Friday, October 14, 2016

Tracking trends in education: A fool's errand?

The other day I wrote about how eager we are to find The Next Big Thing in education but how often we do so without a clear vision of what we hope that thing, or any thing, will accomplish.
So I decided to take a look at some of the prognostications about the trends for 2016.

In December 2015, D. Frank Smith writing for EdTech wrote "5 Tech Trends that Could Supercharge Education in 2016." Supercharge. Okay.

The first trend is virtual reality. Jon Phillips, managing director of strategy for worldwide education at Dell, said "I think as we head into the next year, we're going to see more grassroots approaches to bringing technologies like that into the classroom, allowing students to learn experientially." Well, there may be more apps, but the headsets remain expensive for most classrooms, especially when teachers are still trying to decide between laptops or tablets and just hoping to get a cart of one or the other for their grade or maybe even their classroom.

The second trend is 3D printing. Yawn. That was a big deal for some folks. 3D printers are not cheap, though there are some less expensive ones available. The filament and cartridges are not cheap, especially if you want options. Is a 3D printer a cool thing to have? Yes and yes it could provide a fabulous learning resource for some of your students. Invest wisely.

The third trend is the Internet of Things. The industry is still figuring out IoT, what it is, and what it means. Some universities may be able to do something with IoT in helping it find its feet and its way, but not so much in K-12. Not yet.

The fourth trend is wearables. In my opinion, this is a technology trying to find a reason to be in the classroom. In reading the article, I kept thinking of a dozen or more ways teachers could do the same things without wearables.

The fifth trend is harder to define because Mr. Smith referred to interactive technology but also robotics. So that one seems a bit more on the horizon that some of the others, and still not yet in focus as we head towards the close of 2016.

