Thinking about What if we assessed more and graded less? 60-60-60 #22 and reflecting…

“Could it be less destination and more calibration for traveling interesting bends?”

Ultimately it’s about how we are defining learning. And if we’re defining learning by more/better grades, then we’re in trouble. It’s about whether we’re using the word for or of. Assessment for learning? Assessment of learning? Or both? At different times. Not always at the end. Scores on standardized assessments can no longer define learning.

Take what our Secretary of Education said during a recent interview on NPR:

If anyone thinks 100 percent of a teacher evaluation should be based on test score, I will always fight that.  But I will also say that a piece of a teacher’s evaluation has to be upon whether those students are learning or not.

Will Richardson reflects on this part of Duncan’s interview in a compelling way in his Test Scores = Learning blog post. I’ll let Richardson’s words be my riff on Bo’s 60-60-60 post today:

And there you have it, in those last two sentences, the huge problem that we are facing when it comes to changing the conversation around reform. The Secretary doesn’t understand that learning is much more than what is indicated on the test, and that learning is a much more complex interaction that is not easy to test for in a standardized, common way.

Equally problematic is how he defends the idea that waivers are providing flexibility. True, it’s not just “an absolute test score” that’s used to grade schools or teachers or custodial services. (Joke.) It’s “growth and gain” and “improvement”…as measured by the absolute test score year to year. So now instead of just focusing on test scores, states can focus on test scores. There’s a switch.

I know it’s a huge undertaking to try to get politicians and parents to unlearn and relearn what learning is and the ways it can most effectively be assessed. That it’s different from “knowing” in the sense that we know the answer to the test. That it’s more about learning dispositions and practices than anything else. But I think we have to continue to push back against those who are trying to simplify it for the sake of efficiency and economics. Test scores do not equal learning.


CHANGEd 60-60-60: DESIGN

Thinking about What if we audited our purposes for using grades? 60-60-60 #21 and reflecting…

image credit: design thinking @ the nueva school (march 2012)

I’ve been looking through the High Schools That Work (HSTW) documents related to their “grading audit.” The documents (linked here) and the process associated with thinking critically and creatively about grading reflect such a strong connection to the design process that it’s no wonder why Bo chose to highlight this group’s work. The “Two Minute Interviews” (page 2), the starting point for HSTW’s work, is directly in line with the first and oftentimes most important phase of the design process, research and “deep dive” (highlighted in bright blue in the image on the right).

So, what if we let the design process, outlined quite simply below, inform our approach to Bo’s question: Do we really understand the purposes of grading? I agree with Bo that with commitment to a ‘purpose audit,’ we’d be able to thoughtfully understanding our current purposes and thoughtfully change our practices related to grades and feedback.

1. research/deep dive: observe, act and listen, research, develop empathy and “look belowthe surface”

2. focus: synthesize and design

3. generate ideas: brainstorm

4. make informed decisions: analyze and choose

5. prototyping cycle: create prototypes, seek feedback, incorporate feedback

6. collaborate: project management, motivate and inspire, monitor team dynamics


Thinking about What is we designed and experimented more in schools? 60-60-60 #20 and reflecting…

Transitioning from one meeting to another late this morning, a fourth grade teacher grabbed me in the hall and asked if I had a couple minutes. In the moment, my desire to be on time to my next meeting wasn’t as strong as my curiosity.

“Sure,” I said.

I walked into a classroom, not knowing what to expect. It was rather quiet for a gathering of 40 fourth grade students. All were seated with eyes focused on Lee H., who was standing in the front of the room, a bit nervous but certainly excited.

After a brief introduction and explanation by Lee, we all sat and listened to the production that this young designer-creator-producer had made. His design-creation-production, based on the fourth grade simulated journey westward on the Oregon Trail, was an example of fourth graders’ independent work during a social studies unit where students are encouraged to uncover their passions and use their strengths in projects. The teachers honor many students’ unique work throughout the simulated arduous journey westward, but this example is one that garnered great accolades from both teachers and students.

