September 30, 2011

Who are the real education reformers?

Even though it was a lone comment, I was honored when a teacher called results-only learning and narrative feedback the "kinds of reforms that will make a transformation in education."

Other people who know me personally have often told me that they think the kind of progressive education that I advocate should be used in all schools. Some even wonder aloud why it isn't. Of course, that's a different story entirely.

This got me wondering, though, who are the real education reformers, and what changes are they making, if any, in American education? And how does a legitimate reform movement begin?

I know people love Sir Ken Robinson, but most of his work has been done overseas with governments and Fortune 500 companies. Don't get me wrong; I think Robinson is inventive and entertaining, but he's never even been a K-12 educator.

Some people believe Michelle Rhee is a reformer. Rhee is more of an opportunist and is not a real teacher -- her training coming at Teach for America. Regular readers know how I feel about Teach. . . .

Still others favor Salman Khan and his Khan Academy. Again, there's some good stuff here, but Khan is not and never has been a teacher. Calling his video site education reform is sort of like calling "Obamacare" healthcare reform (hold your fire, democrats; I voted for him).

Some people, although I don't know who they are, believe that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a reformer. Duncan loves merit pay, charter schools and and more standardized testing. Is this what will improve education in our country?

So, even if it's a bit self-serving, I'm going to cast my vote for results-only learning. I think this is the best reform possible, and all it needs is a legitimate movement.

Any ideas on how to get more progressive, results-only learning in school districts across America?

September 29, 2011

What is your ROLE Story?

photo credit: Scholastic.com
Please share any results-only learning, or progressive, teaching success stories on our new ROLE Stories page.

More teachers converting to a ROLE

I was thrilled to get an e-mail from Joey, a Midwestern state teacher, who tells me that after many years of teaching, he's made the conversion to a Results Only Learning Environment.

Joey writes:

"My friend is the 7th grade social studies teacher and after a month of convincing, he has bought in and is also trying a ROLE's classroom.

"In my class there are no tests, quizzes, or homework.  Now I have not completely stopped giving grades, but instead of me grading the kids, they are having one on one talks with me and grading themselves on individual projects and group projects. I really feel like I already know the students better and what they know in a better way.  After 12 years of desks in rows, they are gone and my kids are in groups at tables everyday.  I have gone to the beginnings of project based learning and navigating my way through that.

"I really have not had rules in my class.  It is funny about your post a couple of days ago about rules.  I actually tell my kids the exact same thing.  You have been in school for 7 - 8 years and you know what is expected.  I have two requests for the kids.....Do your best (which covers pretty much everything) and persistence.  Other than that I am pretty laid back and just enjoy teaching."
Joey is one of many teachers who either use some results-only strategies or are taking the complete plunge and building a Results Only Learning Environment.

So, what kinds of ROLE strategies are you using?

September 27, 2011

September 26, 2011

Rapport-building in the ROLE

Photo credit: ImpactLearning.com
In the post, "Dealing with reluctant learners," I emphasize the power of rapport-building with students as a way to get reluctant learners to embrace results-only learning. At the end of that post, I promised to share some examples.

The simple sidebar
Not unfamiliar to any teacher, the simple sidebar is the chat that is in some cases completely unrelated to the content of the class. It's what appears to be nothing more than small talk; questions like, "Did you have a good weekend, Erica?" or "How did your band concert go? I wish I could have been there, David." As insignificant as these sidebars appear, they go a long way to cementing good student-teacher rapport, as they show genuine care and, sadly, many students don't believe teachers care about them.

The private chat
The results-only teacher, I believe, does more with the private chat than the traditional teacher. Where a traditional classroom teacher uses the private chat to threaten consequences, the ROLE teacher pulls a student aside to re-emphasize what the student needs to be an effective part of the learning community. A private chat with a reluctant learner might look like this:
Teacher: "I think that you are socializing a bit too much, and it's keeping you and your group from meeting your project goals."
Student: "I don't like this project; I think it's boring."
Teacher: "Hmm., did you forget that you have choice in the project? Maybe you should choose a different part, or create a project of your own."
Student: "I can do that?"
Granted, the student is not this agreeable in every case and, sometimes, a subsequent private chat is necessary. The key is to keep them positive and focused on the goals; emphasize that the student plays a valuable role in a small group and a larger learning community.

