Week 3- School Failure I & II

Academic disasters: A Nation at Risk, the Department of Education, “excellence”, international rankings, high-stakes tests, school reform, “inefficiency”, breakdown of social allocation, diploma inflation, crisis of legitimacy, breaks between youth and the adult world.

If I wanted to make a film about educational apocalypse, I might use chapters 4 and 5 as the basis for my treatment.  There is a lot going on here.  Much of it very interesting, including the brief history of the US Department of Education, the long view of the US’s standing in TIMSS and PISA results, and the outline of educational inefficiencies.  Waks weaves this all together, effectively connecting the history to his thesis for education 2.0.

Schools Left Behind?

A question that keeps coming up in class discussion is that of why, when so many teachers are returning for graduate work in curriculum, instruction, and technology, does so little seem to change back at the school level?  Just over halfway through chapter 4, Waks states, “The school reform movement since A Nation at Risk in 1983 has not challenged the factory paradigm.  Instead, it has strengthened it.”  He continues to describe how schools have gone on to require years more study in core courses — incidentally, those that are evaluated on high stakes tests —  and continue to organize instruction by age-grades.  I don’t know if this situation is so much one of “the ongoing historical development of society, leaving schools behind” as much as the schools being further cemented into the industrial paradigm.  The politics of the situation have also helped ossify the schools in the outmoded model.  The Brown Center on Education Policy estimates that the US currently spends $1.7 billion a year on testing.  With so much money at stake, lobbyists for the Big Four companies — “Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill—  collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014” (Report: Big education firms spend millions lobbying for pro-testing policies).  So while there are definitely shifts in society that Waks details, I’m less certain that schools are being left behind as much as they are being held in place by the lobbying dollars and resulting politics propagated by those who stand to gain financially from schools being in a perpetual state of reform.  Add to this teachers’ conceptualization of themselves as unionized laborers within the industrial model as opposed to highly knowledgeable academics and the potential for change is further thwarted.

Whence The Failures?

Given that we are now living in a time where there is near total saturation of web-connected

SAMR Model
Source: Learning Maker

devices, I would not say technology is at fault for the failures we see in school.  However, how educators use that technology is.  Frameworks like SAMR, TPACK, and TIM are useful tools for teachers to “level up” their technology use in the classroom.  Yet, too many dwell in the Substitution and Augmentation levels of SAMR, for example, where technology is an instructional add-on as opposed to a method of learning.  If anything, this is a failure of professional learning for teachers and priority-setting and support from administrators for incorporating technology.  Administrators must create conditions that do not waste teachers’ and students’ energies, that shield them from boredom, empowers them to prevail, and harnesses their youthful energies and abilities (p. 51).  Smartphones should be allowed, websites should not be blocked and anyone below the age of 13, as danah boyd notes, should not be criminalized when they tick a EULA “Accept” check box so they can use certain web sites to live and learn in a networked culture.

Technology The Fix?
Chicago Teachers Union Strike-2016
Source: Doug van Dyke

There are no silver bullets. Neither is there anything inherently technological or 21st century about communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creating (the 4 C’s).   However, inasmuch as networked, mobile technologies turbocharge the acquisition of such valued practices in a knowledge economy, and allow us to teach and learn beyond the constraints of the factory model school and classroom, I believe they are a tool in our toolbox for ushering in a new system of education.  But if teachers can get out from underneath the burdens of being “experts”, incorporate more choice for students’ learning pathways and products, make room for students to follow their interests, and engage in more online learning experiences themselves, then I think there are a number of issues Waks outlines that could be fixed as a result.

For instance, we might close the breach between youth and adult worlds.  Technology could be used to get us out of diploma inflation and the belief that more schooling is the answer for failing schools.  Thoughtful use of technology partnered with strong pedagogical practices could be an answer to rebalancing allocation and legitimacy.  I would imagine the full realization of digital and mobile technologies for education is tremendously threatening to high schools, colleges and the testing establishment.   After all, “[s]chools and colleges have retained legitimacy because…students and parents know that if you want to get ahead you need a diploma.  Graduates know it even better, through their direct experiences in society; they are accepted or rejected for positions based on their diplomas.  Dropouts know this power best — they are allocated to failure, anticipate, it, and adapt to it”  (p. 64)  But what if  K-12 and college were not the only path to allocation?  What if badged learning and informal, connected learning were also seen as legitimate precisely because they are paths through and among the adult world?  What constitutes education ought to diversify such that each diversified path that allows the learner to accumulate their “10,000 hours” is just as legitimate for access and allocation to their respective fields in the adult world.

