Designing the Culturally Aware Device Program

Here are the slides for the session that Dan Hudkins and I are presenting today at 11:30 in room 203.

NAIS Culturally Aware Device Program slides (PDF)cover slide

Students Know How To Reduce Distractions

Facilitating student discussion is a complex talk. Pose engaging questions, keep the conversation momentum going, stay on topic, and encourage quieter voices to participate. Could two Upper School boys guide their peers through 45 minutes of discussion about electronic devices and distractions? Yes, they did! Our guides, “Mr. H.” and “Mr. G.,” did such a great job that I simply relaxed and enjoyed the conversation.

The group of 14 students generated a long list of techniques for minimizing distractions, as high quality a set of suggestions as any I have seen experts write.

  • Only check Twitter on your phone, not your computer.
  • Use a timer to work for specific chunks of time.
  • Set your phone to Do Not Disturb when you work.
  • Install the Self Control or Concentrate app to block access to social sites.
  • Charge your phone in another room.
  • Have a parent keep your phone.
  • Learn which music helps you concentrate and which distracts.
  • Don’t start a Netflix episode on a break.
  • Use distraction-free (full screen) mode when writing or reading.

The students went far beyond strategies. They explored the paradoxes and tradeoffs that they experience. Stay up late to get more done one night, and you are less productive the next day. Sports force you to be more organized but can also make you tired. School firewalls may keep social sites away but do not teach you self control. Homework can actually be more active than class time.

Did the students solve the problem of distraction from devices? Not at all! While they know the strategies, they acknowledge that they do not always use them. Self-discipline is complex. It is uncomfortable to work for hours at night, tough to resist social interactions. This suggests a new focus for education around devices and distractions. Learning strategies is just the first step. Setting meaningful goals, building self discipline, and practicing mindfulness are equally, if not more important.

Of Mice, Men, and Instagram

Originally published on edSocialMedia

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How can middle school students begin to recognize complexity and empathize with characters in literature? In a conventional approach, a teacher might pose thought-provoking questions to students and draw their attention to key passages in the story. However, this approach does not guide all students to deepen their understanding of the characters. Young adolescents are often still developing empathy during the middle school years, but the ability to appreciate the thoughts and feelings of a character is essential to understanding literature.

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University Prep English teacher Carl Faucher uses social media to help students think about the characters in Of Mice and Men. To begin, students select one character to follow through the book and then create a new account in that character’s name on their preferred social media platform. As students read the book, they pay special attention to the character’s thoughts and inner dialogue. Students then write one post online for each chapter of the book.

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Students choose a variety of platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. They tend to like the familiar format and enthusiastically go about their work. Some post the minimum number required, whereas others write far more. Instagram users in particular find an opportunity to communicate visually, either by selecting stills from the movie version to accompany each thought or selecting more abstract, evocative imagery. Some choose to make the assignment social, following their classmates and liking or commenting on their posts.

 

Faucher asks students to avoid summarizing the text but rather write what the characters were actually thinking at different points in the book. Those who adopt the persona of the character show the most evidence of learning. Faucher notes, “students developed empathy for the character better than if they had answered conventional questions about the text. They got through the black and white of good and bad and explored complexities of the characters and their relationships.”

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Conventional reading questions are grounded in the language of the discipline — academic discourse. Students better learn to think analytically and identify literary conventions such as themes and foreshadowing if they are provided with accessible steps to build upon. The social media introduction allows students to apply an established strength, “to speak the language that they are speaking outside of school.” Having gained some understanding, students are better able to build up to the more complex assignments later in the unit: a mock trial in which George is taken to court, and an expository essay that focuses on character analysis.

 

“With the advent of social media, our paths of communication are changing the ways we speak, communicate, and express ourselves.” While some may bemoan the decline of long form writing, Faucher takes advantage of the popular microblogging medium to help students achieve the learning goals of seventh grade English.

Teacher Leadership

By reputation, teaching offers few advancement opportunities. Schools don’t normally have many management positions, and only a few teachers transform into school administrators. At University Prep, however, we believe in the value of broadly distributing teacher leadership, both to enhance the educational experience and provide avenues for professional growth. We provide many opportunities for teachers to assume leadership roles.

Department heads are the school’s instructional leaders. They supervise and mentor teachers, collaborate in hiring and staffing processes, and develop the instructional culture of the school. Department heads receive a reduced course load and a stipend to support their work.

Class deans oversee student progress and needs within each grade level. They collaborate with the Student Services Team to identify and support students with socio-emotional or academic needs. Class deans receive a reduced course load to support their work.