Self-deprecating humor
In my traditional teacher days, I used sarcasm with students. It took me many years to learn that sarcasm never helps and, in many cases, can leave long-lasting scars on student-teacher relationships. I have since replaced sarcasm with self-deprecating humor, something all students appreciate.

I often ask students to repeat an earlier instruction -- nothing revolutionary. I usually say it in a self-deprecating way: "Someone remind me where we're meeting tomorrow; you know, when  you get to be my age, the memory is the first thing to go."

Many teachers seem to be born with this easy-going style. For those of you who are not, it's easy to adapt to it. If I did it, anyone can (see, self-deprecating humor).

The best results-only bloggers

I was trolling my Google reader this morning, clicking through to my favorite bloggers. Although there are many amazing educators in my reader, covering a variety of education-related topics, I'm especially partial to those who write about results-only learning (whether they use the phrase or not).

Here is a list of my favorite progressive educators. I strongly recommend that you follow them on Twitter and add them to your reader:

Joe Bower - For the Love of Learning: When I first started looking for progressive educators while writing my book on results-only learning, Joe was the first person I found, whose philosophies mirror mine. Joe writes often on the ills of traditional teaching and the evils of standardized testing. His ideas on formative assessment are revolutionary.

Pernille Ripp -- Blogging through the Fourth Dimension: I met Pernille on Twitter, and her blog (one of the coolest names ever) quickly became a must-read.  Pernille runs the results-only playbook daily, which I, of course, believe is the way to do things in education.

Monika Hardy -- you blog: Monika is a truly unique thinker, who shared one of my new favorite quotes, "Get out of their way," when I was writing last summer. She is part of a remarkable teaching and learning experiment that puts learning in students' hands. You can learn more about it at Lab Connections.

Eric Sheninger -- A Principal's Reflections: Featured in major media nationwide, Eric is arguably the most progressive-minded principal you find. He embraces social media for teachers and students and enlightens educators everywhere about the power of 21st century learning.

Valerie Strauss -- The Answer Sheet: Valerie is an education journalist and blogger for the Washington Post. A true friend of the reform movement, Valerie features articles by education reformers such as Alfie Kohn and Stephen Krashen and adds her own unique spin.

Angela Maiers: I met Angela through Twitter a few years ago, and she has been instrumental in my professional growth. A 20-year classroom teacher, Angela now offers PD nationwide on progressive education and passion-driven teaching. Angela features ROLE-type blog posts weekly and is one of the most passionate educators you'll ever meet.

September 25, 2011

Dealing with reluctant learners

Even a Results Only Learning Environment has reluctant learners. In most cases, they are reluctant because of the many years of traditional teaching that have made them believe school is boring and learning is not fun or necessary.

Photo credit: eHow.com
Often, reluctant learners are resistant to even the freedom and engagement that at ROLE offers. The best way to engage these students is to interact with them often and work on building rapport.

Teachers have to fight the immediate urge to discipline reluctant learners, who may also appear disruptive. They socialize more, leave their seats and resist completing class activities. I used to send these students to our Student Management Room, which is nothing short of a detention center.

My justification for using the SMR as a disciplinary tool was that reluctant learners were distracting the rest of the classes from completing activities.

Now, as a results-only teacher, I realize that anytime a student is not in my classroom, she is losing an opportunity to develop a thirst for learning. Overcoming the years of conditioning that reluctant learners have received from traditional teachers is challenging.

The best way to "turn these kids around" is constant rapport-building. Reluctant learners do not readily view teachers as their friends. More likely they see teachers as authority figures, who only desire to control students.