What Can Technology Fix?

For some reason, at this point I’m thinking of the poem, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.  I’m thinking that while the revolution might not be televised, the evolution is certainly on a screen.  And, brother & sister, you are able to evolve from home, unplugged and turned on —

Book cover for danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked youth
Source: Yale University Press

though not dropped out.  In fact, just the opposite.  If you really want to be a part of the evolution, you are expected to participate, create, collaborate, mashup.  The revolution might not be brought to you by Xerox.  But the evolution is being brought to you by Google, Android, Apple, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, GSuite, Padlet, Pintrest, YouTube, Vimeo, Zoom, Schoology, Google Classroom, Kahoot!, App Store, Google Play, Wolfram|Alpha, Open Educational Resources, Kahn Academy, and Project Gutenberg, to name a few.  Indeed, the evolution is already underway.  Distance learning, LMS’s, 1-to-1 programs, genius hour, makerspaces are all slowly starting to make inroads, re-establishing the relevance of learning for students by tapping into their interests and their technologies.  

Still, what technology can accomplish is completely limited by what humans do with it.  As danah boyd says, the good, the bad, and the ugly that we find online are not new to humanity.  The online environment only amplifies that good, bad, and ugly.   As such, we have to get much more intentional around media literacy and digital citizenship.  This goes for adults as well as young people.  There’s more than a whiff of hypocrisy among some adults when it comes to restricting online access for students.  We all have to learn how to use this technology creatively and responsibly because we’re all new to this era.  And age is not a determiner of one’s fluency and effective use.  As we do this, I think we will rediscover those “alternative methods for allocating social positions” (p. 59) and bring a richness back to teaching and learning that recognizes a diversity of paths, and values connections between the adult and adolescent worlds that the industrial era wiped out.

Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

Week 11-Teaching 21st Century Students

One of the key safety instructions we all hear every time we board an airplane is that in the event of cabin depressurization we must put our own oxygen mask on first before helping others.  This is vital since not matter how much we care about the family or friends sitting with us, we cannot help them if we ourselves are unconscious due to asphyxia.  When it comes to our societal need to transform our schools, we are very much in a similar situation as a depressurizing airplane.  As much as we say we want to focus on the needs of students, we will not see the transformations they need in our education system until teachers and administrators are moved to understand the need for change and prioritize the professional learning necessary to get us there.  So this week I focused on the ISTE Standards for Teachers 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher, and The 21st Century Workplace which provide clear targets for teachers to consider when teaching the habits of mind, cognitive skills and collaborative abilities students will need in the world we’re preparing them to enter.

Verbs Are Calling For Transformation

Image source: ISTE Standards for Teachers

Consider the verbs of the 5 top level ISTE Standards for Teachers: facilitate, inspire, design, develop, model, promote, engage.  In addition to these top level verbs, it is striking that “model” appears nine times across all 5 standards and 20 sub-clusters.  When considered in combination with the other verbs inspire and facilitate, I’m struck by the heavy lift the ISTE standards are pointing towards.  They suggest that what we need is nothing short of a sea change in school cultures with regard to 21C technology and methodologies.  When so many schools outright ban cell phones and so many teachers don’t incorporate technology in meaningful ways, how are they to facilitate, model and inspire?

It’s All About Culture and Professional Learning

In research for a previous literature review I found that a critical component for implementing the necessary change ISTE calls for comes only with consistent, focused professional learning for teachers.  Not only that, but school culture also has a significant impact on the success or failure of information and communication technology (ICT) implementation, much of which is determined by the level of support projected by the principal.

School culture can positively impact ICT practices.  Positive peer pressure can motivate reluctant teachers to try new approaches with technology.  Studies have also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a direct result of ICT practices are more likely to continue and expand their ICT toolkit.

