Friday, January 28, 2011

Grading in primary grades: More harm than good?



This is a post that I have wanted to write for a long time. It is my ramblings about the ramifications of grades in the primary grades.

Creative Commons Picture- Collaterallearning.com

I have the sneaky hypothesis that grading in the primary grades does more harm than good. Before, you think I am crazy, hear me out. I think that grades have a funny way of telling youngsters that they have unequal potentials.  It would be interesting to ask a second, third, or fourth grader about what goes into grades. I think their response would be that the smartest kids get  “A’s” and the least intelligent get the “bad grades”. Thus, students in the earliest stages of their academic careers pigeonhole themselves into a certain category—"smart", "average" or "dumb". He or she believes that they are naturally inferior or superior to their classmates. This is especially disheartening because schooling (as it is now constructed) measures such a small portion of a child’s intelligence and capabilities. And don’t tell me that it is a indicator of hard work and effort, because in the primary grades I have a hard time believing that certain students are lazy or can really “out work” another student.  Grades from an early age tell children that learning is about competition, not cooperation and creativity. As a student progresses through their schooling career, I think they carry the weight of their early scores.  And with that weight their constructed capabilities. I really think grades early in a child’s career carry psychological effects that must be studied.

So what’s the alternative? Teachers in the early grades work with students on formative assessments and foster a love of learning that they carry with them.  They learn their multiplication tables not because they need to get good marks, but so that they can explore the world of numbers. They don’t learn how to read in order to best their peer in hopes of a reading award, but rather to nurture a natural inquisitive viewpoint of the world. Am I saying that grades need to be abolished or this is something that can be changed right away? Of course not. But we can lessen the culture of competition in schools, especially the younger grades. 

Grading in primary grades: More harm than good?



This is a post that I have wanted to write for a long time. It is my ramblings about the ramifications of grades in the primary grades.

Creative Commons Picture- Collaterallearning.com

I have the sneaky hypothesis that grading in the primary grades does more harm than good. Before, you think I am crazy, hear me out. I think that grades have a funny way of telling youngsters that they have unequal potentials.  It would be interesting to ask a second, third, or fourth grader about what goes into grades. I think their response would be that the smartest kids get  “A’s” and the least intelligent get the “bad grades”. Thus, students in the earliest stages of their academic careers pigeonhole themselves into a certain category—"smart", "average" or "dumb". He or she believes that they are naturally inferior or superior to their classmates. This is especially disheartening because schooling (as it is now constructed) measures such a small portion of a child’s intelligence and capabilities. And don’t tell me that it is a indicator of hard work and effort, because in the primary grades I have a hard time believing that certain students are lazy or can really “out work” another student.  Grades from an early age tell children that learning is about competition, not cooperation and creativity. As a student progresses through their schooling career, I think they carry the weight of their early scores.  And with that weight their constructed capabilities. I really think grades early in a child’s career carry psychological effects that must be studied.

So what’s the alternative? Teachers in the early grades work with students on formative assessments and foster a love of learning that they carry with them.  They learn their multiplication tables not because they need to get good marks, but so that they can explore the world of numbers. They don’t learn how to read in order to best their peer in hopes of a reading award, but rather to nurture a natural inquisitive viewpoint of the world. Am I saying that grades need to be abolished or this is something that can be changed right away? Of course not. But we can lessen the culture of competition in schools, especially the younger grades. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Yikes! My Students Relate School to Medieval Hierarchy

My students relate school to Medieval Hierarchy

       Last Friday, we started Medieval Europe for 7th grade Social Studies by doing some vocabulary. I like to construct meaning for vocabulary words through pictures and stories. The goal is for students to come up with the definitions themselves, making the words personal and relevant. One of the words we were constructing a definition for was hierarchy. It should come as no surprise that as we discussed the term, the symbol of a triangle was referenced quite often and this intrigued the students.  The students then asked what happens when the bottom rises and replaces the top. Their peers pointed out that eventually one rises and it goes back to the “old way”. Although I hope that one day we can move beyond this structure of leadership (and many companies have) it was great conversation and I was pretty pleased with the lesson.



