Counting what counts

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“It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

William Bruce Cameron

If there was a better quote for how many schools assign grades to student work, I don’t know what it might be.

Yes, the US’s most popular form of grading still uses letter grades. I know I know, those letters have numbers assigned to them to make it easy for teachers to score.

But who decided what the numbers meant, and why is the range for failure so huge compared to everything else?

Normally, on a 100-point grading scale, more than half of the “numbers” give you a failing grade.

Really? Can we finally admit that, much like Whose Line is it Anyway, the points don’t matter?

Authentic work, the goal so many of us in education are working toward, isn’t easy to “count,” no matter how you frame it.

But the skills students learn when they are presented with real problems and shared with a real audience absolutely count.

Count what counts, leave the rest to the number-crunchers.

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Redefining College & Career Readiness for Students

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Ask ten teachers what their job is, and you’ll receive ten different answers. However, most of them share the common goal of preparing the next generation of citizens. Yet, educators acknowledge that the world in which students will live and work will radically differ from the current version. Therefore, it is nearly impossible for the education system to prepare students for that future fully.

To address this challenge, educators often discuss the concept of “college and career readiness.” Being “college and career ready” means that students possess the skills to strategically and effectively apply their learning in various situations, enabling their success in both academic and work environments. This readiness extends beyond academic knowledge and encompasses essential skills such as resilience, mental health, and performance, which are crucial for adapting to an ever-changing future.

However, the focus on specific pathways for college and career readiness often stems from traditional educational structures and measures of success. There is a growing awareness that a one-size-fits-all approach may not suit all students, and personalized learning experiences are increasingly valued. It is important to recognize that success in the future will require adaptability and a broad skill set beyond academic knowledge.

To prepare students for an unpredictable future, we must move beyond traditional 20th-century learning practices and cultivate an updated skill set. This includes fostering strong learning and critical thinking skills and developing “human” skills that equip students to navigate an uncertain world. Moreover, it is crucial to view students as change-makers and provide them with opportunities to develop traits such as optimism and resilience. This preparation should involve nurturing creativity, encouraging exploration, and fostering a willingness to take risks. It is essential to equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge to progress steadily towards their goals.

However, it is important to acknowledge that a portion of the student population does not fit into the accepted mold of “college and career readiness” imposed by the system. These are the students who consider themselves artists, creators, inventors, and so on. They do not neatly fit into career pathways or college preparatory tracks, which are currently popular trends in high school education.

Regardless of our efforts, we cannot force these square pegs into round holes, or any other shape for that matter. Instead, we should explore ways for these students to create their own paths.

This is where personalized learning comes into play. Personalized learning is becoming increasingly important as it caters to the unique needs of each student, promoting progress at an individual pace. It empowers students to take greater ownership of their learning journey, leading to deeper learning, increased motivation, and improved relationships and communication skills. The implementation of personalized learning requires a shift from traditional classrooms to learning hubs, from a rigid curriculum to personalized pathways, and from a fixed pace to personalized progressions through cycles of inquiry. Creating personalized learning pathways for teachers and recognizing their competency in specific areas through micro-credentials is also beneficial. Additionally, online platforms can offer a range of activities that align with each student’s unique interests and strengths.

Personalized learning and the concept of graduate profiles contribute to a new perspective on career readiness by focusing on individual student strengths and interests. Personalized learning enables student-driven models in which students engage in meaningful, authentic, and rigorous challenges to showcase desired outcomes. This approach fosters skills like goal setting, time management, and the ability to navigate unpredictable obstacles, all of which are crucial for career readiness.

Graduate profiles outline the skills and competencies that a district or institution aims for its students to possess upon graduation. These profiles serve as a guiding principle for improvement efforts and reflect the collective commitment to equipping students with the skills necessary for personal success and meaningful civic engagement. By embracing personalized learning, graduate profiles, and similar concepts, we can better prepare students for their future careers in a rapidly changing world.

Further Reading:

Schools Prioritizing Social-Emotional Learning See Strong Academic Benefits

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A new, comprehensive report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research delves into the critical period of adolescence, a time of significant growth and change that sets the stage for adulthood. The report emphasizes the importance of investing in adolescents to ensure their future success and the prosperity of our society.

The report begins by highlighting the unique characteristics of adolescence. It’s a time of rapid brain development, particularly in areas related to social and emotional learning. Adolescents are not just oversized children; they have unique needs and potentials that require targeted support.

