What I'm Writing

What I’m Writing: May 2018

Reflection: The Space to Write

I stayed at a cabin this weekend with my family for a relative’s college graduation, a quiet place along the bluffs of the Mississippi River. There was no wireless available. Cellular reception was spotty at best. While my younger family members fled in the evening for a more connected location, I was happy as a clam with my current status.

I’ve come to regard the lack of access to the Internet as a gift to my efforts as a writer. Getting any of the previously mentioned pieces completed has enough barriers to begin with; adding a wireless connection compounds these challenges. Allowing my mind the space to read, to reflect, and to do nothing other than to just be is a welcomed respite.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t writing. I was, either in my head or in a notebook I’ve been using as a journal. Much of this writing was prompted by The Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice by Jordan Rosenfeld. This is a resource I am rereading. Rosenfeld shares advice and strategies for sustaining our practice. The following quote is one of my favorites on this topic of space and time:

Your writing practice is a changeable, fluid creature. It ebbs and flows, squeezes down to the size of a pea, and then expands to fill multiple universes. A writing practice is ongoing as long as you always keep a part of yourself invested in it, give it just enough water to stay alive during difficult times, and tend it into hearty fruition at the best of times. (47)

The time I gave to myself has proven fruitful: I drafted the initial post for an upcoming collaborative book study on my blog.

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Writing today is almost a paradox: we need to carve out the time and space away from the Internet to craft prose that will be well-received with an audience largely online. This is a unique issue that I enjoy exploring and will continue to revisit in the future.

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What I'm Writing

Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom (A new eBook from @FreshGrade)

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 9.06.19 AMOne of the most pressing questions I hear from teachers is: How do I guide my students to create and innovate in the classroom while still meeting education’s expectations? We feel this push, both internally and externally, to get students to reach certain levels of success. But what do we lose in the process?

Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom, a free resource from FreshGrade, explores this challenge. In my new eBook, I break down this inquiry into three guiding questions:

1. Why should we assess innovation?

2. What if we could engage students in learning and help them achieve in school?

3. How might we assess innovation in education?

During the writing process of this book, I came across a few insights.

  • Meeting standards and proficiency levels are not enough. We have a real crisis in education: the longer students are in school, the less engaged they are in learning. This issue should be as or more important than how a school is faring on their standardized test scores. To increase engagement, we have to rethink instruction. A starting point would be to open up a part of our day for student choice and voice. Innovative learning opportunities for this work include Genius Hour, coding and gaming, and making and tinkering. Each approach is covered in depth in this new eBook.
  • The future will be most friendly to the question-askers. Problem-solving is a critical skill to develop with kids. But it is not enough in a world awash in information yet still lacking deep knowledge. Knowledge, meaning true understanding of big issues and concepts, is developed in people when they explore personal questions of importance. They follow these inquiries because they are passionate about the topics. That’s why students have to be taught how to question, develop a plan, and follow an investigation to an acceptable outcome, in addition to solving pre-determined problems. A template for self-directed learning is provided in the eBook.
  • Facilitating innovation in the classroom is a nonlinear process. How do you remember being taught the scientific method? A linear, logical process, right? I believe through my own research and experiences that this is inaccurate. Most inquiry-based learning experiences, whether in science or any other disciplines, is nonlinear. Questions are revisited based on new findings. Outcomes are sometimes a starting point for a new investigation. If we can think of innovation in the classroom as a process, it would be a more circuitous, continuous experience.

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My hope for readers of this eBook is they walk away with assessment strategies and planning tools to facilitate innovation in the classroom. Specifically, you will find:

  • Vignettes from real classrooms exploring Genius Hour, coding, and making
  • A crosswalk between these practices and the ISTE Student Standards
  • Templates to prepare for innovating in the classroom and self-directed learning
  • Ideas for assessing innovation in the classroom using FreshGrade, a digital portfolio tool

As the adage goes, there’s no time like the present. Download my free eBook Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom today and start planning for Monday. Your students will thank you!

