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Until We Listen to Research and Find Courage to Loosen Control, Our Students Will Not Excel
May 19, 2015 | Categories: Welcome Slideshow | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer
 
Those of you who follow my blog posts know how much I value the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson. In fact, the first thing I do when a new issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership arrives is turn to her column and read it. I’ve never been disappointed.
 
Today, after reading her insightful comments in the May edition of the magazine (themed "Teaching with Mobile Tech"), my curmudgeon self rose up. Here’s what prompted my “curmudgeonness.”
 
Tomlinson began her column ("Mobile Tech: Great Potential, Great Challenges") by speaking to the great promise of mobile tech to make teaching “more efficient and manageable” and to personalize or differentiate instruction. Then she turned to the barriers of the effective use of technology:
 
“…teachers operate from a set of unconscious and powerful beliefs about teaching and learning that shape most actions and reactions in the classroom. Many, if not most of us, believe at some deep level that teaching is telling, learning is absorbing and giving back, curriculum is largely fact- and skills-based, students are largely untrustworthy, management is about control, and fair is treating everyone alike.”
 
My curmudgeon persona sighed but nodded while reading Tomlinson’s views.

I’ve had the good fortune to be in a lot of classrooms this past school year, and I’ve seen many riveting, engaging lessons where students are either sharing or bearing most of the cognitive load. Sadly, I’ve seen almost as many classrooms where the teacher is up in front lecturing or asking questions in rocket-fire fashion, expecting a single, certain “right” answer.
 
Curmudgeon Cathy wonders whether these educators have paid any attention to Tomlinson’s body of work on differentiated instruction, or Hattie’s research on effective teaching and learning, or Ron Berger’s work on student-engaged assessment.
 
Or, how about Tony Wagner’s extensive research (2008) that identified seven “survival skills” that today’s students need to be successful in life:
  1. Critical thinking and problem-solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Assessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination
The challenge with mobile technology – or any classroom innovation – is that students WANT to learn in ways that enable them to attain these survival skills, but too many teachers are afraid to let go of their control. They remain huddled in their cocoon of traditional teaching, wasting so much learning time and student potential.
 
Teaching with a spoon
 
How often I hear a secondary teacher comment that they have to spoon-feed their students the content so the students will do well on the test. Yet, Hattie’s research demonstrates that more test preparation doesn’t always result in better scores (Hattie 2012).
 
In fact, In Visible Learning for Teachers, (2012), Hattie demonstrates that the biggest factor in student learning occurs when teachers believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the impact of their teaching on student learning, asking themselves the following questions (pp. 160-161):
  • How do I know this is working?
  • How can I compare ‘this’ with ‘that’?
  • What is the merit and worth of this influence on learning?
  • What is the magnitude of the effect?
  • What evidence would convince me that I was wrong in using these methods and resources?
  • Where is the evidence that shows this is superior to other programs?
  • Where have I seen this practice installed where it has produced effective results (which would convince me and my colleagues on the basis of the magnitude of the effects)?
  • Do I share a common conception of progress with other teachers?
Okay, enough of Curmudgeon Cathy.


 
There's much to be hopeful about
 
Let me turn to the more positive and hopeful me. To do that, I think about the students at Weeden Elementary shaping their own learning with data – or of the students in Amber Pope’s class at Tarrant High School, who are using Twitter and other technology tools to broaden their knowledge and strengthen their written and oral communication skills.
 
I think about students inside Piedmont City's wi-fi network learning at home, at school, in the summer and at their own pace. I remember a fourth-grade student at a showcase in Talladega County, who showed me her video presentation about a book she had read. At the end of our conversation, she said, “So, you’ve learned something from me and I’ve learned something from you!”
 
Leaders of their own learning
 
Fortunately, as the examples above demonstrate and countless education thought-leaders have found, we know what to do and what works. One of those thought-leaders is Alan November, who has done a lot of thinking about student use of technology.
 
November suggests the creation of a “Digital Learning Farm” where “inexpensive and easy-to-use technologies [are utilized] to challenge and support more active participation of students and to give them more ownership in the educational process as tutorial designers, scribes, researchers, global communicators and collaborators and more (p. 12).”
 
His short, but very informative book, Who Owns the Learning (Solution Tree, 2012), provides much more information about how to shift from teacher-controlled classrooms to student-engaged and owned classrooms. (The May issue of EL also includes many related ideas and stories about the liberating potential of tech.)
 
Look back at Wagner’s survival skills and think about which type of classroom environment will help students attain those important life skills. Take a minute and watch this short video of Ron Berger (Leaders of Their Own Learning) working with elementary students on scientific drawings of a butterfly. Even if you’ve already seen it, it deserves as second look (click image).
 

 
Austin’s Butterfly demonstrates that students can rise to the level of very high expectations if given the encouragement, support, and freedom to learn. Isn’t this what we want for our own children and grandchildren?
 
Help me keep Curmudgeon Cathy at bay by working to assure that all our students have greater control and responsibility for their own learning, so that they possess those survival skills that are so vital for their future and ours.
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Until We Listen to Research and Find Courage to Loosen Control, Our Students Will Not Excel
May 19, 2015 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer  Those of you who follow my blog posts know how much I value the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson. In fact, the first thing I do when a new issue of ASCD's Educational Leadership arrives is turn to her column and read it. Ive never been disappointed.  Today, after reading her insightful comments in the May edition of the magazine (themed "Teaching with Mobile Tech"), my curmudgeon self rose up. Heres what prompted my curmudgeonness.   Tomlinson began her column ("Mobile Tech: Gr... [continue reading]
 
 
Feeling Overwhelmed? What If You Could Be Convinced That 'Less is More'?
May 12, 2015 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer   During this time of year, almost any teacher would love to hear less is more! Wrapping up the year, testing, student assemblies and public events, grading, and all the rest May just seems to demand more time. As a result, Facebook posts by teachers all across the country are beginning to count down the days until summer.   What can be done to make teaching less cumbersome and more engagingfor both educators and students? The authors of an excellent new book that came acr... [continue reading]
 
 
How Can We Better Help Students Transfer and Apply Their Learning?
April 29, 2015 | Comments
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by Cathy Gassenheimer  Judy confidently walked into the testing room, feeling quite prepared for the college examination test. After all, she had made As in almost every high school course, had done all her homework, and was often the first to raise her hand in class. So she found her seat, opened the test booklet and read the first question.  A feeling of panic overcame her as she looked at a math problem expressed in a way that she had never seen before. Wait, she thought, Our teacher didnt a... [continue reading]
 
 
How Do We Build a Culture of Improvement Across the School System?
April 21, 2015 | Comments
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 Hope may be a virtue, but it is not a strategy. Fullan & DuFour  by Cathy Gassenheimer Research and best practice tell us that consistently high performing schools are places where both adults and students are committed to continuous learning and where everyone values collaboration, reflection, and growth. But, how does a school get there?   Michael Fullan and Rick DuFour suggest a strategy for becoming that type of school, district (or even region) in their compact, thought-provoking book... [continue reading]
 
 
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