In a study of three schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all three schools had six characteristics in common:  1) They were well equipped for ICT.  2) Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.  3) Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.  4) The school provided support.  5) Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and  troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.  6) The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Therefore, the school community must recognize that the most effective professional development is that which facilitates teachers understanding about how specific instructional practices themselves support student learning of particular content.  That is, schools must allow teachers to see that technology-supported, student-centered practices impact student acquisition of knowledge  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Finally, even when teachers are willing to wrestle with their beliefs, identify what they truly value, use these realizations to motivate changes to their practice via meaningful PD, the role of the principal administrator cannot be underestimated…. The principal plays an outsized role in creating and maintaining at least four of Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich’s six conditions and is generally responsible for shepherding the wider culture of the school community.  Determining what professional learning is necessary among which teachers; establishing the systems for implementing the professional learning plan; creating calendars for structured and unstructured learning; countering programmed time with protected, unprogrammed time for reflection and metacognition about instruction – all these necessities flow from the principal’s office.  When the principal does these things in a way that sets high expectations and supports for ICT instruction, shifts can be made more readily if still not easily.  However, when the principal’s own beliefs, values, and motivations do not prioritize ICT methods, digitally infused learning environments are far less likely to take hold, even with willing and capable teachers.

Douglas van Dyke, “Transitions to Digitally Mediated Classrooms”


The Educator’s Need to Feel Expert

This dovetails with the what I’ve written about in previous blog posts about the anxiety teachers feel when they are thrust into areas where they do not feel expert.  Given the significant shift and stretch for which the ISTE standards are calling, we don’t seem likely to meet them without acknowledging both the fundamental changes in school culture that are necessary as well as high quality and consistent PD for teachers.  Additionally, educators must reconcile their reluctance to implement ICT methods in school with their own ICT use in the various aspects of their lives outside of school.

Blow This Stuff UP!

When we consider the 21st century world — that is the one we are living in today — and the workplace students will enter, especially as described by Daniel Pink, the need for a cultural and instructional transformation of our schools could not be more apparent.  The leap from an “Information Age” to a “Conceptual Age” cannot happen without students learning through active learning and metacognitive methods.   ICT and the 4C’s are uniquely suited for the attainment of the skills categories that will be most valued as described by Levy and Murnane: “expert thinking — solving new problems for which there are no routine answers” and “complex communication — persuading, explaining, and in other ways conveying a particular interpretation of information”.  To make such shifts, however, educators must blow up the linearity of the industrial model that defines our school structures and curriculum and the information model on which accountability is based in favor of more distributed, differentiated, student-centric proficiency-based approaches that digital and mobile technologies can now facilitate.

Concluding This Post & TIE 524

What ISTE is essentially calling for is SAMRizing and TPACKing our entire education system.  We must prioritize changes in school culture through consistent professional learning for teachers around ICT methodologies.  Administrators must lead the way, advocating and requiring ICT methods and solidifying the cultural shifts that come as a result.

Over the last eleven weeks, this course has provided a remarkable set of resources for incorporating ICT strategies for both  classroom instruction and professional learning.  In doing so it has facilitated multiple opportunities for reflection about my own practice, where we are as a profession, and how far we all have to go.  It has been an excellent next step on this master’s journey!

Week 10-Frameworks for Evaluating Technology

When SAMR first crossed my path last term, it seemed an elegant way to evaluate the role of a particular technology for whether it was innovating the learning process or just being sexy.  Among many of the teachers I encounter, technology is, as Liz Kolb noted, a gimmick.  Students with iPads are being tricked into thinking they are learning while the teachers who deploy them feel cutting edge.  (Though, the kids are not being tricked.  If I had a dollar for every time I asked a student about what they were doing with a device and was met with a lethargic explanation through a smirk and some eye rolling.  Yeah, they know!)

My SAMR Experiences

SAMR has been useful in my coaching in two ways.  I look for opportunities to stretch my coachees into at least augmentation or modification.  For instance, I recently set up a discussion board in Google Groups for an ILT I work with to extend faculty conversations around learning walks beyond teachers’ physical time together.  Granted, it’s not a lot compared to what we’ve been using in our NLU course work.  But even for my teachers who want to embrace technology, it’s an ah-ha since they don’t venture too far down the GAFE paths they have available to them.  They are easily overwhelmed and quickly become anxious when asked to use features outside their workflow in programs they use everyday.  In general, they struggle with their own ability to transfer skills from a known program to a new one.