 

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Digital Student Portfolios: A Process, not a Product

I wrote an article for the AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) Update related to my new book on digital portfolios. Below is the intro to this piece; follow the link to read the rest.

Thank you,

Matt

A disposition toward lifelong learning is something we all want for our students to develop during their PK-12 careers. Kids should have an increased desire to explore new ideas and skills after their school experience. Yet our current practices often don’t reflect these beliefs. We continue to drag students through mountains of curriculum to chase the ever-distant goal of meeting all of the standards. It’s an impossible task that leaves both students and teachers exhausted. Students should not be asking us, “Is school over yet?”, and teachers shouldn’t be wondering the same thing.

Instead of a push toward completion, what if we slowed things down a bit and took a moment to appreciate this experience? How could we create the conditions in which learning is something to revel in, a process to reflect upon and enjoy instead of a product to evaluate?

img_0256Click here to read the rest of the article. You can purchase my new book through ASCD, Amazon, and other book sellers. 

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Building a Literacy Culture – a @StenhousePub Blog Series #litessentials

Reading By Example

When I am not blogging, it usually means I am on a tech sabbatical, on vacation (I wish!), or working on a writing project. Lately, I have been reading and enjoying Regie Routman’s new resource Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All LearnersLike Regie’s previous work, this book is a necessary text for any teacher of literacy (see: you).

As a way for me to connect with and reflect upon the ideas in Literacy Essentials, I have written three articles for Stenhouse’s blog. They describe the importance of building a literacy culture, addressing the elements of trust, communication, and relationships. You can read the first two posts by clicking here and here. Look for the third post on the Stenhouse blog in the near future.

Reading Literacy Essentials, it could almost be called “Life Essentials”. Regie mixes research and practice…

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Going Schoolwide with Digital Portfolios: Cudahy High School (Cudahy, WI)

img_0256-1This following post is an excerpt from my new book, Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work (ASCD, 2017). Each chapter ends with a learner profile. These profiles are transcripts of my interviews with educators leading the way with using digital portfolios in their schools. In this profile, two high school educators share their experience in having their students use Google Sites to curate their best work and present it to a community panel. Another learner profile was recently posted on FreshGrade’s blog. Purchase my book today to read all of the profiles, and to learn how you can start using digital portfolios in your classroom!

Josh Beck is a high school English teacher at Cudahy High School in Cudahy, Wisconsin, not far from Milwaukee. Chris Haeger is the building principal. Josh and Chris share their journey in adopting are more authentic and continuous approach to student assessment with digital tools.

  • Why did you introduce digital portfolio assessment in your classroom?

Chris: Our focus was on developing a growth-minded assessment with kids, following the research available that supports this work. We wanted to move beyond just a grade – to give kids an opportunity to see their growth over time. The advent of the Common Core State Standards helped in providing us with direction.

Josh: As teachers, we knew the standards were coming. We wanted to authentically assess students’ understanding of those standards and to measure our impact as educators. We decided that portfolios were a way to do this. It’s great how students can go back and see how they grew from semester to semester. As teachers, we could see how we have influenced our students’ work in literacy.

  • In what ways, if any, were those who were affected by this program unique or unusual?

Chris: Twice a year, sophomores and seniors present their portfolios to a panel of adults. Business people, community leaders, college professors, military, and members of our state’s department of public instruction have all served on this board. This experience has tremendously positive. A student has to come in front of all these people and present what they have learned and done and tell us how their work has displayed their understanding. Putting themselves out there, wearing suits and dresses, is a great experience for them. Kids will come back and tell us how this experience is tangibly dependent on the academic expectations.

We wanted to move beyond just a grade – to give kids an opportunity to see their growth over time.

Josh: One student whose family was living in poverty did not come prepared to the panel. She had to explain to everyone why she did not do any work that semester. The next time, she was dressed up and had work to present that addressed all ten ELA standards. The portfolio process was what motivated her to move out of a fixed mindset due to her situation. Now, I just ask the kids, “What are you going to present at the panel?” These experiences also lead to real opportunities. At one presentation, a student was asked after presenting by a local employer if they wanted to apply.

