Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

Couple assembles ikea furniture - which gender does it better

During a recent snowstorm I found myself perusing a list of recorded television shows on the DVR. While watching an episode of Bull, a show about scientific jury selection, or possibly jury manipulation, there was a term used by Dr. Bull that I had not heard before, “The IKEA Effect”. It was explained by the main character that it was a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they created. Of course this was a fictional TV show, so I had my doubts. I looked it up to confirm if it existed and sure enough, I found it to be a real thing.

On a personal level I found myself in agreement through my own experience with furniture that I had put together in the past, whether bought through IKEA or anywhere else it might have been purchased. Of course my personal reflection on this was not limited to furniture assembly. I also began to think about lessons, courses, and curriculum that I had developed or helped develop over my career.

As an educator I found that the things that I personally developed meant more to me and seemed more effective than things developed and contributed by others. This was probably because I had a clear understanding of the focus and intent of my own ideas. I was also clear about the whys and wherefores of changes that I may have made through reflection and results of formative assessments. I was also aware of the blemishes I would hope no one else would see. Although I have no personal experience with it, I imagine many educators may not feel the same types of connections with boxed curricula now being adopted by some schools.

The question I now have is, does this hold true for students as well as adults? I know that when my students were involved with the development of their own projects, as well as the rubrics that would be used for their assessment, they felt empowered in their own learning. They were very involved with the development of writing portfolios and often expressed a feeling of ownership for their own learning. These were feelings that kids do not get from lectures.

With all of this being considered, I wonder why there is still such resistance to teachers having a greater voice in what and how they teach. Additionally, why are so many teachers resistant to giving students greater voice in their own learning. As individuals I believe the more we have a say in what we do and how we do it, the more we take ownership of what we do. If teachers own their own teaching, would they not have a greater interest in its outcome? If students had a greater voice and choice in their learning, would their ownership of that learning not serve as a motivation to further expand their learning?

Our purpose in education should focus on enabling teachers to teach and teaching students how to learn. This should rely heavily on self-motivation, so that teachers own their teaching and students own their learning. Forcing tasks, information, lessons and curriculum that have little relevance to teachers or students impedes their ownership and only confuses or stifles teaching and education. Enabling more voice for teachers and students should be a key for 21st Century education.

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I remember way back in split roadthe 70’s, I think it was Time magazine that came out with an article listing the most difficult jobs in America. I remember it because at the top of that list was the job of an eighth grade English teacher. Time based its list on the number of decisions an individual had to make on the job. Of course as an eighth grade English teacher I felt Time was 100% right in recognizing my contributions to society.

Contrary to what many uninformed critics might say, teaching is a very difficult and time-consuming job. Teachers need to balance relationships of family as well as their relationships with students. Teachers need to balance family time and preparation time for students. Teachers have also in many instances been scapegoated as the root cause of a perceived failing education system. Teaching has been further complicated because of the rapid change occurring each day in our computer-based, digitally driven society.

All of these factors affect every teacher in different ways. The overall effect however seems that many educators feel that they have a difficult job that they are dedicated to, but they are constantly coming under attack from people who don’t get it. Many teachers have to follow mandates that they find fault in. They are being asked to meet demands without being afforded the time or preparation to successfully accomplish them.

Innovation is loudly called for, but support and time to develop that innovation is barely whispered about. Accountability and evaluation of teachers are still subjective concepts in many schools making them a possible threat with less progressive administrators. Innovation and experimentation can be a perilous road for a teacher to take in this current world of education. Failure, although a very strong basis for learning, is still viewed by many as something that must not happen at any cost, especially in teacher evaluations. In order to deal with all of these pressures one answer is to rely on things that worked in the past. Teachers may rely on what worked in the past without objection. It worked before, so it should withstand scrutiny again. The elephant in the room is that if we shift the goal of education from enabling real learning to obtaining better, standardized test results than test review will trump innovative lessons.