In another school I’m helping the faculty map their curriculum using Google Docs to collaboratively write their maps, collect resources, and view each other’s maps.  This is the first that they have effectively been able to visualize the curriculum as a whole.  However, teachers have struggled to find enough time to meet to work collaboratively on course team maps.  CPS’s turning PD days into furlough days has only exacerbated the issue.  While many see the value of the project, they are tired of fighting to carve out tiny parcels of time to meet and do the work.  So just last week I proposed they stop trying to meet face-to-face as it was less necessary than they thought given the powerful collaboration tools that already exist in Google Docs if only they would use them.

Part of a concept map to show teachers how to use Google Docs more remotely and collaboratively; Image Source: D. van Dyke
An enthusiastic teacher’s Google Groups discussion thread; Image source: D. van Dyke


In my instructional work I’ve brought SAMR to planning meetings and coached teachers through using the framework to analyze and evaluate their current technology.  Many are surprised to see that they’re operating mostly at the substitution level with occasional dips into augmentation.   We all get excited when the conversation then turns creative and the teacher starts visualizing ways to redesign a lesson such that those iPads or Chromebooks are being used for modification or redefinition.

Frameworks From Heaven

SAMR was an epiphany when I first encountered it.  But having these other analytical and evaluative tools for ICT integration feels like revelation.

TPACK, 3E, TIM are all new to me and I can see each having its place.  3E and SAMR seem more entry-level frameworks for teachers just starting to wrestle with ICT integration.  They are relatively simple and straightforward.  Given their complexity, however, TPACK and TIM seem to be for more sophisticated evaluation of technology deployment.  The pedagogue in me appreciates how TPACK operates from the interplay among multiple domains and context.  TPACK acknowledges the complexity and locality of teaching and learning and demands that the teacher does as well.

Different visualizations of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

TIM reminded me less of a rubric than of a continuum of skill development like something along the lines of a practitioner model of professional growth such as the Dreyfus model.  Such models allow practitioners to position themselves on the continuum with the skill sets they currently possess.  This creates an evaluative environment, but with less judgment and critique since the model honors practitioners at their current level of experience.  It also suggests that their place in the model is dynamic.  The longer they practice the more skills or “tools” they acquire.   As they grow in experience they travel along the continuum.  Such implicit messaging can be powerful for teachers working to improve their practice.  There is an implied level of safety which is an important motivator for growth.

Kids are savvy enough to know when an iPad or laptop activity is engaging them cognitively or when it is just a glorified textbook.  We’re not pulling anything over on them by simply putting a device in their hands.  These frameworks are great tools to level up our “teaching with tech” game.  They not only foster teacher reflection about how effectively they teach with technology, but having multiple frameworks allows us to differentiate for the sophistication of the teacher using them.

For Further Reading
The Five-Stage Model of Adult Skill Acquisition - Stuart Dreyfus


Week 2: Active Learning

Last term, one of the organizing principles of our class was using concept mapping as a metacognitive tool and a way of expanding our adaptive expertise.  Indeed, I found it to be a powerful way to process new information and gain insights into my own thinking.  Concept mapping allowed me to see and think about ideas and connections I might have otherwise missed.  I’ve returned to that practice as a way of exploring this week’s learning.

To start, my Padlet links to the Coonley blog post I was assigned and briefly summarizes my thinking that surfaced through the concept map.  To view the concept map more easily, click the map in the embedded Padlet to either download a copy or open it in a new window.   The rest of this blog post will interpret the map further as a means of exploring my thinking.  It will also show a bit of the experience I have with active learning.

Made with Padlet
The Evidence

To start, I would like to note two different types of evidence I considered to analyze the last three bullets of our Do activity:

  • What active learning traits are present
  • What are opportunities/suggestions for growth, and
  • Any additional information

The first type is the “Cougar Code” lesson summary which arguably contains the most direct information about the lesson.  The second is the included media of student work artifacts as well as images of students at work.  These constitute information about what students did and possibly trait evidence of active learning and web literacy.  Neither type of evidence presents a complete picture of what was taught and what was learned, but together provide insights.  What is lacking from each type of evidence also makes complete determinations about the above bullet points difficult to say with certainty.  Nevertheless, the evidence that is in the post gives us much to think about and discuss.

