The Greatest Struggle

I went to Kentucky this weekend to visit my parents. It was a great weekend and I’m glad I was able to spend some time away from thinking about teaching or grading. We all need refreshers…make sure you take them periodically.

When I returned home Sunday afternoon, I had a stack of exams waiting to be graded. We have just finished a chapter on biomolecules (proteins, carbs, lipids, etc) and I gave a test to check their understanding. Typically, I give a few multiple choice as a quick check over some basic content, but the rest of the test is written, applied knowledge that asks for reasoning and defense. The questions are open-ended and allow for varied responses based on their interests and personal growth.

These tests had more blanks in responses that I have ever seen. Needless to say, I was pretty frustrated with the results. I finished the grading, threw the number at the top of the page, and put them away. Where had I gone wrong? They got it in class when we played games or discussed…why the disconnect?


Fast forward to Monday morning. I saw this tweet from Stacy Roshan when I got to school:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/buddyxo/status/131003006673108992″]

I love the RSA Animate video of Sir Ken Robinson’s talk. I watched it earlier this year, but I went back and watched it again. My problem is that I’m continuing to teach and assess in linear fashions. I have missed the inherent genetics of learning.

Learning is not linear. Learning is not prescribed. Learning cannot be pigeonholed into separate chunks of discrete knowledge that are measured by tests alone.

Learning is dirty. Learning is exciting. Learning should be personalized, varied, and integrated.

The greatest struggle I have is changing my own teaching paradigm, not getting kids to write on a test. I try to challenge myself to think outside of my box of training, but I still struggle to actually work outside the box. We are doing a disservice to learners by continuing to test and use those scores as gauges of their learning. My kids didn’t fill out my test because it was boring…it didn’t ask for relevance and it certainly didn’t give any chance for creativity.

Do they get a free pass on this one? No. I need to correct my mistakes, but learners also need to recognize the fact that leaving a blank does not help the situation. We’ll spend some time remediating and then move forward.

So, how do we reconcile the dichotomy? I have no idea. I am still responsible for preparing them for the state exam in May…but, I am not going to worry so much about the single exams. It is a struggle and it is the reality of education today. But if we give up and give in, then we’re not helping anybody in the long run.

Thoughts on Innovation

I wasn’t planning on writing this afternoon, but I saw a post on Twitter from Steven Anderson,

and it really got me thinking. What is innovation? I can see what Steven is getting at. What happens when everyone is innovating…is that not innovation anymore?

I thought for a minute and sent back this reply,

As I teach longer, I keep finding that I think the best practices in the classroom are not necessarily putting the class agenda on the whiteboard or using a word wall to help teach vocabulary or literacy. Those are things…they aren’t at the root of doing what I do. When it comes down to it, I think best practices are really a combination of how we think about teaching and what that thinking causes us to do.

I can dream all day long about how I can innovate in my room…I do that every day. I think that is part of the Achilles heel of technology. There is always something new that we want to try, but we have to have the tech to make it happen. Would I turn down a class set of iPads? No way. But is not having them going to stop me from trying new things? Absolutely not.

Innovation isn’t always thinking about new ways to do things. We aren’t in the business of thinking…we’re in the business of doing. And that includes failure. I am an innovator because I am willing to try those crazy ideas. I may never use them again and I may not change the world with it, but that doesn’t make me any less of an innovator. It’s all in your mind.

Video is Not the Answer

The flipped class has been coming up more and more in discussions and blog posts recently. My guess is that it has something to do with Salman Khan’s lucrative relationship with Bill Gates and the media’s attention on their speaking tours. I feel like a broken record with this post, but it is something that needs to be written again.

The flipped class is not about the videos.

Popular media sees the flipped classroom as video being used in the classroom to teach children. I would like to state again that video can be used in the classroom to help differentiate for all learners. The flipped classroom started this way, but it has evolved into so much more than using videos in the class when implemented effectively.