There were others who spoke of trends, of course. I use Mr. Smith and his article as a benchmark. Susan Patrick of iNACOL had a list of 11 Big Trends for 2016. Let's take a look.
  1. New definitions of success. Well, I don't think we had a good old definition of success to come up with new definitions for this abstract concept. I used to tell my students that what looks like success for one of them may not look like or feel like success for others. That they should not measure their abilities, their knowledge, their capabilities, or their grades against anyone else's. That one student's B could feel like an A+ because that student would know how far she had come or what he had learned to achieve that B. Success comes in many guises and forms so I think we're doing a pretty crappy job of defining it, ESSA or not.
  2. Rethinking measurements. See above. Long before we talked about constructivism or personalized learning or proficiency or mastery, I came up with a student final project designed to save my sanity. I was teaching general education literature courses. Kids were taking this literature courses mostly because they had to and, after a few years, I was dreading reading the compulsory final papers of all of these students. So I decided to let them choose their final project. Yes, I told them, by all means write a paper if that's what you want to do. But if you'd rather paint a picture or write a song or make a movie or write a play or create a game or design a story quilt or something else, please do. I asked them to give me an abstract or an idea of what they were planning to do and why. I also asked them to do a short write-up of their project if they weren't writing a paper to explain to me how it connected to the class. Of course, then I had to figure out how to grade those projects but I got some AMAZING work. I distinctly remember story quilts, paintings, movies, and sculptures with wonderfully succinct and clear write-ups, often less than a page, that made it clear what that student had learned from the class and how their work connected to their learning, which was, by the way, often not limited to the literature class! It was brilliant. And the papers I read were generally good papers and written by students more comfortable with writing though there were those written by students who had no better idea for a final project. But even those were immensely more readable than those papers written by students who would rather have a root canal without painkillers. When we finally rethink measurements, let's make it meaningful. To the students.
  3. Student-centered environments. We're getting there. I see a lot of teachers doing great things with their classrooms and not just chasing after the latest craze for classroom furnishings. But really thinking about what a student-centered environment means.
  4. Personalized professional development. We're working on getting there. As someone who earns her living (so far) through providing professional development, I'm okay with that for now. Still, I'm often frustrated for participants who are clearly attending a session under some sort of duress. On the other hand, because most teachers already put in a 12+-hour day, asking them to get their professional development on their own time is asking a lot. On yet another hand, I've also seen districts being more mindful of choice in the ways they provide professional development offerings, including in-service days.
  5. Managing change. At the end of this item is this: ". . .so must our leaders take on roles for managing change for continuous improvement." Ugh. I have issues with "leaders" and "continuous improvement." What do we mean by "leaders"? I fear we tend to think of leaders as the administrators when we have leadership in our classrooms. All the time. I also fear we do not trust our teacher leaders to be leaders of change and to help manage change.
  6. Data-informed decisions + world-class standards. This is a two-fer. Ms. Patrick makes very clear that world-class standards are imperative. "Standards still matter to achieve world-class, internationally-benchmarked levels of learning but academics, skills and knowledge come together in new ways to support whole child development." In other words, if we're going to compete in a global economy, our standards must have a global view AND must be world-class. Further, if we're going to compete in a global economy, the decisions we make need to be based on relevant and realistic data. But making solid data-informed decisions is not for the weak. There is a lot of work involved in separating the relevant and useful data from the buzz of a thousand data points. Which data gets you closer to achieving your vision? Which data helps your teachers and you make better decisions for student learning opportunities, for resources, for community involvement, for parent involvement, for teacher development? And when you examine that data, against what standards and benchmarks are you analyzing and making decisions?
  7. Balanced approaches: Asking to what end. Yes this is basically "begin with the end in mind." How does what this is help my students? help my teachers? How does this get us closer to our goals? closer to our vision? How does this inform how our vision needs to adjust for the next iteration of who we are becoming? Why is this more important than that? We cannot be afraid to ask questions. We cannot be afraid to challenge our own status quo. If we change our minds, we might be accused of flip flopping, but if we know why we have changed course and how this decision will make a difference, the change may be more welcomed.
  8. Programming, robotics, and the Maker Movement. The global economy is increasingly a digital economy. Middle skills workers--those workers with more than an high school diploma but perhaps less than a bachelor's degree--are in increasing demand, but so is the training for these folks. Students who are not adverse to tinkering, who have sufficient curiosity and inquiry skills to figure things out, who are not afraid to make mistakes or fail because they know how to learn from mistakes and missteps are going to have remarkable opportunities. They don't all have to become coders, but knowing how to code if only to know how to make logic-based decisions is no small thing.
  9. Neuroscience, youth development research, and how kids learn best. We've been studying this stuff for as long as kids have been learning and I'm not sure we're any further along that we were decades ago. And why do we have to keep creating learning models. If we're all that gung-ho for student-focused learning, then we figure out how to provide options for students and let them figure out how they learn best. Oh my goodness so much learning happens that way! And if we want kids to be able to take ownership of their learning, why are so we adamant about developing learning models? Because you know the next thing that happens is we try to figure out which model best suits which student when, in fact, it's likely one model suits Johnny when he's fiddling with coding apps and another model suits him when he's working on something else.
  10. Mobile learning. Based on Ms. Patrick's observations, we're still figuring out what we mean by "mobile." Is it the devices we used for learning? Or is that we can be mobile when we're learning? Or is it that we can use a range of devices and tools to interconnect with other learners? I think it's all of the above which is, in my mind, what we mean by digital learning. Even so, I'd love for us to stop differentiating digital learning as though it's some other kind of learning. We're talking about ways of learning, ways of discovery and exploration. Maybe a student will use an app or a web-based resource. Or maybe a student will open a book. . .while he's sitting in the bleachers waiting for his sister to finish soccer practice. . . and do additional research using his smartphone, tablet, or wearable.
  11. Cloud computing. In school after school I've already seen how cloud computing is changing the way teachers interact with students and parents, and the way administrators are working, collaborating, and sharing change management with their teachers.
What's not listed in any of these is growth mindset, mindfulness, and a handful of other movements. Some of them are repackaged approaches we've tried and cast off, which speaks to one of the challenges of trends. We want something to change and to change quickly though we're not always sure what we want to change other than "student achievement."

