, progress reports, and how we communicate about what we most deeply value in schools. Etlinger poses such a powerful challenge: “This is what happens when assessments and analytics overvalue one metric and undervalue others.”

What are we overvaluing and undervaluing on our school progress reports? If we look at our students’ report cards, do they express what we most deeply value? Across the city, state, country, and world, we should be deeply involved in resolving such a question.

Inside the Black Box. Simple and Profound Transformations. #Questions #FormativeAssessment

On wait time, the nature of questions, visible thinking, formative assessment and deeper learning:

A particular feature of the talk between teacher and pupils is the asking of questions by the teacher. This natural and direct way of checking on learning is often un-productive. One common problem is that teachers do not allow enough quiet time so that pupils can think out and offer an answer. Where, as often happens, a teacher answers her or his own question after only two or three seconds, and where a minute (say) of silent thought is not tolerable, there is no possibility that a pupil can think out what to say. There are then two consequences. One is that, because the only questions that can produce answers in such a short time are questions of fact, these predominate. The other is that pupils don’t even try to think out a response—if you know that the answer, or another question, will come along in a few seconds, there is no point in trying. It is also common that only a few pupils in a class answer teachers’ questions. The rest then leave it to these few, knowing that they cannot respond as quickly and being unwilling to risk making mistakes in public. So the teacher, by lowering the level of questions and by accepting answers from a few, can keep the lesson going but is actually out of touch with the understanding of most of the class—the question-answer dialogue becomes a ritual, one in which all connive and thoughtful involvement suffers.

There are several ways to break this particular cycle. They involve giving pupils time to respond, asking them to discuss their thinking in pairs or in small groups so that a respondent is speaking on behalf of others, giving pupils a choice between different possible answers and asking them to vote on the options, asking all to write down an answer and then reading out a selected few, and so on. What is essential is that any dialogue should evoke thoughtful reflection in which all pupils can be encouraged to take part, for only then can the formative process start to work.

Inside the Black Box
Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

In those few sentences above, one can find some of the simplest and easiest methods to transform teaching and learning in significant and profound ways.

If you spend time visiting and observing classrooms in this country, you know that we all can improve on the methods suggested above.

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NOTE: Just about everything that I have read about assessment in the last decade references and/or connects in some way to Black & Wiliam’s article “Inside the Black Box.” Yet I wonder how many educators have taken the time to read it, study it, and strive to implement it. And, I do not mean to sound accusatorial. I genuinely wonder.

My main blog’s 2013 in review – and a brief spur of reflection on “report cards”

While I am fascinated, in some ways, with analytics like the one below emailed to me from WordPress, I can’t help but think that “the numbers” only tell part of the story for me – a minor fraction. They certainly don’t tell the most compelling parts of the story, in my opinion. Not by any stretch.

So much more than the number of views or most-read posts, I care about HOW the writing-as-thinking represented here has changed me, and, hopefully, how it has potentially helped change others.

In this regard, such analytics and report cards make me think about what our school report cards lack and suffer from, as story tellers. If I look at my collection of report cards, I see mostly quantitative analytics – proxies for some measurement of my learning and development. Inadequate dashboards claiming to summarize me as a learner of math, English, science, economics, etc.

Perhaps these quantitative measures must play a part in telling my learning story. I’m not convinced. But certainly, we in education can devise better proxies for telling the stories of human development, deep learning, and awe-inspiring growth.

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 26,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.