In his #20 post, Bo references a school-wide musical gala and iPad concerto (new soundtracks), a multi-school design summit which focused on empathy and prototypes (3D renderings), and a MIT robot (cultural cyborgs).  As a songwriter, digital composer, and 21st century musician, fourth grader Lee embodies incredible characteristics that, in my opinion, get us closer to imagining the “what if” associated with Bo’s three-ring-circus-vision-of-school.

The immediate feedback Lee received from his classmates was an interesting assessment of his work. I recorded students’ reactions — and their enthusiasm and support of Lee as designer-creator-producer speaks for itself:

“My comment is more of a suggestion: You should put it on our class page.”

“That was ahhhhhmazing!”

“I think you are really good at singing…really really good.”

“Since you are so good at singing, I think you should try out for the Atlanta Boy Choir. You’d like it.”

“Have you thought about putting it on iTunes? You should.”

“I have a question and comment: first, that’s really, really, really awesome. Next, where is the software from?”

“When you get famous as a singer, will you remember wagon train and say that this was your start?”

“One word: whoa!”


**I used Lee’s original mp3 to create an iMovie, using Lee’s “wagon train family” picture as the anchor in order to share it in this space. I suspect that Lee may want to put his words and music to pictures or possibly a video in the future. If he does, I’ll be sure to post it here, as it’ll certainly provide fodder for an additional “What If” post.


Thinking about What if schools were more like summer camps? 60-60-60 #19 and reflecting…

One of the things I remember about my experiences at summer camp (Greystone/2yrs and  Kanakuk/3yrs) is that I remember feeling surprised at how the counselors acted — most of the time — more like kids than adults. Or maybe it was that I wasn’t used to seeing adults act with such unbridled enthusiasm. Either way, I have vivid memories of my counselors reveling in the activities, the songs, the food fights, and the general energy that wound like a path through the morning, afternoon, and evening life of summer camp.

It’s been interesting to see, in the past couple of days, how Ross’s How Summer Camp Should Inform School post resonates with “us school folk.” And it points to the fact that many of us “school folk” are “camp folk” too.

What is it about camp that has so many former campers returning to serve as counselors, often for years at a time? Certainly it’s not a typical route, though it happens from time to time, that a student will return to his former school to become a teacher.

I love the exchange between Howell Burke and Bo  in the comments section of Bo’s post. Howell’s reflections add to the strong metaphor being woven in this online exchange about schools and camps and what we can learn from both institutions.

The comments between Howell and Bo point to something else as well…

Teacher as Student. Student as Teacher. Counselor as camper. Camper as Counselor.

There’s some good potential there.

CHANGEd 60-60-60: VOICES

Thinking about What if schools empowered students and teachers to be journalists and marketers? and reflecting…

Last Wednesday, Trinity School hosted a musical gala that was, in a word, remarkable. It was an incredible display of honoring our school’s commitment to the arts, celebrating both musical and educational risks, and highlighting the diversity of talent within our student, faculty/staff, and parent body.

Given the high quality (and that’s an understatement) of promotional trailer for the event, I can only imagine what Trinity’s official documentation will look like. There’s the video of the two hours of rehearsing and then the HD video (on two cameras) of the two hour performance at Symphony Hall…and the previous weeks and weeks of video that document the preparation — both in person and via Skype.

But, here’s the problem. Naturally, creating a succinct representation of this magical event will take some time. And already, there’s been many moments since Wednesday when I’ve wanted to add texture to my story about the event with video. Or share a link in an email or blog post. Luckily, I took some pictures, so those have come in handy.

But my voice is only one.

What stories might other voices be telling? Stories that will only create anticipation for the more polished pieces that our communications department will ultimately produce?

Imagine my excitement when I saw that one of our students had blogged about her experience. Jena’s post, written the night following the event, is a tangible example of student as journalist. Her full post is worth reading, but I love hearing Jena’s voice in this one passage (this comes after she describes that the piano solo was “like watching a sunset on a beach”),

One instrument that was also used at Alpin Hong’s concert was the human voice.  The Faculty and Staff choir sang at the concert.  The choir started last year and then doubled in one year for the concert.  The Trinity School 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students sang, too.  The student choir came on stage on time and in an orderly fashion, which is a very hard thing to do.  There were many things I liked about these two choirs.  The teachers sounded very rehearsed and looked extremely pretty.  Everyone who participated was very excited for the concert and performing in the concert.  Once the concert was over, everyone said we looked and sounded beautiful.

