April 30, 2012

Bye-bye honors, Bye-bye cheating

Lots of people around the blogosphere are rankled over a lawsuit parents filed on behalf of their cheating son.

The Sequoia High student was unceremoniously jettisoned from his honors class after copying homework, which violated the honor code he'd signed.

Fearing that the ejection  might interfere with his ability to qualify for an elite college, mom and dad are suing the school district.

Sure, this sounds petty and ridiculous, but what if we eliminated the "honors" tag on classes? Maybe the pressure to get higher grades might dissipate and the enthusiasm for cheating might quickly vaporize.

Do we really need honors classes?

Even math people get results-only learning

Thanks to David Wees for sharing this on his blog. It's not just about math though. See if you can find the ROLE strategies in the presentation.

Can you explain this worksheet?

My son brought home a math worksheet with this problem on it:

Clue 1: I am greater than 15 and less than 40.
Clue 2: If you double me, I become a number that ends in 0.
Clue 3: 1/5 of me is equal to 5.

This might be a fun group game, but I'm not sure of the value of this worksheet. 

So, math people, help me out. Why would my son or anyone else ever need to know the answer to the above problem?

April 27, 2012

Put away that electronic device, or else!

Today was one of those days that made me wish I worked some place else.

Photo credit: InMagine
I work at a grade 7 and 8 middle school that is filled with wonderful teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff, many of whom will stop at nothing to help students learn. Some of them are quirky; some are funny. Some have marvelous ideas about how to make education better; some just wear a never-ending smile that always makes your day.

Sounds great, right? So why would anyone complain about a place like this?

The problem, you see, is that while these marvelous people are willing to go the extra mile for kids, many of them think the best way to do this is to control students.

As I watched students work cooperatively, independently, quietly and noisily in my results-only classroom, an e-mail landed in my inbox, quickly followed by another and several more -- all on the same subject.

"This place is out of control, and it has to stop," was the gist of the lot. The students, it seems, are listening to their Mp3 players and iPods in the hallways, and the safety of the school, perhaps even that of the entire civilized world, is at stake. (Okay, that was poetic license run amok.)

Still, a steady stream of loud complaints cascaded throughout teachers' email, demanding a change. By the end of the day, the change was announced by our principal. If only we could get an important decision made this quickly.

As you may have guessed, my take on this was quite different. Sadly, my suggestion to teach the students appropriate use, rather than take the devices away, was met with criticism.

It makes me wonder, will we ever join the 21st century digital age? Or, do I need to look for a new place to hang my hat. . . and my iPod.

April 19, 2012

Difference Maker: Richard Byrne

Because ROLE Reversal is about the transformation of education, it's important to recognize the true change agents around the world, so this series is dedicated to the Difference Makers.

Richard Byrne
You may know him as the creator of the amazing web site, Free Technology for Teachers. Although this is what Richard Byrne is most popular for in education circles, he is also a well-known presenter, consultant, writer and a true difference maker.

Image credit: Sarah Sutter

Byrne has taught social studies and language arts in a high school in Maine for eight years. In this brief tenure, Byrne has done what it takes many teachers full careers to accomplish.

While teaching, Byrne started Free Technology for Teachers a few years ago, as an online library of resources he might use for teaching. This became his personal and professional obsession. "I spend many hours every day reading tech blogs and trying out new tools," Byrne says.

The payoff is a site that now has over 44,000 e-mail subscribers and has led to numerous other education consulting opportunities for Byrne, who is also a Google certified teacher and a columnist for the School Library Journal.


Like most successful teachers, Byrne has had numerous inspirations that helped him succeed as a teacher. Steven Ray and Stephen Butcher were teachers who taught Byrne in his words "to focus more on developing relationships with students, rather than worrying about covering all of the minute details of US History."

Byrne's personal inspirations are Olympic archer, Butch Johnson, and Mount Everest climber, Ed Webster. "Neither has had wild financial success from their efforts, but they have great stories to tell from having pursued their passions throughout their lives," Byrne says.


In a profession that is becoming more and more driven by technology, Richard Byrne is a true difference maker. His advice for teachers, using technology: "Don't be afraid to push buttons," and maybe more important, "don't be afraid  to let the students help you."

Learn more

To learn more about Richard Byrne, visit Free Technology for Teachers and follow him on Twitter. Byrne's Twitter handle is @rmbyrne.

Keep an eye out for future installments of this series by clicking the "Difference Makers Series" category to the right.

April 17, 2012

One thing is certain: teachers are passionate people

I have thoroughly enjoyed the debate started by Michael Lopez over at Joanne Jacobs' blog. More to the point, I suppose I started it with a comment I made about grades being punishment for students.

From there, Lopez wrote this blog post, which has sparked over 80 comments -- many of my own responses to teachers who are in an uproar about my declaration that grades are subjective and punitive and should be eliminated.

Take a look at it, and join the conversation, if you like

April 15, 2012

That sounds good, but. . .

Let me begin by warning you that this is going to be a rant. It's a rant about the naysayers -- educators who interrupt every suggestion with "That sounds good, but. . . ."