But meaningful change takes time.

I don't think it's foolish to track trends in education, but I also believe we need to be judicious in choosing which trends we try to implement in our schools. I think wise administrators work collaboratively to find that which will help their schools--teachers, students, and parents--make progress toward achieving their goals and their vision. And really wise administrators make sure they allow sufficient time for some new thing to prove itself before racing off to the next new shiny.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The frustration of (educational) jargon

Edu-speak. In 2013, Education Week published an article titled "Tackling Edu-Speak." It's focus on a glossary designed to help the weary, the wary, and the just plain baffled navigate the currents of jargon in education. It is The Glossary of Education Reform. It's like the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) of educational terms, jargon, and babblespeak. It should become your new best friend. Follow the link and bookmark it. Now. I'll wait.

What got me to thinking about educational jargon is the discussion, mmm, occasionally argument, over STEM vs. STEAM. Then there is the on-going yawner of tired controversy over Common Core. Of course, we talk about student engagement, student success, and student achievement and there are long lists of words, like stringers of bait, attached to each of those terms. What is so fascinating is how quickly we take that bait and leap to the next idea. Our appetites are often satiated for a while, but only for a while. I'll stop trying to make that analogy work, but you get the idea.

Writing in 2015, Liz Wellen wrote for The Hechinger Report on this very topic of "edu-speak" (and introduced me to the term "argle bargle"!).

Don’t get me started on overused phrases like “grit” and “rigor,” along with “21st century skills” or “researched-based programs” that educate “the whole child.” As opposed to only half of a child? And what of charter-school movement lingo, replete with “restorative practices” and “growth mindsets”?
I appreciate and applaud Ms. Wellen's frustration and mission to eradicate jargon and try to insist on returning to saying what we mean and meaning what we say.

I know educators often adopt language they don't really understand because they've read it or they've heard a boss use it. I know educators often use language they hope will confuse parents or others for a variety of reasons including that they don't really know what else to say so they hope using a litany of edu-babble will help move things along. What can happen is that people break into groups to have conversations about stuff they don't understand and everyone pretends to know what it means so they contribute superficial observations or simply agree with the person who is talking the most because maybe he actually knows what he's talking about and no one wants to look stupid. Great model for the kids, people.

Now I don't want to be the jargon police and not just because it's a thankless and endless job. But I do think that countermanding or, as Greg Garner wrote, undoing edu-speak is and will be difficult. In fact, his piece on trying to unload jargon is littered with jargon, which is no surprise given how embedded it can become. And not just because we are wont to incorporate the language of others into our own lexicon and often without vetting it, sifting it, or otherwise checking to see if it makes sense.

An aside: some years ago I noticed how quickly certain people picked up the current jargon. "Going forward" was the phrase du jour. It hadn't been a part of conversation and then everyone was using. Just because I'm stubborn about some things (okay, a lot of things) I chose not to use it. In fact, every time there was the possibility of using the phrase "going forward," I used something else. Then I decided to try an experiment. I used the word "hiccup" to describe what was, I hoped, an anomaly in a process. I noticed some interesting non-verbals when I used that word. It was weird. It was like predators sniffing the air to figure out if this was something on which they should pounce or if it wasn't worth their time. In my head, my little editor guy and I snickered. "Oh yea, this will be fun," we chortled. In another meeting I found an opportunity to use "hiccup." It wasn't contrived so the word fit the situation. Again, the non-verbal check. A few days later I used it again and within a couple of days after that, people were talking about hiccups. I stopped using it immediately. That fad didn't last long. After all, no one outside of our little community was using it but the experiment and experience left a profound impact on me.

I doubt we can eradicate edu-speak any time soon. There is too much government in our education and governmentese seems designed to obfuscate and frustrate any chance of anyone knowing what anyone is really saying. Ever.