     Then the conversation turned to school hierarchy. One student gave as an example the school. He wanted to show how the principal was at top, followed by vice-principals, teachers, and finally students way at the bottom. Students started wondering how there was so many of them but they were so powerless. I was humbled by this and somewhat alarmed. Students should feel as if they have a stake in their own education. They need to be motivated and empowered by choice. It is a shame when students relate education to hierarchy and bureaucracy. We need to model learning as a cooperative and active exercise where “power” is shared between both learners (teacher and student). I believe my school is making great strides in this (can always do better), but I feel that in many schools students will feel relegated to being a nameless being at the bottom of the powerful school hierarchy. 

Yikes! My Students Relate School to Medieval Hierarchy

My students relate school to Medieval Hierarchy

       Last Friday, we started Medieval Europe for 7th grade Social Studies by doing some vocabulary. I like to construct meaning for vocabulary words through pictures and stories. The goal is for students to come up with the definitions themselves, making the words personal and relevant. One of the words we were constructing a definition for was hierarchy. It should come as no surprise that as we discussed the term, the symbol of a triangle was referenced quite often and this intrigued the students.  The students then asked what happens when the bottom rises and replaces the top. Their peers pointed out that eventually one rises and it goes back to the “old way”. Although I hope that one day we can move beyond this structure of leadership (and many companies have) it was great conversation and I was pretty pleased with the lesson.



     Then the conversation turned to school hierarchy. One student gave as an example the school. He wanted to show how the principal was at top, followed by vice-principals, teachers, and finally students way at the bottom. Students started wondering how there was so many of them but they were so powerless. I was humbled by this and somewhat alarmed. Students should feel as if they have a stake in their own education. They need to be motivated and empowered by choice. It is a shame when students relate education to hierarchy and bureaucracy. We need to model learning as a cooperative and active exercise where “power” is shared between both learners (teacher and student). I believe my school is making great strides in this (can always do better), but I feel that in many schools students will feel relegated to being a nameless being at the bottom of the powerful school hierarchy. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Willingness to cede control

       I spent the afternoon getting trained to facilitate a larger Professional Development for Project Based Learning. I am not presenting per se, but will help lead smaller group discussions as well as the practical application of the knowledge presented. I signed up to do this because I am in the first year of doing Project Based Learning with my students. I don't do it all the time, they are smaller in scale, and by no means perfect, but PBL has been exciting for my students and me. I wanted to facilitate so that I could continue to grow and also help introduce colleagues to the advantages of PBL.

         The presenters that were training us to facilitate the discussion were modeling the type of "teaching" it takes to be successful in PBL. It was structured but flexible, it gave ideas but was open-ended, and it called for us to be learners with the people we will be facilitating in smaller groups.  You would have thought the poor presenters were trying to take away the other facilitators' credentials. They were outraged that they were going to be facilitators but they didn't have strict knowledge or handouts to give to their smaller groups. They were concerned when the presenters said you needed to be flexible to the smaller groups’ ideas and wishes. They claimed it was going to be impossible and they were going to look foolish in front of their peers. After this discussion, I reminded the group that this is the way education is going. We do not need to be content masters depositing our "holier than though knowledge" to our students. Instead, we need to learn with them, we need to facilitate discussion and inquiry; we need to be comfortable ceding control to the students. I wondered about some of these educators in the classroom. I am not trying to incite judgments of these teachers or any for that matter. What I am trying to say is that sometimes we need to model real learning with our peers so that we can do so with our students. Allowing ourselves to step outside our comfort zones around our professional peers may help us be more comfortable making education a two-street between teacher and student. 
   