It's clear to all who know me that I teach in a progressive, student-centered classroom. This doesn't make me unique; it just means I'm in the minority in the education world. I get that, and I'm doing all I can to encourage  more teachers to leave the traditional world and do what's right by their students.

Many traditional teachers are willing to make the change. I get dozens of e-mails, tweets and comments on this blog weekly from teachers who share heartfelt stories about transforming their classrooms, as I did a few years ago.

Ah, but I digress. Back to the naysayers. I simply don't understand why so many educators, who purportedly teach students to be open-minded, can't even consider the possibility that there might be better strategies than homework, worksheets and tests.

No matter what research I quote or how much personal success I share, all too often, the response is, "That sounds good, but. . . ." Then comes an endless stream of excuses as to why they can't abandon their traditional practices.

The conversation that garners the most "buts" is about feedback over grades. Ironically, I find many teachers who understand the deleterious effects of points and letter grades. The second I bring up replacing them with narrative feedback, though, I get, "That sounds good, but I don't have the time;" or "That sounds good, but they won't do it if I don't grade it."


My students never wonder about points or letters. They relish the feedback they receive. I know, because they actually thank me for it. Does feedback take time? Sure. If you're afraid of work, I'd suggest a profession other than teaching.

So, as you can see, all of the "That sounds good, but. . ." is driving me crazy.

Any suggestions?

April 12, 2012

Could you stop grading for one unit?

What if you stopped grading, just for one unit of study? Don't put a number, percentage or letter on an activity, project, quiz or test.

How would you evaluate your students? Is it even possible?

What would replace the grading?

Would you speak to your students more? Could they evaluate each other? Themselves? One unit.

Three or four weeks.

Change what you do.

What's holding you back?

Could it be a fear of learning that you never needed the grades in the first place?

April 7, 2012

Are you making the most of Google Docs?

Although there are many ways to provide students with detailed narrative feedback, web-based tools, like Google Docs, are often the most useful for two-way feedback that facilitates 21st-century learning, without the penalty of a number or letter grade.

This brief video demonstrates how Google Docs can be used to provide specific feedback on an ongoing writing activity, including a link to a presentation that immediately reinforces a prior lesson that the student can apply to his writing.

Are you using Google Docs, or other web-based tools, to provide meaningful narrative feedback to your students?

Difference Makers Series needs you

Photo credit: Art.com
Since results-only learning is a progressive philosophy, we recognize the work of educators who are willing to break, or at least bend, the rules of traditional education. These are the people who stare down the bureaucrats and say, "I'm going to do what's best for learning, regardless of your policies." They are education's Difference Makers.

You know these people from the blogs they write, the PD sessions they share and the messages they tweet.

But how well do you know them? Those of us at the ROLE Reversal blog would like to help you get to know them better.

Who are the Difference Makers?

The Difference Makers Series will seek out these remarkable educators and provide key information about them and how they got to where they are. Some of their best practices will be revealed.

So, who do you want to know about? Add a name of your favorite tweeter, blogger or anyone else to the comment box below, and we'll track them down.

Hurry, the Difference Maker Series begins soon.

April 4, 2012

Do you suffer from the Lemming Condition?

Award-winning actor and author, Alan Arkin, tells a brilliant tale in his young adult novel, The Lemming Condition. The story is an allegory on conformity, as Bubber, a lemming, is faced with following his entire race to self-induced extinction.

Bubber struggles to decide if he should participate in what appears to be an insane death walk, only to constantly be told by family and friends that this is just the way things are.

I won't ruin the ending, but let's just say that Bubber isn't your garden variety conformist.

Several conversations with colleagues have me wondering if Arkin's lemmings could have just as easily been today's teachers -- legions of people who conform daily to the principles of traditional methods and administrative pressure to teach to the test.

Like Bubber, we are constantly told this is just the way things are.
Bubber was faced with extinction. One must wonder, are we next?

April 2, 2012

Top 5 reasons I won't teach to the test

The conversation about standardized test preparation is a popular one at my school. Of course, most of the discussions stem from district mandates to constantly give practice material. Unlike new teachers, I don't have to cower behind an achievement test workbook, assuring principals that I'll drill my students into submission daily. Having tenure, though, isn't why I choose never to teach to the test. Here are the top 5 reasons I refuse to do it.

5 - Standardized tests fail to measure learning. In the long run, this thing isn't much more than a glorified guessing game.

4 - Why on Earth should learning be standardized? Shouldn't it be unique? If learning is the same everywhere, students should just stay home and read web-based texts.

3 - Practicing for standardized tests steals time from far more valuable learning experiences. I plan exciting, interactive lessons and projects for my students. We read, write and collaborate daily. I can't afford to give this up. Plus, my students wouldn't forgive me if I did.

2 - Standardized test practice isn't fun. If you've ever read anything I've written, you know I am a firm believer that learning should be fun. When it stops being fun, it's not learning; at this point we should all just go home.

1 - I have a responsibility to my students to be better than this. Spending class time on drill-and-kill standardized test practice makes teachers nothing more than mindless automatons, which is exactly how the bureaucrats are labeling us. If I spend most of my time on standardized test practice, not only will they be right, but I'll be guilty of the greatest injustice of all -- failing my students.