  • What were the characteristics of the products and of the other educators who were working with you regarding digital portfolio assessment?

Josh: Other content areas and departments have joined us in this process. We put together a list of the standards in plain English, shared them with the other teachers, and asked, “What assignments that you assign are aligned with these expectations?” We have sat down with social studies teachers, government teachers, and talked about the work they do with kids and how they might connect with each other. For example, when students study the U.S. Constitution, and we read The Kite Runner, we compare the different constitutions between Afghanistan and the U.S., especially after 9/11 and how our country was involved. Conversations about how to include minorities and females in our own country’s constitution are more frequent and deep.

  • What resources were used to support the use of digital student portfolios?

Chris: We use Chromebooks to access many of these resources. High school students all have one of these devices. Also, it was critical that there was teacher willingness to move from binders on a shelf to something electronically-based. Mickey, our technology integration specialist, was able to help teachers to support this initiative and solve any glitches. He has been instrumental. Kids all now have a Google Site that maintains their portfolios.

Josh: After they graduate, students will come back and connect their personal email to keep those portfolios. One student who went to college used her high school template to develop another one for her English coursework. The panelists have also liked this digital component. The ability to quickly click on a link and show four years worth of work is very convenient.

  • What specific outcomes do you attribute to the use of digital student portfolios?

Chris: It has expanded kids’ understand of technology. We have shown them how to scan on their phones and use these devices beyond social media and texting. Even teaching kids how to create a website is important. We aren’t making any assumptions about kids’ “tech-savyness”. Kids who transfer into our district are amazed at how technology is used and how applicable basic tools are, such as the smartphones and the copy machines. We are using all tools to allow students to learn. Other apps such as voice recorders and video makers are incorporated into their Site.

Kids who transfer into our district are amazed at how technology is used and how applicable basic tools are, such as the smartphones and the copy machines. We are using all tools to allow students to learn.

  • In your opinion, what other factors contributed to the achievement of these outcomes?

Josh: Again, the willingness of the staff is impressive. We are trying to connect with kids on a personal level, be reflective and develop relationships. We talk about what they did well and what they want to work on next. We are constantly asking the kids for feedback and asking how our instruction helped them meet expectations. An added benefit has been how we have taught students to network and reach to others to include them in the panel and process.

Chris: Also, the willingness of community members to come in and listen to the kids’ describe their learner is nice. The kids see the mayor here, other important leaders, and they take what is really their final exam and it creates a different context. At least half of our kids show up in suits and ties. People are now calling us to serve on this panel and take an interest in the students’ learning. Another factor is panelist have told us it is easier to answer educational questions and have conversations with people about this topic in the community. The indirect influence of this process has brought in other leaders to school.

  • What problems did you encounter when developing or introducing digital student portfolios?

Chris: Students tell us that the first time through is a learning process regarding organization. Kids talk and discuss how different teachers have different expectations regarding the portfolios. Also, staff members needed some time to adjust. “How is the portfolio connected to standards? Learning targets?” Portfolios point out many more areas of school that need to be addressed.

Josh: It has been a slow process in the beginning because the seniors didn’t have a digital portfolio. So we had to transition. It was also a challenge to get everyone on the same page regarding academic expectations and how the standards are interpreted. What is acceptable and what is not, and defining what these standards are asking for, we as a faculty have to have a common understanding. Parents are involved in this process up to the presentation itself, preparing them for the event.

  • What else do you think a teacher or school should know before implementing digital student portfolios?

Josh: The presentation is a celebration of their work. They come to the end of the school year with excitement and pride, smiles on their faces. “When do you present? How did you go?” is a common question we hear in the hallways. Even students with significant needs are expected to present. The panelists can never tell which kids are in a special education program and which are not. One student who is autistic came up and delivered an amazing presentation, without any echoing or other issues that he normally displays. We were so glad to have given him the opportunity to do this on his own and be independent. Everyone talked about it afterward from the panel. Successes like this, kids coming in like any other kid, it is amazing.

