Teaching Innovation in Routine Schools?

Tough Choices or Tough Times
Tough Choices or Tough Times

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”

Strategies for Rigor and Relevance

I just returned from an engaging one day workshop with over 100 high school teachers and administrators from the Green Bay Wisconsin area (sponsored by CESA 7).
I brought my TurningPoint audience response system to gather feedback and generate discussion on some essential questions:

1. What does rigor and relevance look like in the classroom?
2. To what extent is learning student- or teacher directed?
3. How can I help build literacy and still teach my content?

Here’s some comments from the participant evaluation:

“Well-organized, interactive and well structured. Peter demonstrated  his own method for rigor and relevance while teaching us, so we participated as our students would”
“Changed the way I will instruct my student. And changed my expectation of my students as well.”
“The workshop was effective because you made us reflect on our classroom practice and our expectations of students. Then you supplied us with techniques and strategies to improve instruction.”

Updated handout with audience response data Download pappas-cesa7-handout.pdf 1.8 MB pdf

Model Schools Conference Updates

The June ’06 Model School Conference in Orlando was a great success. The conference was hosted by Willard Daggett’s International Center for Leadership in Education. As a Senior Consultant for the ICLE, I presented four workshops. I’ve included workshop descriptions and updated handouts below.

I pleased to come home to this email from one of the participants:

Hi Mr. Pappas,
I saw you this week at the model schools conference and attended two of your sessions, the one on Publishing and Strategies for Rigor, Relevance and Reading for High Performing Students. I was completely moved, motivated and excited. …I cannot wait for school to begin again so I can put your ideas and strategies into practice!  I wanted to thank you for reenergizing me and giving me solid strategies that I can take back to the classroom!!! Many thanks,
LaDonna Walker ~ 7th grade language arts teacher

Reinventing High School – A Focus on Instruction. I used a Turning Point audience response system to gather data from over 500 attendees in the session. Here’s an updated version of the PowerPoint which includes the responder data Download pre-con-slides.pdf 1.4MB pdf  Want to know more about TurningPoint response systems? Contact Mike Venrose at mvenrose@turningtechnologies.com Tell him you saw the system in my session at Model Schools. More on my use of TurningPoint.

The Power of Publishing – Academic Success for Struggling Readers and Writers
“This workshop will showcase examples of successful programs that have motivated struggling readers and writers.  The power of publishing enables students to think like writers, to apply their learning strategies and to organize and express their learning. Tips for funding to incorporate the publishing workshop into your academic intervention program make this a viable and cost-effective solution for any district. Participants will also learn simple technology tips that produce great results.” Download Publishing-success-handout.pdf 1.8MB pdf. More online at my website Read > Think > Write > Publish

Rigor, Relevance and Reading for High Performing Students
“Designed for honors / AP level teachers who think that an engaging learning environment is more than an inspired lecture. Learn strategies to enable your students to read, reflect, and write like historians, scientists, mathematicians, and literary critics. Teachers will find out how to support subject area mastery while building student literacy skills in defining, summarizing and analysis.” Download high-performing-handout.pdf  1.5MB pdf. More online at my website Content Reading Strategies that Work

9th Grade Academy – A Small Learning Community That Works
“Boost student achievement with rigor, relevance and literacy strategies for academic success. This workshop traces the success of the ninth grade academy at East Irondequoit CSD, an inner-ring suburb of Rochester NY. High standards, parent partnerships and assessment driven instruction are helping teachers of all disciplines support their subject area while building student literacy skills.”
Download NGA-that-works.pdf 1.5MB pdf. More online at my website Small Learning Communities that Work

In Search Of the Rigorous Classroom

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It seems that politicians have suddenly discovered that we’re suffering from a high school rigor deficiency. Driven by the economic competitiveness of the “flat world,” numerous states are considering mandates for more rigorous core curricula and increased graduation requirements. New federal legislation puts the US Secretary of Education in the business of setting standards for recognizing “rigorous secondary school program of study.”

Let’s be sure that high school reform isn’t just “more of the same” formulaic and predictable seat time that can already make high school the least engaging part of a student’s day. Graduating with more credits won’t do much for a student’s employment prospects unless high school reform redefines who’s doing the thinking in the classroom.

A competitive workforce is made up of people who can think independently in complex and ambiguous situations where the solutions are not immediately obvious.  Meaningful high school reform must include freeing teachers from mindless test prep. Educators need resources and training to craft a rigorous learning environment where students can function as 21st century professionals – critical thinkers who can effectively collaborate to gather, evaluate, analyze and share information.

image credit: flickr/dcJohn

More than half of online teens have created content for the internet

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project states,

“Thanks to the internet, American teenagers can engage media material and create their own content in ways their parents could not. Today’s online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print, and recorded media outlets.”  Download Report  (253 kb) pdf

Educators and parents should applaud teen initiative and creativity. The new copy / paste culture fosters a bottom-up takeover of the information flow. Will teens upload more than they download?  Will the audience become the show?