Ad-hoc committees explore emergent school issues and recommend next steps. Recent ad-hoc committees have studied teacher feedback, extra help, mindfulness, narrative reports, computer science, and laptop programs. Teachers often initiate and lead ad-hoc committees.

Strategic planning includes teachers in board-led committee work on the long-term future of the school, particularly the direction of the educational program.

Curriculum proposals are initiated by teachers and then discussed in departments before moving to administrative bodies for approval.

School programs such as outdoor trips, Global Link, community service, ski bus, and middle school assemblies and socials depend on teacher leadership and participation. Some teachers receive a reduced course load in order to lead these programs.

Student clubs each have a faculty advisor. The advisor experience is very rich in the more active clubs such as National Honor Society, Students of Service, Mock Trial, Debate Club, Science Olympiad, and Multicultural Student Alliance.

Change of Pace Days depart from the regular class schedule to focus on contemporary issues such as social justice and community service. Teachers propose topics, facilitate workshops, and tap their professional networks to enrich the student experience.

Conferences: Teachers share their work at national and regional conferences, including the NAIS Annual Conference, People of Color Conference, NWAIS Educators Conference, National Arts Education Association national conference, Washington State Council for Social Studies annual conference. Teachers are well-supported to attend conferences and visit schools, expanding their exposure to new ideas and developing their professional networks.

Accreditation teams: We support teachers in serving on NWAIS accreditation visiting teams, an incredibly rich experience for understanding school program design and our peer northwest schools.

Career advancement: A number of our department heads who assume significant leadership responsibilities subsequently take jobs in school administration, both at University Prep and elsewhere.

The Multicultural School and World Events

A truly inclusive school community feels the effects of national and international events and engages them with active dialogue. In response to Ferguson, we quickly pulled together open discussion forums for students, faculty, and staff to share their thoughts and questions. A few days later, our trained student facilitators led community conversations, with all high school students required to attend. Middle school advisories broached the subject in a more introductory manner.

Our Pakistani exchange student asked for the school’s help in sharing and processing the massacre that took place at another school there. Within the hour, we adjusted our schedule and held an assembly so that she could share her thoughts. This act made it clear how even such a distant event can quite directly affect our community.

When the AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore crashed, I immediately thought of one colleague, who is Indonesian and was in Surabaya just days before. While she did not know anyone on the flight, the event was still a major shock. Our school team was primed to provide support and explanation should that prove necessary.

Our school has connections to the entire world, despite our moderate size. As our cities become more multicultural, our schools become more diverse, particularly when the school takes deliberate steps toward cultural competency. Our schools move beyond just inclusivity when we treat all students and staff as full members of the community and invite them to share their full selves, even if this sometimes causes discomfort or disagreement. These three stories are from just the past month, and events like this take place many times each year.

Courageous cultural competency is now a required quality of contemporary schools, to meet the goal of educating students for an increasingly globalized world.

Book Review: Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice

inside the black boxHere is a very brief review of Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education. I so appreciate that Larry Cuban continues to publish productively on the history of education and school change. Through his blog, book forwards, and latest book, Cuban explores the most confounding quality of school reform: the more policymakers change, the more classroom practice stays the same. Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice summarizes Cuban’s past work comparing national education policy to his direct observations of classroom practice. In this way, Cuban explodes myths about the effects of federal and state education initiatives on the student experience in schools. Cuban also spends a chapter exploring parallels to the evolution of the training and evaluation of medical practice.

Central to the argument is the idea of the multi-layered curriculum. Federal education policy is interpreted by states. State education standards are interpreted by districts. District initiatives are monitored by schools. Teachers interpret the curriculum as they teach. Students interpret the curriculum that they receive. Finally, assessments reveal only a partial picture of what students have actually learned. Cuban explains that these many layers have so diluted the original intent of education policy that classroom practice has remained fairly immune to change over decades. He also points out that much national and state education policy has been alarmingly simply in its theory of school change, for example that school accountability to student test scores would necessarily cause improvement in teaching practice, or that adding thousands of computing devices would necessarily improve student learning.

Education is not just complicated, however. It is complex. Cuban explains that complex systems involve humans making varying decisions and lack central command. Interdependencies and interactions exist among many different actors, often with conflicting objectives and methods. Top-down directives and simplified change theories fail to cause actual change in complex systems. Rather, Cuban argues, education policymakers would do better to empower and support teachers as professionals, change agents, and experts. School reform must address all layers of the multi-layered curriculum in order to have any chance of causing actual change on the ground.