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Free #edchat Resource: The Secrets of Self-Directed Learning

Today is the release of The Secrets of Self-Directed Learning: Strategies for nurturing and stimulating independent learners. What started as a whitepaper for FreshGrade is now an eBook. Click here to download this resource today.

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In The Secrets of Self-Directed Learning, I make the case that we need to start releasing more responsibility of the learning to the student. The challenge is: How do we do this? The false promises of praise and administering measures of compliance in the name of accountability have made this task that much harder. To help, I offer four clear steps that any teacher can use to better develop self-determining learners:

  1. Cultivating the Conditions for Success
  2. Clarity Above All
  3. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback
  4. Real Work for an Authentic Audience

I’ll be honest: there are no secrets described in this resource. Most of the suggestions shared here are based on sound research, as well as practice from my own experiences as a public educator. I know how busy teachers can be. Let this eBook be a practical guide for fostering true independence in the classroom.

To read my eBook immediately on your mobile device, click here. Registration is free.

 

What I'm Writing

What I’m Writing: February 2016

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How Google Apps Help Develop Online Learning Communities (EdTech Magazine K-12)

Three tools – Google Groups, Google+ Communities, and Google Sites – are highlighted in this article. Brief directions are provided for readers on how to use these digital forums for online learning communities. Also included in the article are some suggestions for getting things started and keeping the conversations going. Frank Smith revised and edited my initial offering into an acceptable submission for online reading.

Interview with Kemp Edmonds for the FreshGrade Blog (blog.freshgrade.com)

I spoke with Kemp Edmonds, Director of Marketing at FreshGrade, about the principalship and education in general. We discussed a variety of topics. Here is a sample of our Q and A:

What’s the most impactful technological change you’ve seen in education in the last 5 years?

In my opinion, it is the inexpensive, $100-200 mobile device. They are in the hands of virtually every kid now. Even in financially challenging environments there are smartphones, laptops and other devices that are not prohibitively expensive. Whether this looks like a laptop for every kid or they are bringing their own devices is still being determined. The policy of no devices in schools is not helpful. How do we teach kids to use devices in ways that enable learning? Can we use Instagram to highlight learning or assignments? It’s why we like FreshGrade, as it infiltrates the students’ and parents’ social media-centric world.

Taming the Screen Beast (ASCD Education Update)

This was not written by me, but I did contribute to this article in another interview. Sarah McKibben looks at the pros and cons of allowing mobile devices in the classroom, K-12 and beyond. While smartphones and tablets can become a distraction during instruction, they can also serve a tool for powerful learning experiences when planned with intention.

The Art of Visual Notetaking (www.readingbyexample.com)

This post on my blog has received over 1000 views so far. It was a short post, highly visual, and specific in topic. I described how my serendipitous seating gave me a close view of how another educator uses images as well as words to take notes during a learning experience. I share my own initial offerings and my process for improving my practice.

If technology is at the forefront…

All of these articles revolve around using digital tools to augment and possibly redefine learning in the classroom. I have found that our natural inclination is to declare technology as the main factor in student achievement and success. Here are some of the key terms and phrases that are often referenced when connected educators making the case for implementing technology en masse in schools:

  • The digital divide
  • Education 3.0
  • “If you won’t tell your school’s story with social media, who will?”
  • 21st century learning
  • Technology integration

Cliché city! Many of these phrases have been used by me as much as anyone. I’m not saying they are poorly chosen. But what evidence do we have to support these calls to action? There are schools out there, such as the Waldorf schools, where students are experiencing great success with minimal to no digital tools used. I’ve been in these schools and have observed exceptional learning in action. The kids are doing just fine.

21st century learning is not necessarily synonymous with technology integration. Critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration can all happen in the absence of the digital element. It is when we recognize through our instructional preparations that these technology tools become necessary, instead of merely nice.