On Their Own

I have to admit to feeling somewhat disconnected this fall. After all, I’ve taught for most of the past 30 years, recently at Fredericksburg Academy as the instructional tech coordinator and an English teacher. Fall can be difficult for ex-teachers who love being in the classroom.

Today, a colleague shared with me an email and screenshot of work her kids were doing. She had sent it out to the entire faculty and then realized I might enjoy seeing what the students were up to. She was right. So cool.

Here’s her email:

Here is a little story about young, independent, tech savvy students overcoming their obstacles and taking responsibility. Blair is absent today, but she emailed me this morning to tell me that she had made arrangements with her partner about the paper that they were supposed to write together in class. Now, during class both students are typing on the same Google doc at the same time and chatting with each other in the Google chat feature. I thought that it was cool that I could check in on and literally watch students as they worked in my classroom, but this is even better. The best part: they set this up on their own.

Thanks, @jclarkevans for keeping me in the loop. I especially enjoy this coming from Blair, a student who claimed she just “didn’t love” using the laptops two years ago when I taught her ninth grade! (However, she was the one most intrigued by my talk about digital identity.) We never know where our students will go when we allow them to figure things out on their own. And teachers like Jennifer allow this to happen.

Will Administrators Use Social Media in the Future?

Today’s CEO is not social, says Forrester Research’s CEO George Colony–in a study reported today on the Mashable site. I pulled one of the quotes that made me think about administrators in our schools:

Colony has concluded that, “None of the CEOs of Fortune Magazine’s top 100 global corporations have a social profile.”

Wow. None. But should we be surprised? Very few school principals, Heads of Schools, or even high-level administrators have a social profile. George Couros, whose fairly recent jump into social media has propelled him as a leader in this area, started Connected Principals to share those that do. But until the past few months, I saw few administrators willing to take the perceived risk of being “out there.”

I find social media fascinating. I can’t imagine not sharing and learning online. But it seems people either get it or don’t.

Educators are no different in that regard. But those administrators who have jumped report great satisfaction in their transparency with parents and families. Check out Larry Fliegelman’s latest post about connecting with his parents. Josie Holford, head of Poughkeepsie Day School, keeps her families up to date through her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

So as I read the post on Mashable, I wondered….how different will our “school world” be when administrators around the world will feel as LIVESTRONG CEO Doug Ulman does. In the post he says,  “perceptions around social media being too risky for CEOs are beginning to change.”

“I would predict that more and more executives will see this as an opportunity rather than a risk,” he says.

I hope more school administrators will soon discover the possibilities.

image:By Pranav SinghPranav Singh

5 Minds Makes Sense-So Far

I read the first part of Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future last week on the beach.

Many students, Howard Gardner muses, have accumulated plenty of factual information.

They have not, he says, learned to think in a disciplined manner nor–he prefers–about one discipline.

Facts only gain meaning when placed in context. I discovered this first when my students took standardized tests for grammar and punctuation. These good writers did poorly on those bubble sheet tests, much to my dismay. When I discovered the company also administered a true writing test, I asked our Head of School if we could give it. The results validated my belief that my students were, in fact, good writers. On the bubble sheet, they were asked to fill in circles. On the WrAP, the were asked to write.

Our department believes to create good writers, they need to write. Often. Freely. On a variety of topics. And they should be given frequent feedback. We know it works; our alums brag about their writing when they return for visits.

A problem, Gardner says, is no one appreciates the difference between subject matter and disciplines. Disciplines, he says, represent “a distinctive way of thinking about the world.” He then cites examples as to how literary scholars, scientists, or historians think about the world–and it differs greatly from how teachers tend to teach the subject (pouring information into the students’ heads).

So how do we teach achieve a disciplined mind? He says there are four steps:

1)Identify truly important content or concepts
2)Spend a significant amount of time on them
3)Approach the topics in a variety of ways, and
4) Set up “performances of understanding” that is, give “ample opportunities for students to perform their understandings under a variety of conditions.”

I wanted to yell this across the beach to my husband when I read it last week:

“Here, in brief, is why most standardized measures of learning are of little use; they do not reveal whether the student can actually make use of the classroom material–the subject matter–once she steps outside the door.”

In the future, Gardner says, individuals must also learn “how to synthesize knowledge and how to extend it in new and unfamiliar ways.”

Gardner captures the complexity of teaching, of evaluating teachers based on their students’ progress. Though I certainly understand the need for a framework of broad national standards of some kind, the specific ways we are testing and ranking our students will have devastating long-term effects.

Ok, now I need to go back and read about the “synthesizing, creating, respectful, and ethical” minds. I’m probably breaking all the rules, drawing conclusions about the book before I’ve put much of a dent in it.

The preface also addresses Dan Pink’s book, published around the same time. I’ve also discovered The Good Work site, developed to help gauge the effectiveness of his work.

More later.