Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I found this info graphic while reading Elisabeth Engum's 'Flipped Classroom Weekly' @PGelisa

It was part of a larger article on flipped instruction by Susan Murphy @suzemuse

Twitter Chats For Education Calendar

I ran into the following calendar quite by accident:

#edchat Tuesdays at 7 looks interesting.

What a great way to have a idea about when to follow and participate in a hashtag organized discussion!

Test What Really Matters

I'm (slowly) going through the Ohio Summit 2.5 twitter backchannel and making good on my promise to write about the best of what occurred.

Stan Hefner, the Ohio Schools Superintendent, made the comment that future jobs will require collaboration and innovation. He went on to note that jobs that don't require these will digitized and shipped overseas.

This is the argument that Dan Pink makes about left brain, process oriented work. Pink says that if there is a script, a specific set of rules, or only a single outcome for task, it is a job that can be done by computer or cheaper by foreign workers.

This phenomenon has gone past blue collar jobs and is now steadily attacking white collar (formally safe jobs) as well.

For our educational system, I believe the State Superintendent is correct in his assessment. If he means it then he will advocate for assessment reform that is far more radical than the multiple choice re-design I fear we will get from PARCC and Smarter Balance for the Common Core assessments.

At a very minimum, every student should be required to create a personal, portable digital portfolio of their work as a requirement for graduation. At every grade level there should be a menu of options as to the types of submissions that need to be included. As students progress through their educational career, products can be based on collaborative experiences and focused on authentic problems that need to be solved in the local community. Upon graduating, students will have a rich product that demonstrates what they were able to create with, utilize, and extend the knowledge they gained from their experience in school.

A portfolio mandate would do several things. First, it would divert the fixed, unwavering glare that educational institutions have on directing instruction (the means) towards standardized assessments (the ends). Second, it would force schools to examine how collaboration and multiple pathways to demonstrate understanding of content can be embedded into every lesson. Third, portfolios would require teachers to abandon the notion that a project can only happen once a (quarter, semester, year, whatever). Finally, it would enfranchise learners who have been marginalized by the last twenty years of the "one size fits all" approach that standardization forces.

21st Century skills, at their core, require students to demonstrate how they can apply knowledge in new, unique, and unexpected circumstances. They require flexible, nimble, creative thought. This is NOT what is fostered in the single correct answer environment that has been propagated by standardized testing.

We can not expect this type of learning to be encouraged if the testing mandates continue to promote standardization (the ultimate 20th Century Skill).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Accidental Investigation

The job for this morning was to investigate "two points in time". In other words, how can student growth be measured in non-value added subjects in order to satisfy the student growth measure requirement of the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System.

I found a couple of other things to share instead.

First is a video link from Learning Matters (a part of PBS) that examines the Mooresville, NC school system's full adoption of technology for learning. It is a 10 minute video that does a decent job examining the benefits and challenges of this approach.

The major question that still concerns me is how to you balance the tension between the drive to standardize learning outcomes and the inherent non-standardization of personalized learning enhanced by technology?

If everyone is still expected to complete the same assignment, in the same time frame, but with digital tools, then we should not be surprised when we see issues arise quickly with disengagement, time off task, apathy, etc.

The key to future learning is Authentic Engagement. If you are going to bring digital tools into the classroom, you have to be willing to let students chart their own learning course and demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways (this is what I refer to as the multiple pathway option). If you standardize too tightly in a digital environment, you will have put a lot of money down an educational sinkhole for shiny new tools that students will shun.

The reality is that today, online, you can learn anything, anytime. This is not a new concept to anyone. How are schools going to adapt to this reality? By and large, they haven't, which has lead to a dramatic rise in student apathy. I think believe that students reserve most of their mental effort for work and material that engages them....and these types of activities are not found in the classroom.

If the Common Core assessments focus on specific knowledge, then we are no further along than where we were under NCLB, because teachers will teach to the test in order to "prove" they are doing their job.

