Wednesday, April 16, 2014

364 > 1

In my school district, we spend 364 days of the year teaching and learning and preaching that a “one day, one test” assessment will not define us.  We talk about all the wonderful celebrations we have at school each day. We design dynamic lessons. We formatively assess. We do all the things we believe produce engaged students and authentic learning.  We are awesome!!!

We do all these wonderful things and then a day like today comes along and we get the first round of scores on our State’s STAAR test and for a few brief moments we forget get all that we believe about teaching and learning to inspect each line of the data report with a fine toothed comb. Whatever the numbers say, there will be those of us that celebrate and others that beat themselves up because a bunch of 8 year-old students (or an even more unpredictable group, 13 year-olds) did or did not do well on STAAR day. 

The truth is test scores are important.  Used correctly they can inform all of us about individual student progress and the even the curriculum we are teaching.  Test scores, for the foreseeable future will remain gatekeepers to future opportunities in both college entrance and many careers. They matter and therefore we must stop and look at them. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to determine how we did on the particular set of standards and this particular test so that we can do better next time.  However, we also owe it to ourselves and to our kids to remember the other 364 days of the year.  To remember the time the class worked collaboratively to solve a “real-world” problem.  Or maybe when the shy kid in the back of the room stood up an explained to the class how to solve a math problem or read a piece of original writing they created.  All of these things and many more happen every day, all year long.  They are examples of real learning and they are how we should judge ourselves and our schools. 

I hope that every teacher that reviews their STAAR scores in the days to come will remember that each of those students have a lot more to offer, not only this year but in the future. For those that are celebrating today, congratulations!  You deserve it!  It is a job well done to meet or exceed the standard set forth by our State.  I mean that.  And if you happen to be discouraged with your scores, keep your chin up.  Remember what it is you believe about teaching and learning and whatever you do, make the other 364 days of year count far more than just one!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Learning? You have to own it before you can share it!


I haven’t had the chance to write in a while, but I heard a question last week that I have been grappling with…why do we put so much emphasis on student-centered instruction?  Great question.  I believe the answer lies somewhere in Einstein’s quote:

“If you can’t explain it to a five year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Students have got to own learning if they are going to share it.  The best teachers find ways to motivate and encourage students to be responsible for what they learn and how they articulate it.  They insist students take responsibility and become engaged in a lesson. Once kids do this, they are much more likely to not only “go deeper” into the learning, but also retain the information.  If they own it, they can share it!  However, knowing the information is not enough. Providing the extra opportunities for kids to share their learning with their peers is the final, essential piece of many lessons.  Many of us call it “closing the lesson.”

So where does collaboration connect to ownership? Collaboration has become a key goal in education as more and more teachers recognize the value of students working together to discuss and explore new learning.  What many of us don’t realize is how doing so has the potential to take away the student ownership of the learning.  Several warning signs: 

·      Does the individual student voice get lost in the group?
·      Can a reluctant learner “hide” and let others do the work?
·      Does each student feel responsible for the learning?
·      Can one influential group member override the input of others?

There are many other potential pitfalls when setting up collaboration in the classroom, but NONE of them should keep a teacher from pushing forward.  The aspiration, just as in the chart above, should be for group ownership of the learning.  When true collaboration takes place, ALL the students participating own the learning and in an ideal setting, ALL should be able to share it. We OWN, We SHARE.

It is paramount that teachers remember when students share their work with others that they can’t share, what they don’t own.  If a student is struggling to articulate their learning, it is highly likely they never owned it in the first place.