Be sure to watch for the next post on specific examples of how to build rapport with reluctant learners in a results-only classroom.

September 21, 2011

Spreading the word about Reading All Year

Due to a wide array of factors, my school's standardized test scores in reading were down last year. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am as much against high stakes testing as anyone, so I don't put too much stock in the test results.



When the teachers in my department met with our superintendent, though, to discuss how we could improve scores this year, I found this to be an excellent platform for me to spread the word on what I believe is an easy fix to this problem -- more reading.

When it was my turn to speak, I offered one simple declaration: "We need to read more. Put books in every kid's hands and read all year in and out of class."

This is part of my Reading All Year Program (RAY), a hybrid of similar reading programs created by experts in reading literacy, Donalyn Miller and Nancie Atwell. You can learn all about RAY in the slide show above.

I'm hoping that RAY becomes part of all language arts classes at my school. Not only will students become better readers, in general, but I know they will automatically perform better on the achievement test.

September 16, 2011

Can you empathize with parents and students?

As I write in my forthcoming book, I used to be a "my-way-or-the-highway guy." I made it clear to students that they were to sit in their seats, remain silent, and don't even think of asking to leave the room.

The Results Only Learning Environment changes this. It creates a learning community that empowers students with autonomy and a passion for learning. Since converting to a ROLE, I feel like I look at students differently from how I did in the my-way-or-the-highway days. I believe that I can empathize with students and parents in ways I never did in the past.

A recent parent meeting, though, got me to thinking about my relationship with all students. These caring, insightful parents had me wondering if old ways hadn't crept into my ROLE, especially when I was dealing with their child. "She feels that you single her out," I was told.

Upon careful consideration, I knew they were right. The student felt picked on, maybe even unwanted.

I assured the parents this wasn't the case, but I had to admit that I was guilty of singling the student out by telling her I had different expectations of her, because I know her better than the rest of the class.

The key to this very successful meeting was the empathy I felt for the parents, especially the father, who told me he wanted to know that I cared for his daughter. Not so long ago, I might not have been able to empathize with him, because the my-way-or-the-highway attitude got in the way.


I won't let a lack of empathy with parents and students invade my results-only classroom again.

September 15, 2011

On Smartboards and the like

My good friend, Pernille Ripp, kicked up some dust, when she asked for feedback about Smartboards. There is a long-standing debate about the value of Interactive White Boards (IWBs) around the blogosphere and Twitterverse.

Ripp was on a fact-finding mission, since a Smartboard was deposited into her classroom, even though she didn't ask for it. Soon, her quest for information turned into quite a heated debate between those for and against Smartboards.

I usually avoid the IWB argument, the same way I do politics. (I just figure you can't convince people with staunch beliefs on certain subjects to chnge.) I did weigh in on Ripp's post, mainly because I admire her as a colleague and she asked for feedback.

Pulled into the tornado
It wasn't long before the debate spilled into my Twitter stream, and another educator I greatly admire, Lisa Nielsen, shared her hardline opinion that Smartboards are, in effect, useless.

Since Lisa and I have conversed on IWBs in the past, I was not immediately compelled to respond. After a few tweets, though, I found myself so intrigued by the debate that I scurried off to this blog, so I'd have more than 140 characters to share my opinion.

Thoughts on IWBs
It's important to note that I have a Smartboard. I got it five years ago with federal funds that were supplied by my district. In all honesty, back then I wasn't informed enough to ask that the money be spent on laptops or netbooks which, admittedly, would have been much more useful.

Like Nielsen and many of my peers, I believe that any IWB is a waste of money. I would always recommend anything that gets the classroom closer to a 1:1 computer/student ratio. It's better to have all students interacting than one at a time.

In all fairness to people like me, who already have an IWB or are told they will be given one at no choice of their own, like Pernille Ripp was, it's important to make the best use of what you have. Many educators who constantly bash the use of IWBs contend that they make bad teachers. This might be true, but it might be untrue; it depends on the teacher.

