25 June 2013

"I Choose C:" Common Core, Collaboration, and Creativity

The first time I saw this video it was shared by our superintendent with a group of instructional leaders, and you can only imagine how I laughed and also cringed at the reality.  Just like the girl in this video, too many of our students are not ready for life beyond our public schools.  As educators, it's up to us to provide opportunities that move beyond simple multiple choice tests which do not always promote the thinking and reasoning required of us all throughout life.

I have shared this video widely with teachers who feel they are doing all they can to prepare students but also often feel bound by high stakes assessments and other mandates from well-intentioned reform specialists.   Thankfully, LDC performance based tasks ask more of our students than a multiple choice test.  My friend, Sherri, has even mentioned after using LDC to implement the Common Core in her classroom, her students perform better on high stakes multiple choice tests, and they leave her classroom able to create, think, discuss, and perform well for job and/or college interviews.

At a recent  TALK (Teaching Advocates Leading Kentucky) conference, Sherri and I presented a session on using LDC (Literacy Design Collaborative) to implement the Common Core.  Another colleague from Colorado attended the session and asked me to share with our ECET2 Colleague Circle group.  Although flattered, I also realized I wasn't sure how to share the face-to-face conversation with an online audience.  My Colorado colleague suggested I start with anecdotal narrative, so here we go...

Session Goal:  Reflect on effective teaching of Common Core State Standards by delving into practical resources, collaborating with colleagues, and networking through social media. 

We opened the session by playing this video and asking participants to fill in this graphic organizer.  The debriefing following the video set the context for a session focused on Common Core, collaboration, and creativity.  All important topics to Sherri and me.  We both believe rich text-based discussions are one way to promote critical thinking and creativity; therefore, we transitioned into a Paideia Seminar led by Sherri.  We asked volunteers to come to the round table in the center of the room where they quickly made name placards and then read the text we had selected for discussion. The text open for discussion was an excerpt from Malcolm X's autobiography, a section where he writes about learning to read and practicing his writing.  Sherri began by asking each member of the circle to share a most important line from the text and to articulate why it was most important.  In addition to facilitating and mapping the conversation, Sherri stepped out of her role as facilitator to explain logistics of leading a Paideia Seminar in a classroom.  All told, the discussion was shorter than it would be in a classroom since we stopped it to move on to other parts of our session, but the participants seemed to get a feel for why text-based discussion is an integral part of LDC modules.

Because non-print text is also an important part of the Common Core, we transitioned to an analysis of an image of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X together and surrounded by people.   I shared with the group various strategies for analyzing non-print text, including my favorite process where we move carefully through a few steps.  (Note:  This is by no means the only way to analyze an image.  However, I have found this step by step process is helpful when working with people who have little experience analyzing images.)

Step 1:  Describe and identify everything you see in the image (it works nicely if you cut the image into four quadrants and show one quadrant at a time before displaying the entire image all in one piece).  This step ensures you look carefully and study what's in the image before you begin making interpretations and/or evaluations.

Step 2:  Interpret (think about) what you see in the image and provide justification for your interpretations.  For our session, we asked participants to share their interpretations using electronic post-its on a Padlet wall  created for this session.  

Step 3:  Reflect.  We talked about how these interpretations or even quotes from the text we read prior could be used in the essays for the LDC task. 

We wrapped up our session by asking participants to share and network via other online collaboration tools (Linoit.com) and a document in Google Drive that lists websites for tools related to Common Core implementation and also with twitter handles and hashtags for people to follow.

So, Learning to Muse readers--please continue sharing ideas and resources you have for implementing the Common Core or for great teaching strategies that will ensure our students recieve an education focused on critical thinking and creativity.

24 June 2013

What I am Learning from Design Thinking

For the past two years, I have had the great privilege of participating in several design thinking workshops as a way to seek solutions to barriers and issues in education.  I have left each workshop feeling invigorated, motivated, and ready to continue pursuing solutions in re-designing public education.

Human-centeredness is essential.  We know this, don’t we?  But do we listen and remember why we do what we do and why we make the decisions we make?  Do we stay focused on the needs of the students?   We can do this by listening and showing empathy for given situations.  In one of the design thinking workshops where I participated, students sat with us as we practiced our listening skills.  Students told us about their own dreams for ensuring girls in their rural school possessed more positive body image.  Together, adults and teens brainstormed ideas for solving the problem the girls identified.  The teens and their principal left the workshop with concrete possibilities after the groups prototyped several of the ideas generated during the brainstorming session.