But I do think we can make inroads. Each time we're in a meeting in which someone is yammering and using a string of education-sounding words, do a quick look-up in the The Glossary of Education Reform to do a bit of fact-checking. Or just ask the person to use plain English. And when we're in workshops or faculty meetings or professional development and we find our eyes glazing over because of the use of language we really don't understand, let's be brave enough to raise our hands and ask for an explanation.

Or just create a bunch of buzzword bingo cards and play the game with your colleagues, then hand the cards to the speaker/presenter on your way out.

For those of us who get to conduct workshops and trainings, who get to design professional development and other content, let's be much more mindful of the language we use. And if we have to use jargon, let's be sure offer clarification and edification but also find consensus. Please be sure it's on your radar and that your folks have visibility so it's easy for them to tap in. It's a value-add, win-win for us all. ;)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Power of Yet
In February 2014 Dr. Carol Dweck gave a TEDxTalk titled "The Power of Yet." (The video is long and simply extends a lot of her growth mindset work. If you're not familiar with growth mindset, a short video that underscores her research can be found here, "The Effect of Praise on Mindsets.") The title "The Power of Yet" reminded me of a comment I heard from Dr. Kylene Beers as she realized how important it was to tell struggling students that they were working on a problem or project they couldn't complete yet.

With the Labor Day weekend behind, most of the rest of the schools in the country are starting up and those that started in August are regrouping after the holiday weekend, perhaps settling into their stride of pace and schedule. In the Sunday supplement of the Chicago Tribune was a piece on what teachers wish all parents would ask and it made me think of this power of yet as far too many parents as well as some teachers and administrators have unreasonable expectations for students.

One teacher noted she wished the parents of her students would believe more in their kids and their kids' capabilities. ". . .some parents fail to challenge or push their child academically in fear that, if their child is not successful. . . " It really doesn't matter what comes after that because the key here is what parents, teachers, and, therefore, children believe is "success." In Dr. Dweck's opening remarks she notes that a school gave students a grade of "not yet" when a student didn't pass a test.

Is success the final grade or success the actual, true, real effort the child put into learning? Is success the final grade that might be because of the work a parent did or the actual, true, real effort the child put into learning? Is success the child's understanding of what he can do well as well as the areas in which he struggles? Is success the child's development of skills and strategies to help compensate for her struggles? Is success encouraging a child to work around, behind, over, in spite of struggle because some day it might be that those struggles are no longer struggles? Or success a GPA or a grade?

Even though we seem to have plenty of business owners and hiring organizations that don't count a GPA as a mark of success, we also seem to have far too much emphasis on a grade. I'm not saying grades aren't important. For some students, they are a benchmark or evidence of their effort and their learning and legitimately so. For other students grades cloud the evidence of their effort and their learning which might be expressed in a different way.
Just as teachers need to believe in their students' abilities, so do parents and so do the students. Parents and students need to be realistic about their strengths and honest about their weaknesses, but academic weaknesses are not the end of the world. I think academic weaknesses might be a window to real possibilities because those weaknesses may close windows, even doors so that students can focus on their true strengths and capabilities which may lead to their true passions and futures.

Most parents want their kids to be successful, but they also want their kids to be happy. Part of learning is figuring out what success might look like and what happiness might feel like. While parents need to be aware of what their students are learning in school and should most definitely have conversations with teachers to find out concrete ways in which they might help their students at home, one of the most important ways that parents can help is to believe that their kids are capable of doing good work and that their time will come if they work hard and persevere, seeking to find their own path and their own way to success. And to help their kids believe in the power of yet.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Technology Infusion and the Classroom: Coaching Matters

AdvancED has published a 10-page paper titled "The Paradox of Classroom Technology: Despite Proliferation and Access, Students Not Using Technology for Learning." There are hundreds if not thousands of consultants and full-time people who are working with schools and districts, all of us yammering about technology integration. We're still answering the question "Why use technology?" for some just as we're helping teachers respond to the question "How do I use technology?" What this paper notes is that "After conducting over 140,000 direct classroom observations in K-12 schools in the U.S. and across the globe, AdvancED has uncovered that there are still relatively few classrooms in which students’ use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of a student’s school experience" (p. 2).