Innovative educators can inspire learning with a toothbrush and a rock. Conversely, some teachers could have access to a space shuttle and make students feel like they are watching paint dry.

Summarizing
I think classrooms need to go digital as quickly as possible. The best way is through mobile learning, iPads, Web 2.0, social media and anything that gets kids to love learning. Do I recommend spending $2,500 on a Smartboard? No.

But if one is dropped in your lap, turn that sucker on and make the most of it.

Diving into the deep end of mobile learning

Thanks to a marvelous Personal Learning Network, I recently stumbled upon the web-based text application, Celly.

For roughly a year, I've been casually searching for a way to have my students use text messaging for class discussions -- an easy way to introduce mobile learning. Celly is definitely the answer, as it allows administrators (or curators, as Celly calls them) to create private text rooms (cells), where students must acquire access from the teacher.

My zeal sometimes gets the best of me, when it comes to integrating new technology into the classroom; I'm not one to test something for weeks, prior to using it. So, only a few short days after discovering Celly and setting up the cells for each of my five classes, out came the mobile devices.

The most shocking discovery was that in some classes, less than half of the students had cell phones. (Some reported that they simply weren't allowed to bring them to school.) Those who did participate were genuinely excited about the experience. After a few insignificant texts -- "This is cool," "Let's do this all the time," "Wassup" -- the conversation soon turned to a spirited discussion of books and their impact on the readers.

As is the case with most new technology, there were a few glitches. Some wireless service providers did not interface with Celly. Some students had phones set to block texting, and they didn't know how to disable this security measure. Plus, like a Twitter chat, the Celly discussion moves very fast, and some students complained that it was hard to keep up.

Still, in the long run, our first experience with texting was a major success and a true example of results-only learning. I'm looking forward to doing it again.

September 14, 2011

Old habits die hard

Recently, I encountered several teachers, who are stuck in their traditional world, and it hit me that old habits die hard.

One teacher announced that her students were awful at following simple directions for bell work, which included putting a proper heading on the paper. (These are 7th graders.) "So," she complained, "We  spent the entire class period on bell work.

My thought? Throw out the bell work. Then, she'd have no lesson at all, but the students' enthusiasm might increase.
As students passed through the hallways, another colleague spied a young man who had a ball cap strapped to his belt loop. He was immediately dispatched back to his locker to return the head cover.

My thought? Seriously, is a cap on a belt loop worth taking a teenager's mind off of learning?

Later, a student asked me to go to the bathroom with only a minute left in class. "The bell is about to ring," I told him. He frowned, before informing me that his next teacher never lets students go. So, I told the teacher that a student said, "You never let them go to the bathroom." His response. "I don't."

My thought? What if you had to pee, and I told you it wasn't allowed?

It's remarkable to me that the simplest acts, things that build teacher-student rapport and encourage a thirst for learning, are constantly ignored by veteran teachers.

I guess old habits really do die hard.

September 13, 2011

Can you cry in front of your students?

I showed the video below to my students on Patriot Day. During the video, I had tears in my eyes. Students seemed genuinely surprised that a teacher would get emotional in class.

It was a powerful, rapport-building moment. So, can you bring yourself to cry in front of your students?

September 12, 2011

Imagine your students doing this

Want to get your students truly excited about creating something unique?

Show them this remarkable video, then challenge them to create a similar project.


September 11, 2011

A real-life project

If you doubt the power of project-based learning, take a look at the video below.

September 10, 2011

Of course, you can listen to music during class

Photo credit: socialwebpromotion.com
A remarkable turn of events occurred at my school recently, providing another excellent opportunity for coaching the autonomy and intrinsic motivation that is critical to the success of a Results Only Learning Environment. YouTube was made available to students. (Hopefully, it wasn't an accident.)

On this incredible day, I just happened to have my students in a computer lab, so we could work on our classroom web site. Throughout the day, the buzz about YouTube's availability had spread through the hallways, and it didn't take long for my students to discover this uncanny miracle.