This (kind of) leads to the second thing I found (also from Learning Matters). It is a blistering critique of the Common Core by Susan Ohanian. The full text of her thoughts are embedded in a larger discussion of the common core and is linked below:

Here is her website:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Flip It

Cathy Davidson has been showing up in the twittersphere a lot recently for her work on attention blindness in Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

One of my takeaways from reading her book is this:

The narrow focus that educators have had on standardized tests over the past twenty years has caused attention blindness in terms of being able to think about multiple pathways that students can take in the classroom. The intense emphasis on students being able to select a single correct response out of four distractors on a high stakes year end assessment has stunted educators abilities to image a classroom where standardized instructional methods (i.e. everyone at the same place at the same time) are not the default norm.
This is why concepts such as differentiation and flipped instruction run into trouble as soon as they are brought up in professional development meetings. Teachers immediately dismiss them because these concepts don't fit into the classroom as it is currently constructed in their psyche. You can probably hear the chatter now...."Well, those are nice strategies, but how can I do that and still prepare my students for the test?".

As the common core and the next generation of assessments come on board, I don't see the emphasis on standardized testing going anywhere. So, how do we break the hold that 'the test' has on our nation's classrooms?

I believe it is going to take courageous teachers who flip their instruction and place standardized, multiple choice tests at the 'floor' and not the 'ceiling' of learning experiences.

Here is what it might look like in my classroom. I would begin the unit with a preview activity of the concepts that students will master by the time the unit draws to a close. It would be nothing more than a bulleted list for awareness. This list would also serve as the test out option on the front end for students who brought prior knowledge into the classroom (Straight knowledge and significance identification).

For the duration of the unit students would have the ability to pick from a menu of activities that are designed to help them learn about the concepts that are new to them. Every item on the menu would have a point value, and students would have to earn a minimum number of points in order for the requirements to be considered complete. The menu would be designed to engage multiple learning styles and interests. For traditional students, textbook readings and associated questions would be an option at the low end of the scale. For students who embrace 21st century learning styles, there would be options to demonstrate mastery utilizing a variety of electronic mediums. The more engaging and authentic the option, the more points the activity would be worth. In theory then it is possible that students could spend the entire unit on one comprehensive project in order to earn the menu points, or students could engage in multiple lower point activities.

Now, the fixed mindset person (Thanks Carol Dweck - has probably already found the hole in the scenario above, as you can't guarantee uniform coverage in this decentralized environment. While this is true, I'll argue all day long that this type of authentic engagement will ensure long term retention with more certainty than a standardized teacher centered delivery model.

The way around the coverage argument lies in how you close out the unit. The concept sheet that began the lesson is now used again in a cooperative activity to detail all of the collective knowledge that students have accumulated over the unit. Gaps can then be filled in by the teacher should they appear. This then turns into the study guide for the summative end of unit assessment. Here is the only time where multiple choice questions are used. The secret is to not instruct with an eye towards the final measure (that would be the ceiling approach), but rather treat the questions like a quality control check. The mindset should be that because of the rich, authentic, engaging experiences the students have been involved with, success on the summative measure should be a forgone conclusion (this is the floor approach).

While I've referenced the above exercise as a summative measure, it can be formative if two conditions are met. First, analyze and disaggregate the data to identify areas that need to be retaught. Second, allow students to complete an alternate measure after the re-teaching to assess growth (this could be as simple as an alternate form of the test, an oral examination, a written response to prompts, etc.) For successful, self-acutalized adults, learning does not stop when a setback occurs; rather, it begins. So it should be the same with our students and the ways in which we design multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery.

The instructional design concept outlined above is not new. In fact, pieces of it have been floating around in educational circles for years. To embrace it though means to have the courage to set your students free to discover knowledge under your guidance, and not your absolute direction. Instructional design in this manner will allow students to play to their strengths and deeply encode knowledge. Do you have the courage to try?

Note - If you found this post and read all the way to this point, thanks! If you have feedback (good or bad), I'd love to hear it. This blog is a way for me to flesh out ideas that I have about improving brick and mortar education in a time of immense change. Your voice will only help in that process.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Remaking Education?

An article is below that captures the thoughts of the Ohio Superintendent For Public Instruction on college and career readiness.