Facilitation skills make an enormous difference.  In my early years of learning to teach, I wrote my philosophy of teaching and included language such as “I am a facilitator of learning… .”  Over the course of eleven years in the classroom, I fluctuated on a continuum of facilitator__teacher.  The constant was always a focus on maintaining a student-centered classroom (thanks to my teacher preparation program).
Facilitating meetings with adults is only slightly different than facilitating learning with a group of teenagers.  It helps to utilize an inquiry approach and to remember the facilitator shouldn't be seen as the expert, but as someone who is curious about the topic/question of study.  Last week I participated in a design thinking workshop in Chicago, the facilitators possessed excellent facilitation skills as they led a group of educators from Colorado and Kentucky through six workstations where we considered potential barriers to collaboration among teachers across the two states, and then we worked to create possible solutions to
these barriers.  With this topic being so heavy and with a need to end the day with solutions, one might expect that we were exhausted at the end of the day.  On the contrary, we left the downtown Chicago studio feeling invigorated and excited about our next steps for our collaborative project.  The facilitators led the group process, helped us improve our communications, examine barriers, and achieve our outcome of creating a community of practice.

Prototypes are a vital part of the process.  Just like in brainstorming, there are no rules while creating a prototype.  Instead of asking, can I _______?  Ask, how will I______?  This is when we test out our ideas, so we can refine them and improve the process and/or product we are creating.  For our day in Chicago, educators from Colorado and Kentucky were coming together, but before we convened, our facilitators prototyped the process with teachers from the Chicago area.  Then those teachers joined us for the day, bringing new perspectives to our planning.

Collaboration is key.  Maybe this is one of my most favorite parts of design thinking because I have long sought collaborative opportunities in education.  Bringing different perspectives and interdisciplinary approaches to learning enhances the experience for all involved.  Who says educators have to stay within our isolated towers of subject area?  Who says students have to learn one subject at a time?  Design thinking encourages collaboration across disciplines, professions, and demographics, recognizing each individual and promoting listening and equality.

I suspect my foray into design thinking has only just begun because I see it as a way to discover, imagine, create, research, renew, and re-focus public education for the very people it’s intended to serve.

11 June 2013

The Grouchy Ladybug & Naysayers

The topic for this post has been coming for several months now as I've been dealing with a couple of naysayers in my world of education.  You know the type?  The ones who find something wrong with everything you suggest or a problem with any idea you pose?  Earlier this year I started reading articles for tips on dealing with naysayers, and I have attempted to apply some of the tips and have thought through many of the suggestions and the implications around the approaches.  Basically, I have spent an enormous amount of energy thinking about how to deal with negativity and naysaying.  Last night, it even crept into my dreams while I slept.  Obviously, it’s time for me to re-think the strategies I've been using to deal with naysaying and negativity.

Peering at the books on our bookshelf in the living room this evening, I noticed an old copy of Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug and decided to read it for inspiration.  Of course the grouchy ladybug in this story is grouchy because he doesn't want to share, so he travels around the world provoking fights with larger animals and then saying “hey you—want to fight?---oh you’re not big enough…”  This ladybug is in such a bad mood that he picks a fight every hour for an entire day with insects and animals of every size.  At the end of the day, a whale’s tale slaps the ladybug into his proper place, sending him all the way back to the leaf where the story began, where the friendly and cheery ladybug is waiting to share a leaf full of aphids.  The grouchy ladybug eats the aphids shared with him by the friendly ladybug and ends up thanking his cheery counterpart.

I suspect the negative people I encounter are afraid of change or they don't want to come across as not knowing everything.  But we must admit change is needed in public education to meet the needs of learners.  I push for changes in education and transformation to the usual way of working because I'm not okay with the current situation.  I want new and innovative learning opportunities for kids and for adults, and I'm not okay with hearing people say "that's the way we've always done it" or "if you are around here long enough you will learn that's not the way things work around here" or "that's just the way X school is--you'll never change that!"  

The Grouchy Ladybug story with a happy ending leaves me feeling positive tonight because I know the reasons I push for change in education are for the right reasons, and there will always be naysayers.  I just need to remain cheerful and committed to the process.