Theory and Practice

Trouble the Image


Engagement in practitioner research is one way to trouble the images held by the education community, the policy community, and the public. – Nancy Fitchman Dana

Kimberly Schools Create Award-Winning Literacy Model by Jen Zettel (Appleton Post-Crescent, December 16, 2014)

A Wisconsin school district was profiled for their efforts to improve student literacy achievement. Using a common instructional framework and existing resources, the K-4 staff carved out 30 minutes of their school day for intensive learning support for students. They worked on “a variety of skills, including sentence structure, descriptive words and spelling”. Kids are flexibly grouped based on current assessment data and progress.

To prepare for this type of instruction, teachers used collaborative planning time to make responsive decisions, as well as to “exchange ideas, offer feedback and set strategies”. While the district has observed increased student achievement, “the most important thing is we’ve already come back now twice and refined what we’ve done.” Continuous professional growth is as much a driver as is student achievement.

Building A _____ Learning Movement by Carri Schneider (Getting Smart, December 15, 2014)

The director of research and policy for Getting Smart highlights the confusion in present-day discussions about innovation in teaching and learning. There are many “movements” circulating the various educational conversations: blended learning, competency-based learning, digital learning, personalized learning, and online learning. Schneider explores “how dots could connect and lines could intersect”.

What she has discovered is all of these movements have a similar focus on developing “deeper learning”, with an “emphasis on core academic content, critical thinking & problem-solving, collaboration, effective communication, academic mindsets and self-directed learning”. Schneider encourages all educators to become more active in seeking alignment about best practice, and add their thinking to the conversation.

Mark Pocan calls for federal review of Wisconsin voucher program by Jessie Opoien (The Capital Times, December 19, 2014)

School vouchers, which allow families to attend private schools using taxpayers’ dollars in the name of school choice, is an increasingly hot topic in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. The most recent focus involving vouchers is a push by legislators for private schools who accept public dollars to be held accountable for student achievement and growth.

Specifically, Representative Pocan and colleagues are requesting a federal review regarding “academic achievement, student demographics, financial accountability and transparency, student turnover rates and service of students with disabilities”. Also of concern is the current federal investigation regarding “whether private voucher schools in Wisconsin were denying admission to or properly serving students with disabilities”.

9 Ideas Education Is Having Trouble Responding To by Terry Heick (TeachThought, December 16, 2014)

Heick, a former English teacher, shares his provocative thinking about how education is changing in light of the advances in technology and connectivity. He is surprised that digital learning is still playing second fiddle to other topics of discussion in educational circles, such as assessment and PLCs.

His subsequent points serve to make his case. Some of his statements find broad agreement, such as “Students have real options”. Others, such as “Digital media is more engaging than non-digital media”, are more controversial and invite discussion in the comments. Heick closes out his commentary by calling on public education to “compete with other possibilities that are frankly more compelling, creative, and social than marching through indexed curriculum”.

The Power of Digital Story by Bob Dillon (Edutopia, December 15, 2014)

This director of technology and innovation from St. Louis highlights the importance of narrative in the process of learning. Telling a story is an effective vehicle for acquiring knowledge, skills, and dispositions. It is also “a powerful force in shaping mental models, motivating and persuading others, and teaching the lessons of life”. Dillon sees digital tools as a way to complement and enhance narratives, such as using audio and video, as well as providing two-way communication between home and school. He lays out specific steps for creating digital stories:

  1. Create Space for Listening
  2. Persuade with the Head and the Heart
  3. Lead with the Narrative
  4. Amplify with Images
  5. Nurture the Process
  6. Understand the Tools

Dillon saves the discussion about digital tools for last, noting that they “quickly become relics” and therefore should not lead the learning. He has found that “story inspires story”, and that “best practices in education will grow and scale whenever we all release trapped or siloed wisdom into the system”.

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Analyzing the data…

Every month, our school staff hosts a monthly meeting in one teacher’s classroom. Before we start the meeting, that teacher’s grade level or department showcases a practice or activity with everyone. At our last meeting, a grade level team shared how they are using a different language and spelling program during their literacy block. It applies new findings about language acquisition, such as spaced learning. When they were finished, a colleague asked the presenters an important question:

How will you know that this program is effective?

They explained that they have to present their findings to the district’s board of education later in the school year.

This question and response is important for two reasons. First, their colleagues and our school community are observing how we as educators are holding ourselves accountable for how well our students are learning in school. This is a smaller but similar process the Kimberly School District has engaged in, called action research. While the achievement that Kimberly chose to measure for literacy are more outcomes of good instruction, they do have a process and a plan in place to continue to improve their practice.

Second, and this is very similar to the first reason, when we make visible the process of learning for a broader audience, both what works and what does not, we “trouble the image” of people’s perceptions about what school is and can be. The picture of my school at the top of this post says little about what is happening inside. It is good to be connected (I shared that image out on our school’s Twitter account), but just posting surface-level information does little to shift the paradigm that the public may have of schools, from brick-and-mortar institutions to dynamic learning environments.

As you prepare for winter break, take some time to reflect on the authentic and meaningful learning experiences occurring regularly in your classroom, and then ask, “How will I share this?” Start by developing your personal learning network and engage in conversations about topics such as the deeper learning movement. Challenge the thinking of those making provocative statements, not to prove them wrong, but to increase that community’s collective intelligence. Have your students share their learning using digital storytelling tools. Heck, tell you own personal learning story with a blog.

5th graders helped me create a video newsletter with the app Touchcast. We shared our good news with the school community.
5th graders helped me create a video newsletter with the app Touchcast. We shared our good news with the school community.

Because to not share the important work you are doing creates a void in the conversation. It permits those who have a different agenda to speak their own truths about programs that can be harmful to education, such as vouchers. Even if what they have to share is false, who is going to be there to refute it? It has to be us. We are the closest to the source (the classroom) and have all the necessary tools at our disposal.

So what is stopping you? In other words, how are you going to trouble the image?

(Please note: There will not be a post next Saturday due to the holiday season. Have a safe and joyful break!)

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