Video itself will not help kids achieve more in your class. The flipped classroom is about making connections with learners and differentiating your instruction. If videos are a part of that multi-faceted plan, great. If they are not, still great. The flipped class is an ideology, not a methodology.

Personally, I use video because it is a tool that helps me meet remediation needs for learners that have missed class or for learners that just need more time with material. For chemistry, I am in my second year using a flipped class, and the video has taken a huge jump to the backseat as I have more time to work on engaging class activities and labs. Again, video is for remediation and review rather than content delivery.

There has been more positive news coming around about the flipped class being used in great ways across the country. For instance, Troy Cockrum was featured in an NPR article that looked at YouTube being used in the classroom. I’m glad Troy brought it around to the connections made with learners, because that is the true power of the model. Another talks about everything except the videos, again, because they are the least important part of the model. Earlier this month, Aaron Sams wrote a fantastic piece of theimplementation styles of a flipped class. Again, none of these methods rely solely on video or even use video at all. It is an idea, not a method.

The video isn’t important. The relationships, the discussions, and the experiences matter. We know that already. Regardless of what methods or ideas you use in your room, let’s continue to focus on what helps learners learn best.

This is mainly in response to the #edchat discussion on October 11, 2011 and David Wees’ blog post about using Khan Academy as content delivery in his class. Both the chat and David are great and I appreciate the challenges and direction they’ve both contributed to my growth.

First Quarter Reflections

First quarter drew to a close this past Friday. I, along with the rest of the school, have been frantically working to find missing assignments, compile grades, and try to provide meaningful feedback with the pre-determined statements given to us. Such fun.

I’ve been reflecting a lot over how the quarter has gone and I must admit, I have mixed feelings. I feel like there have been some successes to celebrate, but there are still some glaring holes (glaring to me, at least) that need to be filled in.

Foremost, I am not happy with my grading policy. It worked well for me last year, but this year it is far from adequate. As I looked through my grade book, I was not happy with the number of routine assignments that found there way in as the quarter progressed. To be quite honest, I’m disappointed with my lack of diligence in grading only the meaningful assignments. This has led to inflated grades for the learners playing the school game, and deflated grades for the kids that are trying hard (in many cases) but falling short of the “standard.” I need to redefine the standard. To rectify and move forward, I’m going to:

  1. Focus on assessing skill-based, multi-faceted work that truly displays their understanding.
  2. Using varied assessments to check learner growth.
  3. Providing meaningful feedback on everything and anything that affects their grade.
Ideally, grades would not be a part of my class. I don’t feel like they’re the best way to report learner understanding. But, I’m forced to work within a system and I need to do better to bridge my ideal and actual learning spaces.
Second, the learning sequence thus far (when looking back) seems disconnected and a little scattered. I’m afraid some learners are confused about where we are and how we arrived there. If they can’t see what the current topic is, how can they begin to build a larger schema to accept where we’re going? I’m working with younger learners this year and I need to scaffold more than I normally would. There needs to be a more prominent map of the content and how things tie in to one another to form the larger picture. I’m not sure how I’ll be doing this yet, but I would like to have some kind of ongoing mind-map or learning tree that learners can refer to. We’ll see.
Third and finally, I think I need to raise standards for myself. I’ve fallen into some habits that I’m not happy with when it comes to dealing with learners. This is probably going to be the hardest component to correct because it affects the day-to-day interaction with learners. I think I’ve been too loose and that has translated to my learners as “easy.” I know the old adage that says “Start tough and then ease up because you can’t start easy and then tough up,” but that’s where I feel like I am right now. I’m not easy, but I am not convinced I’ve pushed my learners hard enough on the important things. I need to find a way to do this in a supportive and constructive manner so I don’t lose my classes completely.
I am by no means disappointed with this first nine weeks. I am happy with the progress we’ve made together, but there are some issues that need attention.


D Sharon Pruitt, Flickr CC

As I was walking back to my classroom this afternoon, I passed a couple of learners in the hall talking about their grades. I don’t have either of these individuals in my class, nor do I know what class they were discussing, but that is beside the point.