Willingness to cede control

       I spent the afternoon getting trained to facilitate a larger Professional Development for Project Based Learning. I am not presenting per se, but will help lead smaller group discussions as well as the practical application of the knowledge presented. I signed up to do this because I am in the first year of doing Project Based Learning with my students. I don't do it all the time, they are smaller in scale, and by no means perfect, but PBL has been exciting for my students and me. I wanted to facilitate so that I could continue to grow and also help introduce colleagues to the advantages of PBL.

         The presenters that were training us to facilitate the discussion were modeling the type of "teaching" it takes to be successful in PBL. It was structured but flexible, it gave ideas but was open-ended, and it called for us to be learners with the people we will be facilitating in smaller groups.  You would have thought the poor presenters were trying to take away the other facilitators' credentials. They were outraged that they were going to be facilitators but they didn't have strict knowledge or handouts to give to their smaller groups. They were concerned when the presenters said you needed to be flexible to the smaller groups’ ideas and wishes. They claimed it was going to be impossible and they were going to look foolish in front of their peers. After this discussion, I reminded the group that this is the way education is going. We do not need to be content masters depositing our "holier than though knowledge" to our students. Instead, we need to learn with them, we need to facilitate discussion and inquiry; we need to be comfortable ceding control to the students. I wondered about some of these educators in the classroom. I am not trying to incite judgments of these teachers or any for that matter. What I am trying to say is that sometimes we need to model real learning with our peers so that we can do so with our students. Allowing ourselves to step outside our comfort zones around our professional peers may help us be more comfortable making education a two-street between teacher and student. 
   


Friday, January 14, 2011

Intrinsic Motivation (Final Thoughts on rscon11)

 In my last post I talked about some of the things I took away from The Reform Symposium I attended last weekend. I just wanted to share one other thought about it.

   As a educator, my weekends are sacred and I suppose that the holiness of weekends is not limited to the education field. Weekends are a time to read, to hang out with friends, to exercise, and to relax. Usually, the mere thought of giving up a Saturday to work on PD would send me into convulsions, but The Reform Symposium was different. It was presenters I wanted to listen to, discussing topics I passionately cared about. The Reform Symposium is a perfect example of intrinsic motivation. I was extremely motivated to attend and the learning was authentic. As a result of the symposium, I read dozens of blog articles, experimented with multiple instruction tools, wrote pages of notes, and connected with experts. I even pumped out a couple blog posts of my own. That is REAL learning.

  It really got me thinking about my students. Instead of the obligatory "do such and such page or worksheet" homework, why can't I find out my students passions and help them conduct REAL learning outside the class. How transformative would their educational experience be if they were intrinsically motivated to explore? As teachers, we should try and model this creativity to our students and give them the opportunities to foster intrinsic motivation. Sometimes it amazes me at the work I get when I give "optional homework"(that which is not mandatory). Examples of this are: blog posts/comments, research/edit wikis, animotos, etc. When the students do the "optional homework it is of much higher quality than when required homework is assigned. I will be honest that much of the class may not do the "optional homework", but it is amazing that students will work harder on this than the mandatory assignments. It was like me and The Reform Symposium. It was "optional" and I spend hours on it. Other PDs that don't engage me I spend hours playing on my phone going through the motions.

Intrinsic Motivation (Final Thoughts on rscon11)

 In my last post I talked about some of the things I took away from The Reform Symposium I attended last weekend. I just wanted to share one other thought about it.

   As a educator, my weekends are sacred and I suppose that the holiness of weekends is not limited to the education field. Weekends are a time to read, to hang out with friends, to exercise, and to relax. Usually, the mere thought of giving up a Saturday to work on PD would send me into convulsions, but The Reform Symposium was different. It was presenters I wanted to listen to, discussing topics I passionately cared about. The Reform Symposium is a perfect example of intrinsic motivation. I was extremely motivated to attend and the learning was authentic. As a result of the symposium, I read dozens of blog articles, experimented with multiple instruction tools, wrote pages of notes, and connected with experts. I even pumped out a couple blog posts of my own. That is REAL learning.