At the start of the school year, there is a rather substantial collision. New students, returning students, late-arriving students, students with IEPs, students without IEPs who need IEPs, students with helicopter parents, students with barely interested parents or family members or guardians. Then there are the administrator expectations for how teachers are going to make this The Best Year Ever.
Then there are the district expectations about how well and how thoroughly teachers are going to integrate every single new initiative and from the start of the year. The start of the school year is like trying to enter a double dutch only from a high dive or a high jump. It is layer of difficulty piled on layer of difficulty. It is no wonder that so many teachers are exhausted by Week 2 or 3 of school.

On top of all of this teachers need to be able to establish their own expectations and routines for the school year, and they need to start teaching. They can't wait for all of the kids who are coming to school to come to school. (Note to parents who think the first few days don't matter: they do.
Now let's add technology to all of the usual stuff of teaching. For many teachers, this is no big deal. After all, they understand that technology is just another tool and they will implement it as they see fit along with the other tools they have at their disposal. I've seen teachers who get the laptop or tablet cart once a week or once or twice a month include that resource with remarkable fluidity. I've seen other teachers who use their 5 or 6 tablets as stations or centers, simply figuring it out. And I've heard teachers fret about the lack of time, tense as they even think about how to manage their precious minutes with their kids and fearful of losing too many of those minutes to the distribution and collection of technology. I get that.

So here's the deal: in my own work (p20partners) and the work I do for other companies, there is considerable coaching and coaxing about technology infusion/integration/implementation. We talk about processes and routines, about strategies. Last year I had a teacher who appreciated being able to talk through his learning curve of getting the laptops distributed to and collected from his 9th graders. It wasn't until the 2nd 9-week period they got it figured out and the suggestions for smoothing the process came from the kids. On the other hand, I've seen a kindergarten class operate remarkably smoothly as the kids go get and then return their laptops or tablets. Color-coding works, my friends. "Purple table, please go get your laptops."

But let's get back to the AdvancED paper. A key phrase for me is "regular part of a student's school experience" and the word on which I focused is "regular" and 20-minute observations of 40+-minute classroom periods may not be sufficient, though I don't have any information about the actual observation processes, how often observers went back to the same classrooms, if they went back different times of the day, if the teachers knew they were being observed and for what kind of research, etc.

The reason this is a big deal for me is that many teachers also struggle to understand what "regular" means and to what extent anyone really expects technology to be infused/integrated/implemented in their classrooms. After all, technology is a tool or a resource just as crayons, pen, paper, worksheets, graphic organizers, and textbooks are tools and resources. A colleague of mine likes to say "do what makes sense." I've taken up that mantra because, well, it makes sense.

We ask teachers to consider their standards and their learning objectives. We ask teachers to differentiate. We ask teachers to personalize. We ask teachers to create engaging lessons that will spur students to further discovery and deeper engagement which, we hope, leads to deeper critical thinking. We expect teachers to use a range of tools and resources, digital and otherwise, to manage the differentiation, personalization, and engagement.

We know that administrative and coaching support is crucial for teachers to be more comfortable with technology. We know that establishing school-wide if not district-wide processes and policies for handling cheating and inappropriate use is a necessity, and in ways that kids can understand, which is not always true of the typical acceptable use policy. We know that consistency of classroom policy for digital literacy and digital citizenship are imperative. Some of us know that the teacher librarian/media specialist can be a tremendous resource for helping with much of the above.

AdvancED notes that "it is no longer a question of 'whether' but rather 'how' to incorporate and leverage the use of technology and digital tools to boost learning inside our K-12 classrooms. Technology has the potential to be the great equalizer as long as all students have access (both inside and outside school time) to these tools" (p. 8), and that is the crux: student access.

When teachers can be confident that students can have access outside of the classroom, they will view using technology differently. But that slides into another topic which is the value and application of homework.