My major concern is that while on the surface he talks about 21st century learning, students going deeper with the curriculum, improved rigor, etc., his remedy for our educational 'woes' will not measure these 'solution' skills.

In Ohio, not only are we going with PARCC to assess (in a standardized way) the common core, but there is also a push for standardized end of course exams and standardized assessments at two points in time for all courses in order to measure teacher effectiveness.

Isn't this over-reliance on standardized tests and the narrowing of the curriculum what the common core and the focus on 21st Century skills were supposed to get away from?

From my vantage point, it looks like we are heading for a huge spike in standardize tests, not less.

And, if you think that teachers will embrace the types of creative reforms meant to produce flexible, creative, authentic thinkers (the kind that can't be outsourced by a computer if you are a Dan Pink fan) given this new onslaught of testing, I'd think again.

In Ohio current law mandates that 50% of a teacher's evaluation be tied to measures of student growth by the 2013 - 2014 school year. In this economy, if your job is on the line, what do you think is going to happen? More teaching to the test, more top down instruction, less creativity, fewer opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery in unique and creative ways (21st Century), more student disengagement than ever.

At some point this tension between the authentic, immersive, engaged world that students live in outside of school and the authoritarian, standards driven, narrow approach that schools take in the name of proving mastery is going to have to come to a head.

We can not continue to talk about promoting digitally proficient, flexible, creative students while measuring them in ways that do not promote these values.

If traditional brick and mortar institutions continue to keep the current head in the sand approach, competition from electronic providers who understand how to leverage the world of our digitally native students will threaten to overwhelm the traditional system.

A middle of the road solution would be to require a portable electronic portfolio, tied to the common core, that would contain specific requirements (with flexible options) to demonstrate mastery of content at each grade level. By the time students reach 12th grade, this portfolio would serve as a rich senior capstone experience that demonstrates growth over time and authentically measures students strengths. While there would expenses on the front end in terms of planning and implementation, this would allow teachers to embrace the types of authentic, non-linear practices that our students need to thrive in an age where "learn-unlearn-relearn" must be the focus in our hyper-speed global economy.

None of the above can happen if standardization is the only focus.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Paradigm Shifting

The elephant in the room for education is the degree to which the majority of teachers and administrators believe that slow and steady can continue to be the pace at which educational change can be embraced.

All around the web there are dramatic examples of rich, amazing educational experiences that leverage the power of 21st century learning skills.

Sadly though, examples of these occurring in traditional brick and mortar schools are extremely rare.

My theory is that 20 years of standardization has made administrators and teachers wary of any instructional approach that does not have the teacher firmly at the center of the learning experience. Using the reap what you sow model, it should not surprise anyone that students are less engaged than ever under this paradigm of instruction. Information has been liberated by the internet. So, why do we (educators) still treat it like a finite commodity which must be parceled out to students in measured, uniform doses?

True educational reform will start when education ceases to be something we 'do' to students during the 7.5 hours they are in a building each day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Moving Closer Towards 1 to 1

From the county I live in came this article today:

The past five years have brought about a rapid increase in the number of students carrying around powerful devices that can only be 'legally' used to access information 16.5 hours per day. By and large schools across the nation force students to power down largely out of fear. The popular narrative is that students will cheat, cyber bully, sext, text, and generally distract themselves from any 'real' learning. What if schools took an opposite approach and accentuated the positives of personal devices? Instant access to information to supplement learning activities (Don't we as adults 'Google' something the moment we want to go deeper on a subject?), the ability to collaborate with peers on projects, a way to instantly poll classes using free polling technology, an ability for students to check grades, calendars, and task lists, a way to replace dated texts with dynamic ebooks.

Would this take training (both for students, teachers, and parents)? Absolutely. However, if we are serious about making brick and mortar institutions relevant for learning in this connected age, we must get past the notions of what school used to be and quickly embrace what school can and should be in an era of interconnectedness.

Odd and Ends from Around the (Edu) Web

1. I'm sure it's been around for a while, but I just came across YouTube for Schools. The link below will take you to a blog that discusses it in more detail:

Perhaps this is a middle of the road solution that will allow school district IT administrators to open access to YouTube and the wealth of educational material that is out there for teachers to use?

