November 30, 2011

Which pictures apply to you?

Found these pictures while browsing Google Images. Got me to thinking how they define some teachers and classrooms.

So, which of these apply to you?

November 29, 2011

Do you use traditional grades

An interesting #edchat on Twitter about the impact of homework on education quickly turned to grades. I'm surprised by how many participants not only disdain homework but say that grades are unimportant.

So, what is your take on grades?

The anatomy of a year-long project

In a recent post about the year-long project, I introduced MAD, or Make a Difference. It's easy to view the classroom web page about the project and understand the basics behind it. Understanding just how the project works throughout the school year can be a bit more elusive, so please allow me to clarify.

I introduce the project to my students by showing them a trailer from the movie, Pay It Forward, which is about a teenager who comes up with a remarkable project that impacts the lives of thousands of people. I believe video is a wonderful way to launch any project, as students relate to it more readily than other methods of instruction. After the trailer, we discuss how it relates to a project called Make a Difference. At this point, I lead students to the MAD overview web page, which contains a myriad of ideas that get them talking and thinking. It's remarkable how excited students get, because they have an opportunity to do something that is entirely their own and that can impact lives.

A major unit of study for 8th-grade language arts is research. Before teaching in a ROLE, this was the time of year I hated most, because I could never figure out how to get students to embrace this complex and often monotonous task. With our MAD project, research became easy and fun. Students begin the project by researching their ideas. Unlike previous years, when students agonized over gathering information about a "famous" person they likely had never heard of, they now enjoy searching for knowledge about a subject they're invested in. They complete a research proposal and rarely even consider that they're learning how to conduct research and properly add citations to an essay.

Learning outcomes
Once the research is finished, students begin creating their projects. Along the way, I mix in activities that they apply to the project, which meets curriculum objectives without making students feel like they are meeting objectives. This can feel a lot like school, which often equates to boredom. For example, one of our standards is to write explanatory texts in order to convey complex ideas. All of the ideas for our MAD project include this sort of writing, either in the research proposal or other examples of writing that are necessary to make the project a success. The presidential campaign project, for instance, calls for speeches and commercials that explain the candidates platform. Each idea includes collaboration, discussion, persuasion, and speaking -- all speaking and listening objectives that will be covered in mini lessons throughout the course of the year.

The year-long project eliminates the need for a pacing chart -- an archaic tool that only chains teachers to traditional methods that bore students. Instead of teaching units off of a pacing chart, we operate daily in a workshop environment. Even with a small amount of time (46-minute periods), the day is broken into project work increments. If we're focusing on MAD, we'll read for 8-10 minutes (Reading All Year project), get a mini lesson, which may be a video, for 5-8 minutes, collaborate for 25 minutes with coaching from me then close. When our focus is on RAY, the collaboration time becomes independent reading and book chat, with 8-10 minutes dedicated to MAD. This system works beautifully, and you can always take a day off the schedule, if you have to work in something you feel needs more attention -- preparing for a state test, for example.

Thirst for learning
The most important aspect of results-only learning is the thirst for learning that it develops in students. A year-long project like MAD fans the intrinsic motivation that starts this amazing thirst. Students have autonomy and see the end result as something they can take pride in. Boredom is eliminated.

Learning becomes fun.

November 28, 2011

The ROLE is enveloped in the year-long project

Photo credit:
The year-long project is part of a successful results-only classroom and a piece that confounds many people. "How do year-long projects work?" is a popular question among colleagues and friends.

We are in the midst of my favorite year-long project. I call it MAD, or Make a Difference. The MAD project is an extension of a three-day project I started last year called, FedEX -- a name borrowed from Dan Pink's Drive. That project gave students two days to create anything they wanted to with very little restriction. On the third day, they delivered the project in class (a la FedEX).

The FedEX project was such a hit that I decided to convert it into a year-long event that would give me a chance to teach most of our curriculum objectives while allowing students to demonstrate their skills and to create something special. You can view the basic guidelines and some project choices at this link. It may not look like much, but I cover most of our learning outcomes with this project.

More on the specifics of how I do this later.

Meanwhile, think of one project that your students can work on all year that they'll love and that will create a fantastic avenue for you to teach most of your objectives. I dare you not to drive yourself nuts, considering the possibilities.

November 23, 2011

Are you building bridges with your students?

A key ingredient to the success of the Results Only Learning Environment is the sidebar, a one-to-one conversation with a student.

Skillful communicators use the sidebar to build bridges that create a student-teacher bond, which also fans the intrinsic motivation that helps students develop a thirst for learning. Kids who like and respect their teacher are always more willing to take on the learning challenges that the ROLE presents.

As a results-only teacher, I like to consider myself highly-efficient when it comes to using the sidebar. A recent issue with a student made me realize that you are never an expert at this complex part of student-teacher relationships.

I had an argument with a student in the classroom that became a disruption. It hit me later that our verbal sparring didn't settle the problem. In fact, the student wound up accomplishing nothing that day, so important project work time was lost. Even worse, our relationship was damaged.