The study underscores the importance of a supportive environment for adolescents. Schools, families, and communities all play a vital role in shaping adolescents’ experiences. The report suggests that these environments should be designed to foster positive relationships, provide meaningful learning experiences, and promote healthy identity development.

One of the key findings of the report is the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) during adolescence. SEL skills, such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, are crucial for adolescents’ success in school and life. The report advocates for integrating SEL into the school curriculum and providing adolescents opportunities to practice these skills in real-world contexts.

The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching
  • Jennings, Patricia A. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages – 11/13/2018 (Publication Date) – W. W. Norton & Company (Publisher)

The report also discusses the role of equity in adolescent development. It argues that all adolescents, regardless of their background, should have access to high-quality educational opportunities. The report calls for policies and practices that promote equity and ensure that all adolescents can reach their full potential.

In conclusion, “Investing in Adolescents” is a call to action for educators, policymakers, and society at large. It emphasizes that adolescence is a critical period that shapes individuals’ futures and the future of our society. By investing in adolescents and providing them with the support they need, we can unleash their potential and create a brighter future for all.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

It Takes Practice to Become an Expert

"Whether professionals have a chance to develop intuitive expertise depends essentially on the quality and speed of feedback, as well as on sufficient opportunity to practice." (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow)
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

To become an expert at something, you have to practice that something.

Doctors and lawyers often use the term “practice” to describe their daily work.

Educators are the same. We practice every day. And we get a little better every day.

So do our students. Provided we allow them to practice.

This idea is at the heart of student-centered instruction. We serve to guide them along their path; they choose the path.

And they choose how long they stay on that path. The more passion they have, the longer and harder they will work.

The more we walk all over their practice time with test prep and meaningless teacher talk designed to keep us in control, the less engaged our students will be.

Less engagement means they practice other things. And so begins the cycle.

Let them practice; let them learn.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve enjoyed the insights and stories, consider showing your support by subscribing to my weekly newsletter. It’s a great way to stay updated and dive deeper into my content. Alternatively, if you love audiobooks or want to try them, click here to start your free trial with Audible. Your support in any form means the world to me and helps keep this blog thriving. Looking forward to connecting with you more!

Respecting Solitude and How Students Work

I finished Susan Cain’s Quiet this week and came away with several notes. Of course, my interest in this book on all things introverts was personal. I’m the introvert’s introvert. Yes, I stand in front of students and teachers every day. And I have given more in-person talks than I can remember, but I pay a price for that work.

I’m more comfortable at home. I curl up with a good book or build something in Minecraft. Both are more comfortable for me than being in front of people. I’m more expressive in my writing than I am while talking. I have time to collect my thoughts, and even now, I still worry about sounding like an idiot when I’m in front of people.

I’m much better in public now than when I was a kid, but I still have to put on my super-suit to make it through the day. And I often come home and collapse from the weight of being around people.

Reacting to the World

Turns out, there’s a reason why introverts like me respond to the world in the way we do. Cain presents research on people who have low- and high-reactive nervous systems. At first glance, you’d think that introverts are low-reactive and extroverts are high-reactive.

My friend, it’s the opposite. Introverts have high-reactive nervous systems. We have visceral reactions to the smallest events. Extroverts are extroverts because they’re looking for external stimulation. They need the excitement.

Introverts? We have plenty of excitement walking out the door in the morning, thank you very much. We don’t need anything else.

Now, put yourself in the place of one of your introverted students. How often do we do things in our schools that will throw this student’s nervous system into chaos?

I often think about why we do so many things in education the same way for every student. Yes, we provide interventions when students aren’t meeting achievement standards. But why do we make them sit in overfilled classrooms when we know some of them would rather be alone or in a small group?

We’re stifling great students by putting them in situations that wreck their world. And sometimes, we keep them from learning all they can.

Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

Group Work isn’t Always the Right Choice

Teachers ask students to collaborate all the time. We’re trained that collaboration makes for great student experiences. And that “we’re better together than we are apart.” I’m the first to admit that I follow that motto when working with students and teachers. Many times we’re right to put folks in groups.

But sometimes we’re not.

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Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, Inc., created the first Apple computer alone. He worked early mornings and late evenings around his job at HP. No workgroup, team, or other souls to talk with about his ideas. But he created the computer that began a revolution.

Musicians, especially professional musicians, know what makes or breaks their careers. It’s not the time they spend practicing with their ensemble. It’s how much time they spend in solitary practice. Great musicians practice around 4 hours a day alone, then practice more with their group.

Students sometimes don’t want to work in groups because they don’t want to do the work. Sometimes, it’s because they know they work well alone.