2. From the twitter universe came this link from Karl Fisch referencing a blog by Anne Smith on the use of QR codes linking filmed book reviews (in the form of movie trailers) to specific library books. A great 21st Century way to authentically engage students in summarizing and synthesizing information.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Position Statement Part Whatever

(So, if you've ever witnessed an accident and saw what was going to happen before the event occurred, then you can get a mental image of what it looks like to watch traditional brick and mortar schools speed towards a crash with the technological future they won't embrace.)

Are we preparing students for their future or our past?

What types of experiences in the classroom are necessary for students to be competitive in a global marketplace?

If class opens with the phrase “Today we are going to learn about”, then a signal has been sent that students will most likely be passively receiving knowledge and the teacher will be the focal point and director.

This approach was acceptable in the 20th century, when there were jobs available for those who were not self directed and standardization of outcomes in the classroom was the focus.

Education is at a critical juncture.

Measurement and standardization are making a last stand to defend their relevance against a digital onslaught of learning that carries the banner of customization, personalization, and authentic engagement.

How will traditional schools remain competitive in an era of on-demand, personalized, self-directed learning?

The answer is not to reinforce the traditional, hierarchical structure that has been in place for over 100 years.

Whose future is it?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ohio 2.5 Summit

Whenever you sign up for a professional conference there is a lingering concern about the quality and whether or not it will be worth the effort to go. The Ohio 2.5 Summit on 21st Century Education was anything but a waste. It was so rich that it will take days to digest it. I ended up sitting with a dynamic, engaging group who taught me, among other things, how to follow a conference back channel on Twitter. The result was a 21st century to crowd source note taking. Only the best ideas (and there were lots today) made it into the back channel, and most tweets contained links to outside resources that the speakers were referencing. How amazing is it that you can take a group of individuals, all interested in providing relevant, real time information, and you can end up with a rich, permanent archive of the days events. In order to begin processing the information I printed the tweet stream (all 79 pages). Speakers included Dan Pink, Ewan McIntosh, and Karl Fisch. Even the State Superintendent, Stan Hefner, had some interesting things to say (now he just needs to fix the accountability system and its creativity killing focus on standardization). Over the next week or so I'm going to be processing the highlights in this forum, and will provide links to the best of the Summit content. In the meantime, search #21oh11 for the full back channel feed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I have been running multiple book groups recently on the book "Mindset" by Carol Dweck. If you are in the field of education or if you are a parent I highly recommend it. The posts to this blog are shaped by my worldview of the educational field, and "Mindset" has enriched my vision of what education should (and more importantly shouldn't) be in the 21st century. Our fixation on standardized tests, summative scores, and ranking student performance reinforces what Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset. In this state success is reserved only for a limited few, not everyone can make it, and your ability to grow is limited. In our (educators) race to 'raise achievement', we label and pigeonhole kids as 'in need of remediation' and other euphemisms that indicate they do not fit into our narrow paradigm of educational success in the standards era. When students get these messages, they internalize them into fixed mindset statements that limit their ability to experience true growth and success. If we wanted to turn this paradigm on it's head, we would create authentic learning experiences that allow students to demonstrate mastery in ways that make sense to them and capitalize on their unique skills and talents. When they don't succeed the first time on an assessment, we would provide alternate pathways and additional opportunities to demonstrate mastery and (more importantly) to improve. This is how we behave as actualized adults.....(the old try/try again model)....but why is it that we don't afford our students the same opportunity? For states it is about the cheapest way to measure performance, and this is destroying creativity among our young people and creating a generation of learners incapable of operating independently without steady, specific directions from 'authority figures'. Is this what we want for our country?

