I recently conducted walk through training (WT) at Hood River County School District in Oregon. I thought the model we used was very effective at engaging teachers and administrators in reflective discussion on instructional practice.
In February, I did half-day presentations on Rigor, Relevance and Literacy to Hood River’s K-5 and 6-12 faculties. In April, I led teams on WTs to give them on opportunity to hone their observational skills. It’s one thing to talk about rigor and relevance in a workshop. It’s another to go into a classroom and try to decide the level of Bloom’s taxonomy being used by the students.
Observers were not in classrooms to evaluate teachers or instructional strategies, but to test their observational skills and have an opportunity to dialogue about their conclusions. We used this simple form to guide our efforts and keep our focus on observation, reflection and discussion. R-R-guide2.pdf 16kb pdf
One day was devoted to K-12 administrative and TOSAs. The next two days were spent with K-12 teacher teams. Each day we began with an orientation session. The team started doing WT’s at an elementary building, then moved to middle and finally, high school. We only visited teachers who had volunteered to host our team. At each building we met periodically to process what we had seen.
The most powerful element of the day, was the K-12 settings of the WTs and the use of K-12 teacher teams. Teachers seldom see other classes in action and it rare that a high school teacher would be given a chance to observe an elementary class or vice versa. All the participants agreed it was a very valuable experience and they came away with greater respect for the contributions being made all each levels of the program. Most importantly, they became more skillful at assessing the rigor and relevance of a variety of instructional strategies. They were then able to apply those perspectives to their own instructional practice. The district intends to support teachers in collegial observation and peer reflection.
For an updated guide for how to conduct classroom walkthoughs see my post: Teacher-Led Professional Development: Eleven Reasons Why You Should be Using Classroom Walk Throughs
This week I had the privilege to be the keynote speaker at the Mid-Willamette Education Consortium Conference “Life is Good” in Salem Oregon. I began the day as the featured speaker at the administrators’ luncheon. The organizer had asked me to recommend a book for the attendees. I selected Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. It speaks to one of the central challenges of education – how to ensure that students have ample support for creativity and reflection – think of Bloom’s synthesis and evaluation. The report states:
“Creativity, innovation, and flexibility will not be the special province of an elite. It will be demanded of virtually everyone who is making a decent living. … If someone can figure out the algorithm for a routine job, chances are that it is economic to automate it…. The best employers the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative and most innovative people on the face of the earth and be willing to pay then top dollar for their services.” more
After lunch I gave my keynote talk to an audience of CTE teachers – I entitled it, “Life is Good – For those with 21st Century Skills” Teachers don’t have time to waste – and they like to leave a workshop with practical ideas. I was pleased when I received this email from one of the attendees.
I attended the MWEC kick off last night…and deeply appreciated your presentation. I was the one who asked about the Checking Account comparison assignment… As a warm-up activity I did as you suggested…had the kids select something they might want to purchase…had them figure out what “things” (later defined that as criteria) they would consider when purchasing their item…They were into it…asked tons of questions to clarify…and did a great job… I had them get away from their computer, walked into the hall…into two lines….then they faced each other (random pairing…on purpose) One designed line explained their CRITERIA to the other line…the second line were actively listening and repeated the criteria back…and vice versa…. While they were still standing outside the classroom, I explained the checking unit and our next comparison activity… They are still working on it, but they are MUCH clearer about the process than any of my previous classes have been.
THANK YOU for sharing your ideas! It is always great if you can take one or two things away from a conference, but I have never been able to walk directly back into my classroom and utilize a conference tidbit like this… WONDERFUL!
Business Education Teacher
West Salem High School
On March 7, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testified before Congress on changes needed in the nation’s schools and immigration laws. When your foundation gives away more than $3 billion, you earn the right to an opinion. He said, “the U.S. cannot maintain its economic leadership unless our work force consists of people who have the knowledge and skills needed to drive innovation.” For more of Bill Gates thinking on this subject see: How to Keep America Competitive Innovation requires both a strong foundation in content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in new ways – usually across a variety of disciplines. Thus it requires using all of Bloom’s skills from knowledge through synthesis and evaluation.
Gates envisions a workplace of the future characterized by innovation and change. Workers will need to be flexible and able to adapt to new situations – self starters capable of working independently and able to readily change teams in an ever evolving work environment. Innovation requires thinking out of the box with the ability to learn from success as well as failure.
That doesn’t sound like the learning environment created by NCLB. Our schools are aiming too low – we force feed the content required for “adequate progress” as measured by standardized state tests. Too little time is left for student-centered, project-based learning that allows students to work at the upper level of Bloom. Innovation requires much trial and error (Bloom’s evaluation). Learning to self-assess your problem solving approach is not a skill fostered in multiple-choice test-prep environment.
NCLB correctly put the focus on student achievement. Our students will need a strong foundation in core concepts. But schools can’t be filled with routine tasks. They need to be fluid environments focused on helping students take responsibility for thinking and problem solving where there sometimes isn’t a right answer.
PS When Microsoft “borrows” the Mac OS “widget” and adds it to their new Vista OS and calls it a “gadget,” does that qualify as innovation?
For my prior post see “Teaching innovation in routine schools?”
Image credit Flickr/s.alt
On December 14, 2006, the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, unveiled a report which should keep educators and policy-makers talking for months to come. Tough Choices or Tough Times, offers both a sober assessment of the challenge (Tough Times) and a radical proposal for reform of our educational system (Tough Choices). Executive Report 1.9MB pdf
Already the report is drawing both praise and heavy criticism. See: “U.S. Urged to Reinvent Its Schools” Education Week December 20, 2006. More 35kb pdf
The report assesses the demands of the information age / global economy against the current trends in American education. In our efforts to shore up the basic competencies of our students we have sacrificed creativity. Our schools have been taken over by the “test-prep” mentality. Typically that involves putting our student through relentless repetition of formulaic approaches to finding “the right answer.” More
As Washington considers the reauthorization of NCLB, I hope someone asks the question, “Why are we training our students to perform routine tasks, when routine work is increasingly done by machines and low-wage labor?”
As Tough Choices or Tough Times states, “A swiftly rising number of American workers at every skill level are in direct competition with workers in every corner of the globe. …If someone can figure out the algorithm for a routine job, chances are that it is economic to automate it. Many good well-paying, middle-class jobs involve routine work of this kind and are rapidly being automated.
…The best employers the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative, and most innovative people on the face of the earth and will be willing to pay them top dollar for their services. This will be true not just for the top professionals and managers, but up and down the length and breadth of the workforce.
…Strong skills in English, mathematic: technology and science, as well as literature, history, and the arts will be essential for many; beyond this, candidates will have to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, good at both analysis and synthesis, creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well organized, able to learn very quickly and work well as a member of a team and have the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor market as the shifts in the economy become ever faster and more dramatic.”
To prepare our students to lead productive and fulfilling lives, they will need both core competencies and opportunities to explore creative solutions that are “outside the box.” Let’s not forget “synthesis” – one of Bloom’s higher-order thinking skills. It’s been defined as: “Creatively or divergently applying prior knowledge and skills to produce a new or original whole.”
We can’t blame teachers for abandoning project-based learning when they get the message that we have to get “the scores up.” It’s time to refine our thinking about educational accountability. We will need to produce a new generation of students with both solid skills and the ability to apply them in new and creative ways.
As the report concludes, “Creativity, innovation, and flexibility will not be the special province of an elite. It will be demanded of virtually everyone who is making a decent living, from graphic artists to assembly line workers, from insurance brokers to home builders.”
See new post “Teaching innovation in routine schools? Part II”