Teachers need to resist hunkering down in the successes of the past. This will not provide our students with what they will need for their future. Our learners are different. Our tools for communication, collaboration, and creation are different. Our society is demanding skills from our learners that are different. The world in which we now live is different from when many of our teachers became teachers. Things will continue to change faster than ever before in history.

We as educators cannot take the safe path of teaching from the past. Innovation is important, even if it is not wholeheartedly supported by our system. Professional development should be prioritized for teachers to evolve as constant and continuing changes take place. Teachers need to personalize their own learning, because few schools will provide what is needed to evolve professionally. It is not a comfortable road to travel. It requires time, persistence and commitment. It will involve both failure and success. It will require leaving comfort zones that are the biggest obstacles to change. It will not happen overnight. It is a continuing journey that will begin with taking a first step. As teachers we need to develop in spite of the system, or that will become the very goal of our kids.

We cannot seek safety in our teaching of the past. It would come at the expense of our students. We need to be innovative in our teaching. We need to be relevant in our learning. The system’s lack of commitment to real, respectful, thoughtful professional development, collaborative time, and innovation may be a deterrent, but it should not be the excuse not to innovate. We have the tools and abilities to circumvent that system until it has time to catch up if it choses to do so. We can never let our comfort zones take precedence over our students’ learning.

If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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snapshot-cameraIn a world where we emphasize branding systems, organizations and even people with all the positives, while downplaying all the negatives, it becomes very difficult to get an accurate picture of something so obscured with both what is real and what is hype. Nowhere is this more evident than at any public occasion where a school/district administrator describes his or her school’s/district’s success in being a model of 21st century learning. It is on such occasions that buzzwords and acronyms play such a significant role in confusing the picture of where we really are in education.

I am always wary of any administrator’s description of programs within their schools as if one successful program supported by a few progressive and passionate educators in a school is typical of all that is going on throughout the district. I am equally wary of teachers in public sessions presenting progressive lessons supported with technology and student voice as typical lessons employed by all of their fellow educators in their school or district. This is also a practice of our professional organizations in Education. They promote themselves as leading edge tech drivers for learning, while their sponsors, tech companies, drive most of that and not their members, educators.

We should all share with others great things that we are doing in education. These are the very things needed to inform and inspire others to step up as well. We should not however sell it as the norm for the school unless it is. More often than not however these are exceptional examples for a very good reason: others are not replicating them.

Of course the obvious question, to me at least, is: If this description of progressive, tech-supported, collaborative, student supported learning is so positively impactful in describing a school or district, why aren’t we pushing for it through our policies, professional development, and money? Why are these things still the exceptions to the rule in education? If the control and compliance strategy of the 20th century is not what is being touted as an exemplar for 21st Century learning presented to the public, why is it still so prevalent in the system? Why are we not reframing our definition of an administrator and teacher to be digitally literate? Why are we not giving voice to all constituents in a school community? Why are we not promoting a school culture that supports collaboration and technological competence for all life long learners that includes all administrators, teachers and students? Why are we not providing authentic, respectful, differentiated Professional Development to our educators?

We should have pride in our schools. We should share with people the wonderful things that are being accomplished. Teachers should share their most successful lessons with other educators. If however we take those snapshots of great things and convince or even imply to people that this is the way all learning is taking place for the sake of branding, it is a step too far.

There is a need to assess exactly what the skills are of our educators of varied ages who have come from various backgrounds and experiences in order to provide what each individual needs in PD. There is a need for every school to examine what their school culture is, in order to align it with what they want it to be. There is a need to define what a 21st Century educator is in order to move a majority of educators out of their 20th Century mindset.

When someone is painting a picture of his or her contribution to the learning of his or her students, it should be limited to that alone. Teachers and administrators should not imply and we should not assume that their snapshots of their classes or projects are the feature film of the entire school’s learning environment. Their accomplishments and those of their students however should be a model to get schools to evolve to a place and time where it is representative of the entire school’s learning environment.

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I have been very fortunate to travel both nationally and internationally to attend education conferences. A primary benefit of this is having great conversations with various types of educators. With so many of these conversations taking place on a regular basis, I find myself often depending on an opening question that resides on a short list of questions in my head. I have teacher questions, principal questions, and superintendent questions. Most of these questions are geared to being connected. Unfortunately, too often I need to first define what being connected means.