What stuck in my head is when the girl said, “I’m afraid to look at my grade…I don’t even want to know.”

I began to wonder if kids talk about my class that way. How am I using grades? Are they punitive and discouraging, or is it a report of current progress in the class? I would hope that it is the latter, but I’m not sure.

Something to chew on.

Learning About Motivation

As some of my followers noticed near the end of last week, I had a moment of weakness after my toughest class. I’ve been very frustrated with having to micromanage their learning using a flipped model, and it really has made me think hard. Long story short, I’m not giving up on a flipped class or a standards-based model, but I do need to make some major adjustments.

Scott MacClintic was great enough to take some of his afternoon to talk with me directly, and he strongly suggested that I read Daniel Pink’s Drive as it has to do with motivation in a variety of settings.

I bought the book that night.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way through right now, but I’ve learned some very important lessons already.

  1. I use too many “carrots and sticks” with my learners. I ask for creative, insightful work, but then I slap a grade on it, taking away all meaning of the work they’re doing. I’m trying to use bits and pieces from two conflicting worlds. No wonder I’ve been having problems.
  2. Grades and extra credit cannot be used to push learners forward. I find myself defaulting to the “you’re being graded on this” line to “motivate” my kids to do the work they’re supposed to be doing at the moment. Again, external pushing does not lead to higher thinking from learners. If they don’t see the value in it, why am I pushing it?
  3. Resist the urge to tighten my grip. I need to stop micromanaging the class and learn to co-manage with the learners. I want them to be self-directed, but I’m giving fewer and fewer opportunities rather than more and more. Learning from mistakes is important, but I need to give them chances to make mistakes in the first place.
Again, I’m only 1/3 of the way through, but I need to make some major shifts if I want to achieve my goals. RSA animate did a good video on the gist of the book that you can see here.

I’m sure this will be sparking more posts in the future.


I’ve been struggling to find time to write recently. This has been a good and a bad thing. For one, I’m busy with learners during the day and I’m spending more time planning new activities and recording new and updated podcasts. I’m also doing multiple presentations this month and next, so I’ve been working on planning for those as well.

But, on the other hand, my head is about as full as it can get. I haven’t had much time to process any one thought from the past week, so I figured I would do a “systems purge” or sorts to start some thoughts and see where they go this week.

  1. I’ve felt convicted about grading lately, and it usually comes around when I open my grade book to put more marks in. I really need to take some time to sit down and think through my philosophy of grading, because I think I am most unhappy about that right now. I don’t think the grades are representative of learner progress, and that is a major problem. I’m reading a lot of Frank Noschese’s writing on standards based grading as well as Audrey McLaren‘s writing on using Google Docs as checklists and tracking of learner progress. I want to use both bad, but I can’t find the time to do my own learning.

  2. The fall conference season is upon us and I have one of the busiest schedules I’ve ever had. I’m travelling to the Indiana Computer Educators Conference in Indianapolis next week to do a Flipped Classroom workshop with Troy Cockrum and Brett Clark. This will be my first “panel” presentation and I’m looking forward to the new dynamic.

Then, on October 26th, I’m doing an in-service session for new teachers in the district on some of the Flipped Classroom basics each of us can use to move toward a more engaging class.

Thirdly, I’m going to EdCamp: Grand Rapids, and to be totally honest, I’m more excited about that one than any of the other. I’ll get to work with Dan Spencer again and I’m excited because he’s always got good things to share.

Oh, then there’s the ISTE proposal I’m still mulling over. Can’t forget about that.

  1. I wish I had more handheld devices in my room. Learners interact better with touch-interface now rather than computer interfaces. Still trying to figure out how to solve that problem.

  2. I’ve started using Andy Schwen’s Google Documents assessment templates to collect data and I’m amazed at some of the numbers coming through. If you don’t click on any other links today, click this one…it will blow your mind.

I think that’s it. I have another post fermenting ripening in my notebook and hopefully, I’ll be able to put that up this week as well.

Thanks for mishmashing with me today.