Interpreting the CONCEPT MAP

The summary of the Cougar Code assignment provides the most information that allows some answers regarding the extent to which active learning could occur during the lesson.   On the whole, the Cougar Code lesson exhibited many constructivist elements, particularly in its engagement, purposefulness, reflectiveness, and complexity.  The assignment is learner-centered from start to finish, beginning with students’ exploration of their own learning styles, the outcomes of which the teacher uses as the launching point for the rest of the lesson.  Students seemed to draw from their experiences as well as their values in defining examples of being responsible, being respectful and being safe.  I have gone back and forth on the extent to which the lesson elicits metacognition.  There are signs of reflection in the Educreations video.  But a focus on students’ final products and a lack of formative artifacts makes a definitive determination difficult.  For instance, from the attached media, it is difficult to tell the extent to which students actually engaged in active learning or if they were simply completing tasks.

When it comes to evidence of web literacy traits, evidence of student outcomes are limited to the 21st Century skills in all three segments of the lesson.  It could be argued that the students wrote and participated in that their work became the content of a blog post.  However, the blog post analyzed for this assignment was their teacher’s, not the students’.  So actually the teacher is demonstrating her web literacy by contributing to building the web and connecting with other educators online.    While we definitely want students to be creators and participants online, we want teachers to be as well.  Especially in light of research finding that when teachers do use technology, it is mostly for administrative purposes or electronic communication with peers and parents.  Even among constructivist teachers — as we clearly see in this lesson —  when they do use technology, they tend to do so at levels akin to substitution or augmentation on the SAMR model (Ertmer & Ottenbriet-Leftwich, “Teacher Technology Change:  How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect”).  Thus, from the evidence presented in the blog, technology seems to be primarily the teacher’s tool when it comes to web literacy traits and possibly the students’ tool when it comes to active learning traits.  

Opportunities for Growth

While the Cougar Code lesson suggests quite a few opportunities for active learning in the blog summary, more and better evidence of student formative artifacts would allow for deeper insight and feedback as to the quality of students’ active learning traits demonstrating metacognition.  So too would artifacts of the students’ digital photos and their final PicCollage products.  More student artifacts would also allow assessment of whether the technology was instrumental in developing students’ understanding of the Cougar Code or whether it was merely a fun activity.

From EdTech on Pintrest via Learning Maker

I don’t want to dwell on the SAMR level of the work too much given the fact that this lesson was taught at the beginning of the school year.  However, going forward, the teacher can consider evaluating this lesson through a SAMR lens.  From the evidence presented in the blog post, it seems to ask students merely to substitute and augment traditional learning methods with the available technology.  For future lessons, the teacher can consider how similar uses of digital cameras, iPads, PicCollage, and Educreations could be used in such modifying and redefining ways that without the technology, students could not develop a particular level of understanding.  She can also consider creating opportunities for students to develop their readerly, writerly, and participatory netizen selves.

Active Learning in My Practice
Inspiring Active Learning by Merrill Harmin & Melanie Toth: A text I’ve used for great active learning ideas.

This notion, I must admit, of explicitly stating that students need to be active learners, strikes me as odd.  I was taught to be a constructivist teacher, to think in terms of what students do and not just what the teacher does, to focus on critical thinking, collaborative group work, and reflective activities. These traits are how I was “raised” to be a teacher.  Given the usual levels of participation, energy and focus I experienced from my students (most of the time!), I wonder why anyone would think a mostly teacher-centered, student-passive model is preferable.  That is, if actual student learning and not just teacher moves is the goal for which we are aiming. Additionally, active learning methods support what we now know about how the brain functions and how humans learn.   So yes, I believe teachers should create lessons that give students consistent and regular opportunities to be active learners.

Below are links to two lessons I found in my archives from over ten years ago.  They are part of a set of lessons I developed to introduce Shakespeare units to my 9th graders.  They represent a departure from what had been my habitual way of introducing The Bard and were utterly transformative.  In fact, my students responded so well as seen through their attitudes about, interest in, and understanding of usually very difficult material, that these new lessons became

Font of Knowledge and Tempest Prediction & Iterative Terms lessons, based on ideas from Teaching Shakespeare into the Twenty-First Century, Ronald E. Salomone & James E. Davis, eds.

the way I introduced Shakespeare from then on.  I am showcasing it here because I believe it gives students active learning opportunities.  It predates the web as we know it today, so it was not originally written with web literacy in mind.  And sadly, I could not find any student artifacts of the completed work to share for evaluation.  Still, I have some ideas about how to revise it accordingly and I welcome any ideas from the class.

Font of Knowledge

Tempest Prediction and Iterative Words