Flexible Collaboration

What if we allowed students to collaborate as they see the need? How could we design our classrooms and schools to facilitate this option?

We can use tools like instant messaging or chat tools. These tools create spaces where students can share ideas as needed. Jason Fried from 37Signals tells his employees to practice “passive collaboration.” Don’t meet unless you have to do so.

As a matter of fact, Jason tells people to cancel meetings. If you attend the same meetings I do as an educator; you know this is a good idea.

Microsoft has offices that offer sliding doors and removable walls. When appropriate, people can chat with their peers on a project. But then, they have the control to retreat into solitude and work.

closeup photo of body of water in timelapse photo
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Getting Into a Flow

Cain speaks about the “flow state” that people enter when they can concentrate and work. I experience this myself often when I’m working. It isn’t easy to get there without planning to do so, but when I can, oh my.

For me, I put on my headphones and crank up a playlist of techno, lo-fi, or some other repetitive music. It’s always in the background but never in the front of my mind. Sometimes I’m like Tim Ferris, and I’ll repeat a movie or TV episode repeatedly.

When do we allow students to get into a flow state? Do we ever? Introverts love to get into this flow state of uninterrupted work. They hate distractions.

Yet, we break it up every 50-60 minutes of every school day. Imagine how frustrating this is for some of your students.

Finding Your Restorative Niche

Your restorative niche is the place you go to rebuild your strength. This holds true for introverts and extroverts alike; their restorative niches look different. It doesn’t have to be a physical place; it can be a mental state of being.

Regardless of what it looks like, our students have restorative niches they need to visit. Many times per day. Likely, you have a restorative niche yourself that you need to visit.

What Now?

I don’t have answers for what I’ve talked about, but I know that we need to be more aware of how we take care of our introverts. Because I’m one of them, I know how terrible my school experience was all those years ago.

Is there a place for collaboration and group work among students and teachers? Yes. Is there also a place for solitude and quiet focus? Yes, and yes.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is a reader-supported publication. The best way to support it is to shop for some of my favorite gear (I get a cut) or hire me to speak or consult with your organization.

Reversing Learning Loss, Rethinking Exit Tickets, and Respecting Introverts

Happy Monday to you all. I’m back after a nice break and ready to get things going this week. I’ve got some cool things to share with you today.

What I’m Reading:

Reversing Learning Loss

There’s a new working paper out of India that discusses the “learning loss” experienced by 19,000 students in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. I’m not the biggest fan of the term “learning loss” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not a battle I can fight. I’m just diving into this report, but the results from the interventions provided by a government-run program show a significant reduction in the deficits.

Rethinking Exit Tickets

I’m more invested in student-centered, personalized learning and taking the focus of our classrooms from the teacher being the “ultimate source of knowledge,” so when I saw an article from Eric Sheninger on rethinking exit tickets, I jumped right in. Eric presents an example of an exit ticket that isn’t just a “did you learn” activity. It’s a short exercise, to be sure, but it provides a student a chance to reflect on their learning and think about their level of understanding of the topic.

I haven’t read Eric’s most recent book yet, but I’ve enjoyed his Learning Transformed and Digital Leadership immensely.

Respecting Introverts

I am, without a doubt, the introvert’s introvert. I thrive in my alone time. Susan Cain’s “Quiet” has been on my TBR list for some time, and I finally started reading it during my break. It’s brilliant.

I’m about a third of the way through it. My first big takeaway is society’s focus on being an extrovert. Extroverted behavior is encouraged in our schools, companies, and governments. Nobody wants to be an introvert. Until you dig a little deeper…

For instance, Cain points out that the ranks of CEOs are filled with introverts. She quotes the imminent business expert Peter Drucker who said when speaking of companies he consulted with, “the most effective leaders had little or no charisma and little use for the term or what it signifies.”

Another interesting point from the book: 128 companies studied showed that CEOs considered extroverts had bigger salaries than their introverted counterparts but not better corporate performance.

I wonder what damage we do to introverts in our schools by not letting them be who they are and working in ways best for them.

Quote of the Day:

The one who has no wounds has never fought a battle.

– Erwin MacManus, The Way of The Warrior

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Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash

What I’m Watching:

As a reward for completing some of my coursework, I binged three episodes of Andor on Disney+. Oh my goodness, it’s so good. I highly recommend it to anyone but especially to my fellow Star Wars fans.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is a reader-supported publication. The best way to support it is to shop for some of my favorite gear (I get a cut) or hire me to speak or consult with your organization.

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