I believe one of our first challenges remains helping teachers think differently about how their students can take advantage of the resources they have at school when they have them at school. Period. I believe that good coaching can help teachers feel like they have a partner who has a vested interest in their success as well as that of their students. A coach can help a teacher think through the barriers and challenges that are specific to that teacher and be a sounding board for that individual teacher's students, grade level, content area(s), and teaching style.

As a coach I'm mindful of the fact that it's not my classroom and those are not my students. I'm mindful of the fact that I need to see that classroom and those kids through the teacher's lens and perhaps help that teacher clean off some of the smudges. I'm mindful of the fact that it's my job to be an active and engaged listener and my suggestions need to be as though I'm trying to stand in that teacher's shoes, not try to make that teacher approach a lesson or a resource the way I would.

In-services, professional development, and solid training are important. But good coaching can help it all come together.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Teachers Who Saved Us

I was one of several consultants conducting district workshops on a Saturday; I was with a group of teachers who weren't very happy to be there. Maybe because it was a Saturday; maybe because the topic was something with which they already felt somewhat familiar.
I just wrote about Angela Duckworth's research on grit and some of the responses to her research and her book. I'm not alone in finding this a topic worth discussing. Well on this particular Saturday, one of the videos in the deck was Duckworth's TED Talk. I had to be a bit gritty to show the video to that particular group of predominantly African American teachers whose students often arrive at school hungry and whose lives outside of school are, at the very least, difficult.
Yesterday I read a story about a New York principal who showed some grit when she was inspired by one of her own students. The New York Post article is here, but you can also find two 2015 versions of the story by The Atlantic and by PBS. Let me tell you: that's one amazing woman, and she has grit. Yes, she has talent, but there is one line in The Atlantic video that made me catch my breath. "I tell my teachers all the time that we are chosen to be here because we're supposed to transform a community that doesn't believe in themselves."
To do that work day in and day out, especially without the spotlight of television cameras or the attention of journalists and daytime talk show hosts, requires grit. But here's a bit that's lost in the story about Ms. Lopez: Vidal Chastanet. Yes, that student got a scholarship, but that might not have happened were it not for the chance encounter that prompted him to answer a question about who has influenced him the most. As Ms. Lopez says in The Atlantic video, Vidal could have named a family member, but he chose to name his principal.
When I was meeting with those teachers on that Saturday, and we were talking about grit, about helping kids become #futureready, about how important yet hard it is to create a safe space for kids knowing the situations from which many of them come and to which many of them return. We know we can't do much for them outside of the time they are in our care, but during that time. . . 
And so we talked about the teachers who saved us and how rare it is that those teachers ever know. An astonishing number of us grew up in abusive households. Many students survive varying levels of poverty, chronically difficult family situations, and more. Those of us who manage to get through school, even go to college and carry on to have reasonably productive lives can probably point to an educator and say, "That teacher saved my life."
In my case, there were a few teachers. Miss Gibson, my 4th grade teacher, who took no nonsense and insisted we take care of our things, but had a heart-gripping compassionate side to her. I remember the day she came to my house after I'd gotten sick. I distinctly remember being awed that she would bother to do that for someone like me. Then in 7th grade it was Mrs. Moen whose influence continued into 8th grade. In high school, probably when I needed them the most, again, it was Mrs. Hawkins and Mrs. Gamble. They each invested in me in different ways, but they invested in me and clearly believed in me when I did not or could not. My life out of the classroom didn't enter into anything because the classroom was the only space they could influence. And they did so by insisting I be my best self, and then helping me, in ways they cannot imagine, to become my best self.
Here's an example. Mrs. Hawkins, one of my English teachers, returned a paper to me. She put it on the desk and tapped it with her finger as she looked at me until I looked her in the eye. Then all she said was this: "I know you can do better than this."
Daniel Engber of Slate titled his review of Duckworth's book "Is 'Grit' Really the Key to Success?" I was intrigued by Engber's closing remarks as well as his initial question.
In education we talk a lot about student success, but we are terrifically inconsistent when it comes to offering any clarity about what we mean by "success." Grades? Proficiency or mastery of the standards? Creativity? Collaboration? Critical thinking? Problem solving? What if I'm a student with loads of creativity, can demonstrate mad problem solving and critical thinking skills but barely push past a C. Am I successful?
Duckworth offers some steps for exhibiting grit successfully, and it is these to which Engber alludes in his closing sentences: "If you want to win forever on the football field, or join the military, or write a book about a big idea, then it might be best to stay on target, compete in everything, and finish strong. But others find their path through mindful wavering and steer away from simple answers." Sweet bit of snark in that last phrase, by the way.
So here is my big takeaway from Duckworth's TED talk: "Failure is not a permanent condition." Sure, I got a D in Foundations of Math I in college and I got that D because, once again, a teacher invested in me and coached and coaxed me across that finish line. I was never so proud of a grade because yes, I stayed focused and finished strong, so I did well enough to pull my grade up to a D. What's so amusing is that many years later I taught math. Because I am a reformed mathphobe and because I'd done poorly in college (and high school) math, I understood my students' anxiety.
Teachers saved me. In every sense of the word. And they saved me because they believed in me, because they saw something I couldn't, because they would not let me quit. Because they coaxed, encouraged, and sometimes even badgered me into keep trying and to try harder. They willed me to be gritty. 
I learned valuable lessons from those teachers, the least of which is the importance of not giving up and that failure is not a permanent condition. Was I successful with that D in college math? You bet I was.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Got grit? Is that the right question?