Since I have become so immersed in the concept of connectedness through social media, I too often forget that not every educator gets it yet. It has only taken me a decade to understand that. I have trouble understanding why so many educators are still clueless about the need for collaboration and its link to social media and technology? Of course, as a former teacher, I, rightly or wrongly, hold administrators to a higher standard, believing leaders should lead. My need to hold admins more accountable led me to ask (out of ignorance) in a recent Edchat, ” Why are there no standards for administrators?” Someone immediately provided: Accomplished Principal Standards from the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders First Edition National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 1525 Wilson Boulevard l Arlington, VA 22209 USA www.nbpts.org. I finally had an official document to tell me what is truly expected of school principals in order to be considered “Accomplished”. Of course that is not to say that all principals are accomplished, but it is at the very least a goal.

As I perused the extensive document, I came to the section IX. Reflection and Growth. It was an affirmation of my doubts about principals who are not connected being, or at the very least becoming increasingly irrelevant in the 21st Century model of education. Extending this out in my own head, if it applied to principals, it surely applied to superintendents as well. Here is the passage that most caught my attention:

Accomplished principals use technology as a powerful learning tool. They may participate in digital networks for communication among professional colleagues, use social networking tools for informal learning, or take part with professional colleagues in online learning communities. These principals use such learning opportunities to consistently reflect on ways to improve their practice of leadership.


This now provided a much better and focused set of questions that I could expect administrators to have an understanding.

Here is my new list of admin questions:


1 Do you consider yourself an accomplished administrator?

2 What digital networks do you use for your communication with professional colleagues?

3 What social networking tools do you employ for your informal learning?

4 In what ways are you using these connected opportunities to reflect and improve your practice?

5 How has technology impacted your learning?


Of course I am a retired teacher, author, and Blogger, so I can ask these questions with impunity. I risk nothing posing these questions to administrators. Working educators do not have that luxury. There could be grave consequences if they posed these same questions to their administrators. How do we hold administrators responsible for meeting standards posed by their own professional organizations to maintain what should be expected of any 21st Century administrator? Are these standards only for good public relations, or are they really what should be expected or better yet demanded of every administrator?

I have always said that to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. I think I should also now say that, if we are to hold our teachers to higher standards as 21st Century educators, we need to first align their leaders to those same standards. Feel free to print this out and place it in an administrator’s mailbox if they are not an administrator who would view this online as “Accomplished Principals Standards” suggest.


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We often hear that the most influential element in a student’s life is the teacher. As an educator this can be both an honor and a daunting responsibility. It elevates the status of a position, often viewed by some as public service, to that of a valued mentor. This would all be well and good if education could truly be defined as it was for centuries in the past. Students were empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge of their teachers. If this were in any way true today, and a teacher was able to pour all of the knowledge contained in his or her head into the empty vessels seated in rows before him or her, the teacher would still not be imparting enough information for an adequate education in today’s world. Our world, as well as information itself, changes and evolves at too fast a pace. Teaching and learning are evolving and many of the old concepts no longer apply.

Unfortunately however, many politicians and some educators buy into this traditional model of what an educator should be, and base teacher evaluations on it. In many states a teacher’s evaluation will be predominantly based on how well his or her students perform on a standardized test. That test performance has de facto become the goal of education.

What makes all of this so complicated is that kids are not widgets. They are complicated. It may be true that a teacher may at times be the most influential factor in the classroom for some kids, but not for all kids, and not every time. Kids do not leave everything at the door of the classroom so they can have their vessels filled. All of their problems travel with them. The difference between kid problems and adult problems is that, hopefully, adults have learned coping mechanisms, but kids have not.

Teachers do not just address that part of a kid that is in school to learn. The whole child with all of his or her problems must be addressed. Learning, no matter who is the teacher takes a back seat to safety, hunger, health, and emotional stability. When it comes to kids we need to first address Maslow’s Hierarchy before we can get to Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is never a consideration in a teacher’s evaluation.