  It really got me thinking about my students. Instead of the obligatory "do such and such page or worksheet" homework, why can't I find out my students passions and help them conduct REAL learning outside the class. How transformative would their educational experience be if they were intrinsically motivated to explore? As teachers, we should try and model this creativity to our students and give them the opportunities to foster intrinsic motivation. Sometimes it amazes me at the work I get when I give "optional homework"(that which is not mandatory). Examples of this are: blog posts/comments, research/edit wikis, animotos, etc. When the students do the "optional homework it is of much higher quality than when required homework is assigned. I will be honest that much of the class may not do the "optional homework", but it is amazing that students will work harder on this than the mandatory assignments. It was like me and The Reform Symposium. It was "optional" and I spend hours on it. Other PDs that don't engage me I spend hours playing on my phone going through the motions.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Be Bold

        Saturday I had the privilege of attending the 2011 Reform Symposium. The Reform Symposium was an interactive, online conference where forward-thinking educators presented on a large range of topics. Beside the affective talks and ideas, equally inspiring was the notion that everyone involved did so voluntarily. Whether it be the presenters, the organizers, or the attendees everybody was there by choice and with a purpose. These are amazing individuals who see the need to make learning real and transformative. These are individuals that aren’t satisfied with the status quo and truly work with the student’s interest at heart. It was inspiring to be a part of it and I encourage you to check out some of the presentations as they will be put online by the end of the week.

       I also had an opportunity to ask a question in the Parent Engagement Panel, which featured Monika Hardy, George Couros, and Amanda Henson. I asked them how to quell parent anxiety in regard to grades, awards, and such. Specifically, I asked how can teachers help communicate that there is more to educating a child than the grade. I was extremely excited to here George Couros’ response because he has been so successful in eliminating awards and marks in his school. Although he offered great advice, it was the words of Monika Hardy that had a profound effect on me. She said, “Be Bold”. I was so struck by that simple line I pretty much forgot the context she was using it in. But it didn’t matter because I thought it summed up the whole conference. In pushing for authentic learning in our schools, we must be bold. We must be willing to step outside the accepted norms of education. We must change education to rather emphasize the amazing learning opportunities that our students have everyday mainly through the Internet and technology. The idea of “Being Bold” refreshed me and I am pretty stoked to go to work manana.

Be Bold

        Saturday I had the privilege of attending the 2011 Reform Symposium. The Reform Symposium was an interactive, online conference where forward-thinking educators presented on a large range of topics. Beside the affective talks and ideas, equally inspiring was the notion that everyone involved did so voluntarily. Whether it be the presenters, the organizers, or the attendees everybody was there by choice and with a purpose. These are amazing individuals who see the need to make learning real and transformative. These are individuals that aren’t satisfied with the status quo and truly work with the student’s interest at heart. It was inspiring to be a part of it and I encourage you to check out some of the presentations as they will be put online by the end of the week.

       I also had an opportunity to ask a question in the Parent Engagement Panel, which featured Monika Hardy, George Couros, and Amanda Henson. I asked them how to quell parent anxiety in regard to grades, awards, and such. Specifically, I asked how can teachers help communicate that there is more to educating a child than the grade. I was extremely excited to here George Couros’ response because he has been so successful in eliminating awards and marks in his school. Although he offered great advice, it was the words of Monika Hardy that had a profound effect on me. She said, “Be Bold”. I was so struck by that simple line I pretty much forgot the context she was using it in. But it didn’t matter because I thought it summed up the whole conference. In pushing for authentic learning in our schools, we must be bold. We must be willing to step outside the accepted norms of education. We must change education to rather emphasize the amazing learning opportunities that our students have everyday mainly through the Internet and technology. The idea of “Being Bold” refreshed me and I am pretty stoked to go to work manana.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Diving into Transactive Memory


Having finished my master’s degree a tad over 7 months ago, I feel like I remember most of the material and content from my program’s curriculum. Therefore, I am both shocked and disappointed that I never came across transactive memory. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, describes the establishment and promotion of transactive memory as essential to establishing innovative culture at successful companies. A transactive memory system is a system where groups store, organize, and regain information. They do this collectively to develop a “group mind”.  Around close groups of people, like couples, it is a constant intellectual give and take. We store information with others and look for their guidance, specialization, and creditability to create a whole that has a greater knowledge base and a greater number of ways to create and use that knowledge. 