A friend of mine recently asked me about an article published in The New York Times. Well, there were several articles/editorials related to the publication of Dr. Duckworth's book. The first was an April 2016 interview in which Duckworth says--and please remember this out of context--" The parenting style that is good for grit is also the parenting style good for most other things: Be really, really demanding, and be very, very supportive." Hmm.

Grit started getting its own headlines soon after Angela Duckworth's TED Talk started making the internet rounds. Soon educators were talking breathlessly about grit and its important for student success. An easy digression here is to talk about student "success," but I'll refrain. For the moment.
I am NOT suggesting there is no value in talking about grit. I've posted about Duckworth's video and some of the important points she made. I love some of her ideas and applaud them. But helping kids become grittier or helping them find their grittiest or grittier selves is not the answer.
Then came a New York Times book review in May by Judith Shulevitz. I began to be concerned for Duckworth's own grit in navigating what was yet to come. As Shulevitz notes, "Duckworth never questions the values of a society geared towards winning, nor does she address the systemic barriers to success."
In early June, Duckworth was published in The New York Times and it is what looks to be a commencement speech. Now Duckworth has been described by a colleague as one of the grittiest people he knows. More from him shortly. So I read her message with interest. She speaks nothing of "grit," at least not directly. What she does say, and I paraphrase generously, is that it's important to figure out what drives you by fostering your passion, but also to realize that the first step is not the last step. Like many of us, Duckworth did not move directly into the career that has proven (so far) to be her passion. It took her a few steps to get there and, along the way, she learned more about herself, her interests, and her abilities. At the end of her message, Duckworth says this: "Work as hard on your last as on your first." Now put this together with an earlier statement on finding purpose.
I've heard this notion elsewhere: rather than ask kids--or anyone--what they want to be when they grow up, ask them how they want to make a difference in the world, what problems they want to solve. That's finding a purpose. Here's an important point to consider: that purpose may NOT be in your work. That is, the job you do on a day-to-day basis may not be the avenue for making a difference or solving a problem. That work may be a means, however, that allows you time, opportunity, and maybe even money to make a difference or solve a problem.
Having said that, I don't want anyone thinking they can't make a difference in the most menial of jobs. Nearly every day I am grateful, grateful, grateful for the people who are willing to do so many jobs I can't imagine doing. I'm thankful, thankful, thankful for the housekeeping staffs in hotels, for the people who work the cash registers pretty much anywhere I have to shop, for the people who pick up my trash and haul my garbage, for the people who do jobs I don't even know exist but who contribute to the infrastructure of making the world in which I live a better place. THOSE people make a difference in a profound way and are often looked down upon because their work doesn't seem as "important" as someone else's. Pshaw. Getting up to go do those kinds of tough jobs and for mostly ungrateful and/or unaware people, and often that being only one of two or three jobs, now that's grit.
Okay, so back to Duckworth. Scott Barry Kaufman of Scientific American is a colleague of Duckworth's and wrote a review of her newly published book, one I have not read and, to be honest, probably won't. Well, maybe won't. If someone gives it to me, then maybe I'll read it. Anyway, Kaufman writes about the response to Duckworth's book and that some people might be misunderstanding the title, the purpose, and/or the content. While Kaufman offers some insightful critiques on her work, he also builds on her work because he reminds us the research is not yet finished. That's the problem with writing a book: too many people think a published book is the end of the story, as it were. Maybe a publisher needs some sort of indicator that there is more yet to come so read this book in anticipation of further research and learning. Well, it's a thought.
As Kaufman thinks about his work and Duckworth's, as well as that of his colleagues and fellow researchers, he notes "Additionally, I think these findings, combined with my own study, point out something interesting about real-life creativity: creativity requires both perseverance and openness to experience." He further elucidates his thinking, inviting readers to think about their own stories and experiences, but also reminds us the work is not yet finished.
When Duckworth's TED Talk became a darling of K-12 circles, grit and helping kids become grittier became a thing, along with a few other things that were school and district initiatives. The big question was how to help kids become grittier as though simple grittiness would be a solution to kids' performances in schools.
Ahh, but regardless of the school situation in which they find themselves, students' abilities to navigate to success are not limited to grittiness in the classroom. And that's why, in many ways, asking about grit is not the only question we should be asking nor is it always the right question. More to come.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Turning online possibilities into real opportunities