Kids today are entering schools after traveling through neighborhoods that might be considered war zones in some countries. Kids are coming from homes where education is not a priority at all. English in many homes is a second language at best. Kids are coming to school not from homes, but cars or shelters. Beyond the complications of urban poverty, we have large regions of the country experiencing rural poverty with different problems for kids, but the same results. Their problems and needs take precedence over learning in school.

How can we possibly assess and evaluate a teacher’s performance without assessing and evaluating each of his or her students? The tests that students are forced to take may be standardized, but the students themselves are not. Each student is different with problems that affect their ability to learn each and every day with varying intensity. That is what complicates learning and teaching. How can there be simple solutions with so many complicated variables?

To complicate things further for teachers, they must also deal with the red tape of shortsighted policies. Policies often put in place to address issues that have little to do with educating a child. Teaching involves dealing with the whole child and all of the complications that come with it; yet, we are told that a standardized test for all is the answer. It is the golden measure. It will tell us how much each student has learned and how effective each teacher was in teaching without regard for any other factors beyond the grade on the test.

With standardized testing and all of the curriculum materials and extras that go along with that making a BILLION dollars a year for a few companies, I fear it will be with us longer, but we have already lived with it for longer than we should have. We cannot however allow politicians to use these tests to decimate the teaching profession and public education beyond repair. Yes, we need to evaluate a teacher’s performance, but it must be done fairly and in consideration of what the job really requires. It can’t be done in a way that simply ignores what it is that teachers are being required to do every day they report to work. Teaching and learning have nothing to do with empty vessels. Politics and politicians however might better fit that description. Maybe before we can better educate our kids, we need to first better educate our politicians.

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Poster Fac Mtg

Over the many years that #Edchat has been engaging educators, one topic that always generates a huge amount of interest, based on comments, is the faculty meeting. Teachers are required to attend the faculty meetings that administrators are required to hold and very few are happy with the results. The only upside is that with each meeting a check may be placed in the box for attending.

Technology may be a way to update the tired model of the faculty meeting. Email for the faculty may be a great way to distribute the mundane stuff that takes up so much time at these meetings. Of course a really progressive administrator might have a weekly Blog that could address a great many topics that bog down the faculty meetings. Once the day-to-day school housekeeping topics are removed from the meeting there will be more time for more substantive topics that affect learning in education. Using a Google Document to circulate amongst the faculty for suggested topics of discussion for the upcoming meetings might be a great direction in order to address real faculty needs and concerns.

Once topics are decided upon a flipped meeting should serve the faculty well. Material like blog posts or videos could be assembled and distributed using tools for collaboration prior to the meeting. This will prepare the faculty for what will happen rather than dropping it on them in the meeting. Assessment tools could be used for formative assessment during the meeting to gauge understanding of the topic by the faculty. Any teams or committees formed from this meeting can be connected through collaborative tools and shared documents to create a professional Learning community. Administrators in those groups will immediately be aware of any problems that might arise as the groups strive to complete their goals. There will be no need to wait for another faculty meeting to get results

Technology offers many tools to change the face of the faculty meeting. It can make it a means of change for the school culture. It can permit and support teachers with bold and innovative ideas to lead their colleagues into change, or just expand and improve what change is already occurring.

Time in education is a precious commodity to teachers. To waste a monthly get-together of the entire staff is an outrage when there are so many real needs that should be addressed or things to learn. Just because we have always run faculty meetings a certain way, that is not a justification for continuing what is so obviously a bad, or at least an unproductive practice. Administrators need to stop observing and commenting on how technology is being used by others in their school and begin employing it themselves to improve their schools. In so doing they would be modeling for all the thoughtful, meaningful, and responsible way to use technology in education without fear.

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I posed an #Edchat Topic recently based on a number of studies I have been reading about that are claiming millions of dollars are being spent, or wasted, on professional development, while very few teachers are benefitting from it. Again the age-old story of doing things the same old way but expecting different results defeats us as a profession. The method of doing professional development for educators has largely not changed over the decades. It may be time to re-examine a few things.