Ironically, Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice does not get very far into the classroom beyond confirming that it remains little affected by decades of large scale education reform. Other books and studies help complete the inquiry. For example, David Perkins and Project Zero studied classrooms in depth to determine when moments of understanding were achieved and created a model for effective classroom instruction based on that. Jack Schneider examined four changes to education practice that did in fact take root in the classroom and identified key factors in penetrating the black box of classroom practice. Together, these studies help identify key aspects of each layer that affects classroom practice and ultimately may help educators navigate the complex, shifting worlds of education policy.

This iPad case can do anything.

One case with four modes maximizes the ability of the iPad to act as both laptop and mobile tablet while also protecting the corners. Unfortunately, the case is also too tight and may stress the glass screen. Love the form factor, however. Supernight 360

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Teaching for Understanding

This article describes University Prep’s emphasis on teaching for understanding, a focus of our professional development program this year. I wrote it for the University Prep community, to be published in the winter issue of Happenings, the school magazine.

Raise your hand if you are against understanding. Anyone? It seems obvious that understanding should be the goal of education. However, during its history, American education has assigned greater importance to knowledge and procedure than to analysis, insight, and application. Schools have generally expected students to memorize great volumes of detailed facts and practice formulaic solutions to stock problems. The nation’s recent emphasis on standardized testing, to measure both student progress and teacher quality, has further narrowed this emphasis.

20 years ago, one of my teaching colleagues epitomized the traditional teaching method. He lectured from a sheaf of handwritten notes, yellowed from years gone by and marked with tiny refinements. His students listened closely and transcribed furiously, then pored over these notes in preparation for detailed tests. Thinking was not required, since the teacher told the students everything he expected them to know. Understanding was far from guaranteed, as students had few opportunities to draw their own conclusions and receive feedback. Yet, this teacher was considered one of the best of the faculty, a master of the craft.

Since the advent of the information age, both teachers and students have gained access to more knowledge than one can consume in a lifetime of study. Computers have gradually automated most of the procedural tasks that we used to complete manually. Has computing therefore reduced the importance of thinking and understanding? Not at all! Now that practically anyone can find and share great volumes of facts and execute procedures, our students must develop sophisticated thinking skills and gain understanding. Critical analysis, persuasive speaking, cultural competency, logical and sequential reasoning, and other thinking skills are now necessary in order to successfully distinguish evidence from opinion, appreciate different arguments and perspectives, and use technology to further human society.

As public schools have gradually ceded control of their educational programs to state and national mandates, independent schools have continued to develop student thinking and understanding. Teachers have selected the topics that best serve students. Students, working in small classes, have shared their ideas and received feedback. Multiple ways of thinking, such as the arts, languages, and physical education, have remained integral to the academic program. Rich co-curricular subjects, including outdoor education, global programs, social justice, community service, information studies, academic technology, and learning support, have broadened students’ understandings.

Great lessons start with great questions. How has the past influenced the present? How can we tell whether two variables are associated? How will we provide energy for future generations? What are the rights and responsibilities of a citizen? On September 25, the full faculty completed a workshop on essential questions, ideas that encourage thinking because they are open-ended, house multiple perspectives, and reflect current topics in the discipline. Leading research and professional organizations have informed this work, including the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Coalition of Essential Schools, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. The book Making Learning Whole, by David Perkins, is a good place to start if you want to learn more about essential questions and authentic education.

High-quality classrooms encourage students to think. This is harder to accomplish than you might think! In one large project, researchers from Harvard’s Project Zero studied hundreds of classes and identified the moments during which learning happened and understanding was achieved. Based on this research, they then developed “thinking routines,” questions and activities that encourage student thinking and make it visible to the teacher. “See, Think, Wonder” encourages students to generate questions about a topic. “Think, Puzzle, Explore” asks students to identify dilemmas and enter them through stories. “Slow Looking” plumbs the depths of an image for its most revealing clues. “The Language of Thinking” asks teachers to use better words than “think” to encourage specific kinds of intellectual activity.

On October 10, four U Prep faculty and staff members traveled to a conference titled, “Making, Thinking, Understanding.” The Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education (CASIE) offered the conference. Our colleagues learned about some 40 thinking routines and studied examples from various subject areas. On October 22, they shared their favorite thinking routines with the U Prep faculty and had their colleagues practice the routines as students.