A quick peak at the Wikipedia page for transactive memory proves to be a great jumping off point for some of the research of this theory. It also gives three basic components of transactive memory—specialization, coordination, and credibility. These all happen to be integral parts of authentic, cooperative project based learning. Transactive memory also gives credence to the fact that the old individualistic notion of schooling squashes the amazing outcomes that collaboration can procure.  The more I read about it the more I am blown away about some of its implications for forward-thinking and innovative schools and classrooms.

Diving into Transactive Memory


Having finished my master’s degree a tad over 7 months ago, I feel like I remember most of the material and content from my program’s curriculum. Therefore, I am both shocked and disappointed that I never came across transactive memory. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, describes the establishment and promotion of transactive memory as essential to establishing innovative culture at successful companies. A transactive memory system is a system where groups store, organize, and regain information. They do this collectively to develop a “group mind”.  Around close groups of people, like couples, it is a constant intellectual give and take. We store information with others and look for their guidance, specialization, and creditability to create a whole that has a greater knowledge base and a greater number of ways to create and use that knowledge. 

A quick peak at the Wikipedia page for transactive memory proves to be a great jumping off point for some of the research of this theory. It also gives three basic components of transactive memory—specialization, coordination, and credibility. These all happen to be integral parts of authentic, cooperative project based learning. Transactive memory also gives credence to the fact that the old individualistic notion of schooling squashes the amazing outcomes that collaboration can procure.  The more I read about it the more I am blown away about some of its implications for forward-thinking and innovative schools and classrooms.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Today's Meet

Looking for an alternative to Twitter for backchannel? I was and I think I may have found one...Today's Meet. While I think Twitter is the best for backchannels, middle school parents, administrators, and students may be hesitant to embrace it. Today's Meet is beautiful because there is no signup or sign-in. You simply create a page and select how long you want it to remain active (up to a year). Simply give the URL to the students and they have a perfect arena to backchannel. They fill in a name and each 140 character response shows who wrote it.

Student break down the words of Confucius 

Yesterday, I used it in both my seventh and eighth grade Social Studies classes. It proved to be a wonderful way for students to break down the primary sources we were dealing with. The seventh grade broke down the Analects of Confucius to figure out his central ideas and the eighth grade dove into Jefferson's and Hamilton's writings on the creation of a national bank. For the most part they were responsible and used it appropriately. At the end, they used it a little more socially, but the lessons were a success.

Transcripts of Today's Meet backchannel

Confucius 
Creation of National Bank

Today's Meet

Looking for an alternative to Twitter for backchannel? I was and I think I may have found one...Today's Meet. While I think Twitter is the best for backchannels, middle school parents, administrators, and students may be hesitant to embrace it. Today's Meet is beautiful because there is no signup or sign-in. You simply create a page and select how long you want it to remain active (up to a year). Simply give the URL to the students and they have a perfect arena to backchannel. They fill in a name and each 140 character response shows who wrote it.

Student break down the words of Confucius 

Yesterday, I used it in both my seventh and eighth grade Social Studies classes. It proved to be a wonderful way for students to break down the primary sources we were dealing with. The seventh grade broke down the Analects of Confucius to figure out his central ideas and the eighth grade dove into Jefferson's and Hamilton's writings on the creation of a national bank. For the most part they were responsible and used it appropriately. At the end, they used it a little more socially, but the lessons were a success.

Transcripts of Today's Meet backchannel

Confucius 
Creation of National Bank