Pedagogy vs. Andragogy

I have addressed this in several earlier posts, but it needs to be re-stated until people finally begin to understand that there are differences in how adults effectively learn, andragogy, compared to the motivations in learning by children, which is pedagogy. Pedagogy is what most educators are familiar with because it was taught to them to enable them to teach kids. It is how kids learn best. The natural thing for an educator to do when he or she is teaching a professional development course however is to go with what he or she knows. The result is that professional development is taught to adults as if they were children learners. How effective is that result going to be?


Collaboration vs. Lecture

Key factors in adult learning, or the intrinsic motivations for adults to learn are ownership of the learning to meet personal needs and being able to use tomorrow what’s learned today. As a whole adults are better with collaborative learning since it gives them control to direct the learning to what they need to know. It also exposes them to things they may not be aware of through the experiences of others. Conversation is often the best way for them to learn. As an adult, think about your own experiences with how you have most recently learned things successfully. Do not use your childhood experiences of learning.


Conferences vs. Unconferences

Most professional development today is often based on Power Point Presentations. These are nothing more than elaborate lectures. It is a lecture enhanced with visual aids, bells and whistles. If done properly, and not a victim of a death by power point delivery (having every word on every slide read to the audience by the presenter) these presentations are sometimes interesting. The question is, how much was retained by the audience? How many will take action on that lecture the next day in class with their students?

These presentation sessions are the mainstay of most education conferences that are counted on for professional development in the United States. All of these sessions are scheduled in elaborate form so that this menu of sessions can be presented to the attendees in a printed form. The only choice for events are those on the menu which for the most part were arranged through RFP’s almost a year prior to the conference. This holds true in local, state, regional and national conferences of most education organizations.

The Unconference or the Edcamp Model is completely different. It does not rely on Power Point Presentation sessions. It relies on conversational, collaborative sessions led by those who are either familiar with a topic, or by those who are interested in learning about the topic. The attendees decide upon the entire Edcamp schedule of sessions on the morning of the conference. It is designed to meet the needs of their interests. They have control of their own learning, which is a key factor of andragogy.


One way for everyone vs. Individualized instruction

 Gathering up all of the staff and forcing them all into sessions in order to check off a box stating that PD was delivered is no way to professionally develop a staff with knowledge, tools, or a mindset that is relevant to their needs. We need to take some time to determine a few things. What it is that the school must provide to reach its goal? What it is that the teachers and administrators have that will help get to that goal? What is the gap that each teacher or administrator must fill between what they know and practice and what they need to achieve the school’s goals? It will obviously be a range of things that will need to be individualized. There may be some common threads that may be presented to groups with similar needs, but a baseline for every individual needs to be established. Technology is often the area of most needed concern. It is the area that continually evolves and requires frequent visitations in order for users in this case teachers to maintain their relevance. Assessments are not done once and finished. They need to be done periodically to accommodate the changes that occur.

Here is a needs assessment form that was used in some North Carolina schools as an example:

School Technology Needs Assessment


 Professional Development over the last decades has not worked in education. If it were working we would not be spending all of the time and money on trying to reform the system. As a profession we deal in information and content. We are both consumers and creators. We also impart those methods of consuming and creating to kids. Everything that we rely on to consume and create however is changing at a rate never before experienced. This is all a result of living in a technology-driven society.Technology will continue to evolve and change and this will be a constant. Educators will need to be, to use a tech term, upgraded from time to time. Our problem right now is that we have not yet done it properly, so teachers and administrators are all over the map with experience. We need to account for where each is and get each to where they should be and update accordingly from there.

It is a waste and morally irresponsible to throw money at professional development without considering how it should be done. If it is not working and we know that from our assessment, then we need to change what we are doing. We are educators and we should know how to do this. One poor teacher makes all teachers look bad. Many poor teachers make things far worse. Perhaps the reality is that we have fewer poor teachers, but a number who simply need upgrading. To better educate our kids, we first need to better educate their educators.

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