Successful students grasp the core ideas in a discipline. How do experts in English, history, and science make sense of the world? What questions remain unanswered? What controversies are most active in each field? To further develop instruction in these areas, U Prep faculty and staff members attend a variety of disciplinary conferences each year. Just this fall, these have included the Race and Pedagogy National Conference, the Washington State Council for the Social Studies, and the Northwest Mathematics Conference. Conversations continue each year about how to further refine our curricula to reflect contemporary thinking in the disciplines.

U Prep teachers are recognized leaders in teaching for understanding. On October 10 alone, the statewide in-service day, eight U Prep teachers presented their work at regional conferences, on subjects as varied as computer science, art and social change, Maker programs, teaching contemporary methods in English and visual art, and Middle School debate programs.

As independent schools such as U Prep continue to teach for understanding, the national education dialogue has begun to shift away from standardization and testing. The Common Core increases emphasis on analysis and application relative to previous national standards. Recent articles (e.g., Seattle Times Education Blog) have suggested that smaller class sizes and student-centered instruction help students succeed in school. While time will tell whether American education fully commits to the pursuit of thinking and understanding, U Prep will continue to prepare students to think, understand, and become intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizens of the world.

 

Happy “New Year!”

New year’s celebrations mark the retirement of a major calendar unit, a trip around the sun, and the passage of four seasons. We reflect on the events of this past cycle and express hopes for the next one. The media reminds us of public events of the past year, and nonprofit organizations request our help to reach their fundraising goals. In January, a new calendar cycle begins. However, many educators and students feel more like they are partway through a cycle than beginning a new one.

For education, the academic year holds far more significance than the calendar year. The academic year offers substance for reflection and anticipation. Students begin the year in a new grade, division, or school, with the corresponding institutional and social expectations, as well as development milestones. Teachers note another year of service, and length of tenure carries weight in schools. Professional goals, teaching assignments, and co-curricular responsibilities also change with the academic year, as educators gain the chance to deepen their practice and assume new roles.

December is a tricky time for schools. Holidays performances coincide with culminating academic moments. Schools face a choice: finish the term in December to help students enjoy their vacations or finish in January to spread out the work and balance the semesters. It’s tough to end the calendar year while the academic year keeps moving along.

Our lucky southern hemisphere colleagues get to combine the two. For them, December brings summer vacation, and January the start of a new school year. South of the equator, people neatly celebrate the ends and beginnings of school years in parallel with community celebrations of the calendar years. They mark the new academic year with four simple digits, while we awkwardly slide across an hyphen: “2014-2015.” Reflections and goal setting neatly align.

Which has more meaning to you, the academic year or calendar year? Answer this quick poll and feel free to elaborate in a comment below.

Which means more to you?

  • Academic year (100%, 1 Votes)
  • Calendar year (0%, 0 Votes)
  • They have equal meaning to me. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 1

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Whether your days are currently long or short, hot or cold, I wish you a happy and prosperous new year.

 

What About the Content? Revising Curricula for Cultural Competency

NAIS People of Color Conference 2014

Sarah Peterson and I will be presenting this session on Thursday, December 4 at 10:00am in Room 204. We look forward to seeing you there.

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What About the Content slides  (+ hi-res version)

Thursday morning, my colleague Sarah Peterson and I will present “What About the Content? Revising Curricula for Cultural Competency” at the NAIS People of Color Conference in Indianapolis. The presentation reflects several goals, and participants will play a major role. We hope that you will be able to attend or otherwise share your stories with us.
Focus on Curriculum Content
Why have we focused this study specifically on curriculum content? Substantial, excellent work exists on school climate, classroom environment, teacher qualifications, and student empowerment. Yet, the content that we teach students plays a central role in their education and speaks powerfully about what (and who) the school values.
Focus on Required Courses
A school’s course of study typically includes required and elective courses. Teaching for cultural competency can be more easily found in elective courses, where teachers have greater freedom in curriculum development. However, the students we most need to reach may avoid such classes, and our diverse student body deserves a culturally representative learning experience in their required courses. We have chosen to focus this study on the core curriculum, while acknowledging that it is the hardest to change.
Share Examples from University Prep
On the one hand, we can proudly point to teachers and courses that have made tremendous strides in teaching for cultural competency. On the other hand, our students tell us that we still have much ground to cover. We will share a number of examples in this presentation that reflect our ongoing work toward a truly representative, relevant, and empowering core curriculum.
Share Participant Experiences and Points of View
While we have a lot to say on this subject, we are by no means experts, and the collective experiences and perspectives in the conference hall will no doubt exceed ours. We will take advantage of this gathering of attendees and ask everyone to participate first in small group discussions and then share out selected examples with the whole group. As a result, the session will end having identified a substantial number of curricular innovations in the required courses in our school.