This fifth grade depiction, as polished as it needs to be, is perfect. It’s representative of the moments that meant the most to this one child. And in my opinion, it tells an important story.

It’s her story, yes. But it’s also the school’s story.


Thinking about What if instead of filling their heads we grabbed their hearts 60-60-60 #17 and reflecting…

Ross Peters’ most recent post, How Summer Camp Should Inform School,  is a beautiful unplanned “riff” on this 17th 60-60-60 post. It’s a piece that will serve as my contribution today. Take the time to read the full post, even though the final paragraph is referenced below.

It has long been a guiding thought for me that the best of summer camp should inform schools. The best of summer camp includes: flexibility in scheduling—a willingness to break the routine when good learning and fun benefits from it, ample chances to laugh with others, myriad chances to try something new, time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, time to take care of the shared environment of the camp community (such communities don’t wait for someone else to clean up behind them). Most importantly, the best of summer camp includes the space—literally and figuratively—for young people to become both more independent and more empathetic. At a good camp one finds not only that there are things greater than oneself, but that one is a vital part of those greater things.

The best schools create an environment that allows for the same discovery.

I love the hope for our schools found in his concluding sentence:  At a good *school* one finds not only that there are things greater than oneself, but that one is a vital part of those greater things.


Thinking about CHANGEd: What if we really examined our identity as schools? 60-60-60 #16 and reflecting…

What is school for? Seth Godin opens his manifesto with this quote from Bob Dylan. It’s about identity. Our identity. Our schools’ identity. Our country’s identity.

Bryan Stevenson’s We Need to Talk about an Injustice TED Talk addresses the issue of identity as well. Again, it’s about identity. Our identity. Our schools’ identity. Our country’s identity.

You know ultimately, we all have to believe things we haven’t seen. We do. As rational as we are, as committed to intellect as we are. Innovation, creativity, development comes not from the ideas in our mind alone. They come from the ideas in our mind that are also fueled by some conviction in our heart. And it’s that mind-heart connection that I believe compels us to not just be attentive to all the bright and dazzly things, but also the dark and difficult things. Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader, talked about this. He said, “When we were in Eastern Europe and dealing with oppression, we wanted all kinds of things, but mostly what we needed was hope, an orientation of the spirit, a willingness to sometimes be in hopeless places and be a witness.

Maxine Greene’s Teaching as Possibility: A Light in Dark Times, a different kind of manifesto and one I reference quite frequently, addresses this issue of identity as well:

If our purposes were to be framed in such a fashion, they would not exclude the multiple-literacies and the diverse modes of understanding young persons need if they are to act knowledgeably and reflectively within the frameworks of their lived lives. Situatedness; vantage point; the construction of meanings: all can and must be held in mind if teachers are to treat their students with regard, if they are to release them to learn how to learn. Their questions will differ, as their perspectives will differ, along with their memories and their dreams. But if teachers cannot enable them to resist the humdrum, the routine, or what Dewey called the “anesthetic” (1931, p. 40), they will be in danger of miseducative behavior, ending in cul-de -sacs rather than in openings. If situations cannot be created that enable the young to deal with feelings of being manipulated by outside forces, there will be far too little sense of agency among them. Without a sense of agency, young people are unlikely to pose significant questions, the existentially rooted questions in which learning begins. Indeed, it is difficult to picture learner-centered classrooms if students’ lived situations are not brought alive, if dread and desire are not both given play. There is too much of a temptation otherwise to concentrate on training rather than teaching, to focus on skills for the work place rather than any “possible happiness” or any real consciousness of self.

If we were to design schools from scratch, starting with a vision first (as Jeff advocates in his comment on Bo’s post) with our identity, our schools’ identity, and our country’s identity in mind, what could we create?

Greene concludes her essay with the following.

Muriel Rukeyser has written:

Darkness arrives
splitting the mind open.
Something again
Is beginning to be born.
A dance is dancing me.
I wake in the dark.

She offers a metaphor and a watchword. It may help us light the fuse.

In my mind, identity plays a central role. I also think it offers some hope. A light.