How much time do you spend online every day? It's not a rhetorical question. Think about how much time you spend starting at an illuminated screen--computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Okay, now. How are you spending that time? Facebook? Instagram? Checking out the latest celebrity stories? Researching something? Going through your email?

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has a new report on how the digital divide continues to widen between rich and poor students, and more so in some countries than in others.

If you live in the US, don't bother looking for the United States because we're not even on the chart. I suspect that means we didn't participate in the study, but I imagine most of us can guess our results.

You should review the actual report rather than read only what the World Economic Forum surmises about the report; however, there is a particularly telling quote: "'They may not have the knowledge or skills required to turn online opportunities into real opportunities,' the report says."

And that's true. Disadvantaged students may not be savvy about the extent of the possibilities or even how to find out about MOOCs or or anything else, providing they know what a MOOC is or that there is such a thing as an online course.

There is no doubt that students can find these things on their own provided they look for them, provided they know to go look for them. That's a big "if."

Another part of the equation for more disadvantaged students is what their parents and teachers know about online possibilities. If teachers and/or parents don't know about online learning, online job possibilities, etc., then how are kids to begin to figure that out? And maybe the kids are mostly focusing on online games because they don't know about anything else. Or maybe games attract most of their attention because those ads are better and more compelling. Or maybe because they don't have much hope about changing their situation.

So how do we help disadvantages learners anywhere in the world learn to take hold of the power of online and find the opportunities or make their own opportunities? Well, it might not hurt to partner with some of those games in which kids are so interested and create some ads or teasers that are compelling enough for a click. But that isn't all. Check this out.

It's a quote appropriately at the bottom of the OECD report. Is the issue internet access? Is it the device? Nope.

It's reading. Because when kids know how to read, they can find what they need and want to find. They will begin to learn more when they read so they can ask questions.

I don't think reading is the end of the story though I firmly believe it's an important part. Not only do students need to know how to read, they need to know how to think critically. And their teachers need to be sufficiently trained to know how to help their students find resources online OR their teachers need to know how to go online to the entire edtech/learning network of educators--and that's millions of people--to help their kids find what they need and want to find and learn. Only then can students--and their parents and teachers--begin the hard work of turning online possibilities into real opportunities.