Sunday, December 4, 2011


To be competitive in the global age in which we find ourselves, flexible, adaptable thinking must be the hallmark of student processes that are imbedded into lessons on a daily basis. Students must be able to develop unique, creative solutions to authentic problems as a result of their learning. This is the heart of Project Based or Problem Based learning. While there is underlying knowledge that can serve as a foundation for these types of experiences (and can be tested using selected response items), the emphasis should be on the application of knowledge in new and unrelated circumstances. The current generation of standardized accountability measures do not test for this type of learning, and has had the effect of diminishing students creative problem solving capacities. The new generation of assessments must emphasize authentic demonstrations of problem solving ability over students ability to pick the one right answer out of four in a test item bank. The world we live contains multiple pathways to arriving at satisfactory results. Why do we still insist on pigeonholing our kids by teaching them to always look for only one correct answer? The past 20 years of this emphasis has created a generation of students who are not divergent thinkers and who are dependent on others to tell them the correct answer. What is scary is that educational leaders have also been boxed in by the emphasis on testing. This recent article demonstrates the damage that the overemphasis on standardized tests has caused to school leaders:

Here are two quotes from the article (which are in direct competition with one another):

“What will happen is a shift to more authentic tests,” Axner said. “We’ll get away from more standardized tests that don’t allow our kids to think.” (This is a reference to the new PARCC assessments that will measure the common core in Ohio)

Then, there is this:

But secondly, the plan is instead of the district waiting 60 days for the results, you’ll have the student results within 60 seconds. ... That will improve the ability to provide intervention and remediation.” (The only types of items that you get this type of instant feedback from are selected response items)

Mr. Axner espouses getting away from standardized testing, but in the VERY SAME ARTICLE speaks of the benefits of standardized testing. (If you're not from Ohio, he leads one of the best districts in the state).

What this proves is that breaking free of the paradigm of standardized testing is extremely difficult if you live within the paradigm (and is yet another threat to the long term existence of brink and mortar school districts if leaders lack the ability to work outside of this paradigm).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Authentic Classroom Assessment

Sara Aronin and Michael O'Neal penned a great article in the Summer 2011 edition of Science Scope magazine entitled "Twenty Ways To Assess Students Using Technology". It provides a number of innovative ideas for ways students can demonstrate mastery of content in unique, authentic, engaging ways. Products that students create are embedded with critical 21st century skills that our students need to exercise on a daily basis in the classroom.

The 20th century was for teacher directed learning.

The 21st century is for student centered demonstrations of mastery.

They will amaze us if we let them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Test

OK, so I'm worried.....

Ohio has just announced that PARCC will be the test vendor for the new Common Core assessments.

My concern is that their idea of 21st century assessment (how many times will they use the word 'innovative' in their literature?) will be to take 20th century selected response items and computerize them. This would lead to more of the same in the classroom (a narrowing of the curriculum in order to ensure that students only pick the one correct response) and this is incompatible with 21st century skills students desperately need to compete in the global economy.

The new assessments will drive instruction and learning for better or worse. I hope (but doubt) that policy makers will think carefully about the damage they are inflicting by measuring accountability using single, constrained metrics.

Here is a slide from the November 2011 PARCC powerpoint describing the efficiencies of their system:

PARCC’s assessment will be computer-based and leverage technology in a range of ways:

Item Development
Develop innovative tasks that engage students in the assessment process
–Reduce paperwork, increase security, reduce shipping/receiving & storage
Increase access to and provision of accommodations for SWDs and ELLs
–Make scoring more efficient by combining human and automated approaches
Produce timely reports of students performance throughout the year to inform instructional, interventions, and professional development

I've take the liberty to redline the codewords for multiple choice items (in my opinion).

Here's a portion of another slide about the types of items PARCC will be using:

Summative Assessment Components:
Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) administered as close to the end of the school year as possible. The ELA/literacy PBA will focus on writing effectively when analyzing text. The mathematics PBA will focus on applying skills, concepts, and understandings to solve multi-step problems requiring abstract reasoning, precision, perseverance, and strategic use of tools
End-of-Year Assessment (EOY) administered after approx. 90% of the school year. The ELA/literacy EOY will focus on reading comprehension. The math EOY will be comprised of innovative, machine-scorable items

Some lingering questions include how many PBA questions will there be, what percentage of a student's summative score will the PBA questions count for, and will there be anything other than selected response questions on the EOY assessment?

The common core espouses collaborative, authentic project based and problem based learning. This will not occur if the assessment students are subject to and teachers are accountable for values single pathways to correctness.

Is anyone else worried?