After much consideration of what sparked the issue, I spoke to the student a few days later in a crucial sidebar. While others worked out of earshot, I whispered to her that I undestood her problems -- some pretty big ones that extend outside of school. I admitted that personal issues often get in the way of school and can ignite anxiety and frustration that can easily lead to disagreements with teachers, who are focused on their lessons.

She was somber and understanding. I asked her to do me a favor and to stop and think about this conversation the next time I did or said something that might upset her. This way, we would avoid disagreements. She promised that she would and, I believe, we built a bridge that didn't exist previously.

I left that conversation wondering what other students I could talk to in a sidebar and potentially build bridges like this one. Sidebars are time-consuming and challenging but one of the most worthwhile parts of creating a learning community.

The next time a student is frustrating you or being disruptive, ask yourself if you can build a bridge instead of tearing one down.

November 21, 2011

K12 online conference

Don't miss the K12 online conference, kicking off with Angela Maiers' preconference keynote today.

Access all of the conference information here.

November 19, 2011

Texting and teachable moments

This video from got my attention. The teachable moment comments are spot on. State educators getting involved scares me, though.

How are you using texting and other forms of social media in your class?

November 17, 2011

My first mobile post. Conferences going well.

Parent-teacher conferences are not so bad

The first parent-teacher conferences of the year are tonight. Believe it or not, I'm looking forward to them.

I think this is another advantage of teaching in the results-only classroom. I love talking about the freedom my students get and all of the amazing things they're doing in our workshop setting.

Mostly, I enjoy talking about stamping out traditional education and grades.

Perhaps I'll have some interesting debates.

I'll keep you posted.

November 10, 2011

ASCD Express recognizes narrative feedback

Thanks to ASCD for publishing my article on narrative feedback instead of number and letter grades.

Hope you'll give some feedback of  your own, by commenting at the ASCD Express article site or on this blog post.

November 9, 2011

Can you commit to the grading moratorium?

I'm proud that I am part of Joe Bower's grading moratorium.

Take a look at Bower's work. Can you commit to your own grading moratorium?

What stumbling blocks do you see?

November 8, 2011

Do we owe students a good test score?

While students remained home on election day, we teachers worked. As usual, our day without students consisted mainly of ubiquitous discussions of standardized tests and test preparation.

"As long as we have the test," one colleague announced, "we owe it to the kids to help them do well on it."

I pondered this briefly.

If standardized tests limit instruction, hinder learning and make students dislike school, as much research indicates, don't teachers owe students the opposite of a good score on the test?

Don't we owe them a hard-fought battle against standardized testing?

November 3, 2011

Staying the course in the ROLE

This is another installment from guest blogger and ROLE teacher, Justin Vail, a junior high social studies teacher in Indiana.

Easy Doesn’t Mean Best
Photo credit:
I think it is important for people to understand the frustrations that come with a ROLE classroom.   I know a ROLE classroom is better than a traditional classroom, but better doesn’t mean easier.  And ROLE or PBL (project-based learning) is not a magic spell that turns an apathetic student into an intrinsic learner.  Here are my main frustrations in my ROLE classroom:
  • Most students choose not to "dig in” to research--they are satisfied with the information in the first few sentences, which meets the requirements, but begins to resemble the traditional transfer from textbook to worksheet
  • As with most education settings, so many of my students are not motivated to learn anything related to content.  My district is about 70% free and reduced (lunch), and with poverty comes different priorities and survival methods.
  • Students will spend more time adjusting their font style, text color, slide animations, and a number of other things that don’t matter—and spend a relatively small amount of time reading and evaluating content. 
I am finding and experimenting with ways to address my frustrations.  I accept that some things I can’t completely change, but most things can be adjusted.  Can I change my students’ culture in a 50-minute class?  No.  But, I can change my procedures, expectations, norms, and the structure of my class to challenge and motivate my kids.  

Full disclosure—some days I want to get out the textbooks, slap a worksheet on their desks, and order them to be quiet and get to work.  It is OK to have these feelings, it comes with the territory, but most of us have learned that what is easy is rarely what is best. 

November 2, 2011

Students trust the ROLE teacher

We are always telling students that honesty is the best policy. Sometimes it's hard for teachers to be completely honest with students, though.

When I felt like I betrayed my students, because I created a project that detracted from a quarter's-worth of reading, I was forced to tell them that I had made a mistake.

"We will not continue our reading project, as I had planned," I announced at the end of the quarter.

"But, why?" they called, in an almost choral response.

"It's a mistake," I shared, as honestly as I knew how. "I want more reading, more sharing, more reflection and more book talks. The project just gets in the way of what's most important."

A few minutes later, they were back on their computers, updating their reading plans, browsing the shelves for new books and reading, as if nothing had changed.

I pondered their reaction momentarily, and it was clear to me that they trusted my judgement, because I was honest.

Are you this honest with your students?