As my 8th graders worked on their private web sites, creating new pages and links where they would place reading plans, novel reflections, projects and more, a student nervously asked if he could pull up a music video and play it in the background, underneath his classroom web site, while he worked. Every student within earshot craned his or her neck and waited silently, eager to hear my response.

"Of course, you can," I nodded, shrugging off what the students perceived to be a crazy request.

I told him in a voice that all students could hear that I was interested in the results. "I need you to watch the video I created for today's lesson and to create two pages with accompanying links on your home page. Can you do this, while listening to music?" He promised me he could.

Moments later, half of the class was locating music videos on YouTube, clicking play, then lowering the YouTube pages to their desktops, so our classroom site could be the focus of their attention.

The day couldn't have gone better, as all students completed the objectives, while shaking their heads and tapping their fingers to the beat.

With only a few minutes left, as they returned their headphones to me, I explained that YouTube had previously been blocked to students, because many administrators and teachers don't trust students to make good decisions. "In a results-only classroom," I emphasized, "autonomy is king. If you can accomplish a task, why shouldn't you be able to do it comfortably? Just remember the responsibility that comes with this kind of freedom."

The message was clear, and I never saw so many smiles in one class in my career.

September 8, 2011

Patience and persistence rule the ROLE

Photo credit: elev8.com
I teach five sections of language arts to 109 total 8th graders. Like most years, some groups are a little tougher than others.

It's very early, I realize, but more students than last year, in general, have been reluctant to embrace our year-long reading program and other results-only learning strategies.

This has been a little frustrating, mainly because last years' students adapted to the ROLE so easily.

While I was recently reflecting on the first 10 days of the year, I realized that I needed to take my own advice: be patient and persistent.


So yesterday and today, I redoubled my efforts. Instead of getting frustrated when students were not discussing books or reading silently, I gently reminded them of the value of these activities.

When students asked what our reading project was worth, I reminded them that it is an opportunity for them to demonstrate learning in activities that they choose and that I would provide meaningful feedback along the way, rather than punish them with a number or letter grade. Then, I shared some narrative feedback for the entire class to see.

Most importantly, I began supplying even more feedback. I wrote on our online grade program comments like:
"You need to use all of the independent reading time I provide to read and reflect. Too much socializing makes it difficult for you to demonstrate understanding of learning outcomes, and it also disrupts those around you. If you need help finding something interesting to read, please see me. Remember, reading will make you more successful in all that you do."
These comments soon garnered e-mails from parents, thanking me and assuring me that they would help their children understand what they need to do.

I'm sure all is not suddenly roses, but the students are coming around -- thanks to a little patience and persistence.

September 6, 2011

Bring students into the rules discussion

One of my favorite bloggers, the extremely bright Pernille Ripp, sparked some Twitter chatter with her recent post on classroom rules.

Ripp says that students already know the rules, and we don't need to quote them in our classrooms.
'"Isn't this your 6th year in school?"  All nodded and starting to wake up a little.  "Do you need me to explain the rules or can you tell me what they are?"  With this, the buzzing started.  That little bit of chatter that kids get involved in when they start to see the light.  "We know the rules, I know how to act, we can set the rules...."'
Photo by: Trexglobal.com
Obviously, as a teacher in a Results Only Learning Environment, I am on board with this approach. It's a difficult one for many teachers to embrace, though.

When I tell colleagues that I have no classroom rules, they are shocked. For some reason, there is an obsession with posting a bunch of Do's and Dont's around the room in gigantic type size.

As Ripp suggests, students already know the rules, especially older kids who have had rules and consequences hammered into them year after year by every teacher with a whiteboard or poster and tape. So, why repeat them? Why not discuss what will make any class successful, instead? Why not allow the students to lead the conversation, like Ripp did.
"I gave my students a voice and let them lead and they showed me they already know.  I am so excited for the rest of the year."
Give your students a voice, and you will be on your way to a problem-free classroom.