Reflecting on Visible Learning

I had the opportunity today to hear directly from the Visible Learning group, notably Shaun Hawthorne, about how to best interpret and use the data presented in Hattie’s book.

It is probably no secret to most educators these days what the areas with the biggest “effect size” are.  Its always good to have a refresher.  The strategies with the greatest impact in descending order are,

Student Expectations or Self-reported Grades 1.44
This probably requires the greatest shift in mindset for educators. The next time you give a test ask the kids how they are going to perform. They will probably be able to tell you to a fairly high degree of accuracy.  So then, why do we test them?  The main reason for a test is for the teacher to find out how well they managed the learning in the classroom.  Instead of this approach,  schools that have tried the student expectations model essentially let kids do much of the assessment themselves.  They end up setting goals and expectations that are higher than the teacher’s and are more likely to meet them.

Formative Evaluation or Assessment .90
Most of us know this is huge, but many of us think this is still #1 or that it is mostly for the student.  This is feedback from students and even colleagues about what is understood, what is working best as a teacher, and and what could be done better.

Classroom Discussion .82
The type of classroom discussion that works  best is collaborative, meaning that students are creating, building, and expanding knowledge together.  Where the teacher fits in is important, for if the students feel that what really matters is what the teacher wants from the discussion, then the impact is not as great.

Feedback .75
Effective feedback can almost double the speed of learning.   But its not simply the presence of feedback alone,  but the quality of the feedback that counts. Watch a great coach,  what type of feedback are they giving their start athletes?  They aren’t publicly embarrassing them.

Teacher-Student Relationships .72
This is not about being buddy-buddy with students, but about creating teaching and learning relationships where there is a culture in the classroom where its OK to make mistakes,  where its OK to fail, where the teacher cares about their learning and there is a great deal of trust.  My guess is that you must have this in place to do any of the other things in this list effectively. These other items then create a positive feedback loop into this.

Metacognitive Strategies .69
Thinking about thinking.  How often do we really allow students to do this.  We are too busy moving on to the next topic.  What I am doing right now in the blog is thinking about what I have learned and how to extend it.  There are many easy ways to do this but you must carve out the time.

What struck me most about the research is how old most of it is,  which challenges us to think differently about how we use this data.  Just because the data is old and focuses mainly on student test scores, does not mean that it is less important, however, we must look for new inputs that consider things other than academic achievement.  Shawn clearly indicates this at the beginning that Hattie’s biggest detractors are those looking for more guidance around soft skills and 21st century skills.

 

 

An Open Letter to Google: Classroom Needs a New Marketing Video

Dear Google,

I haven’t even used Google Classroom yet, and already I am highly skeptical.  The video you released to hype your new classroom “solution”, which you tout as a way to “give teachers more time to teach and students more time to learn” is an embarrassment.  Watching the video makes me wonder if anyone at Google actually knows the impact its products have had on educators and students worldwide. Even worse, it makes me wonder if Google wants to be part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Lets start at just ten seconds into the video. Here a young teacher teacher says

Screenshot 2014-05-08 21.04.52

Screen capture of Google Classroom marketing video.

“If a teacher is collecting and handing out papers, they are not maximizing the amount of time they are actually teaching.”

Simple right?  With one click of a button I can hand out a digital worksheet rather than have to ply up and down the rows handing out paper worksheets that it took me 10 minutes to print and copy front to back, collated, with a staple at 45 degrees in the upper left.  Brilliant!  Eureka!  Let’s all celebrate edutopia together!

Wait, what did you say?  Worksheet?  Actually, yes, if I were to make a Wordle of your video it would feature the words “worksheet”, “submit”, “assignment”, “teacher”, “maximize”, and “hand-out”, not necessarily in that order.  This might sell Chromebooks to schools who can’t see the iceberg beneath the waves, but it doesn’t improve schools or help our students become better equipped for a century that needed creative self-motivated learners yesterday.

“Everything I need for the class is in one place.  My worksheets are there my group work is there.”

Part of why I am writing this to you is because, in fact, there isn’t a tool out there that has had a bigger role in helping educators re-think teaching and learning than Google Apps for Education.  I can’t imagine where we would be without it.  I’ve been gushing about it since it was called Writely in 2005.  The Wordle for great schools, schools that have grown, in part, due to your Google Apps would feature the words “collaboration”, “formative”, “sharing”, “social”, “global”, “problem-solving”, “together”, and “student”, not necessarily in that order.

But its not just the script that is troubling.  The setting you chose to depict your Google Classroom hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages.  Eyes forward with laser focus on the teacher, fingers poised on the keyboard, trembling even, eager to record every word of the sage on the stage. Only the medium of note-taking and checking for understanding (I’m being optimistic) has changed; shiny new Chromebooks sit on every desk. Nevermind the expense of that notebook, this setting violates almost everything we now know about learning, the brain, and the future relevance of schools.

Screenshot 2014-05-08 21.10.15

I sincerely hope that this product delivers more than the tepid vision for learning conveyed in your launch video.  I know a great many schools that will get far more out of it than your pilot schools have, but I wonder if your education division is really paying attention to what’s going on in the world of education and what is coming.  Your token veteran in the video says it best.

Screenshot 2014-05-08 21.06.07

“You cannot stay in teaching and keep going to the old ways”

Google, there is nothing new about what you have shown us here.  All you have done is reinforce the old ways with even more rigid technologies. This woman’s quote might just as well be directed at you as much as a teacher handing out the same worksheet with paper, pencil, and textbook.

Now, I am not opposed to efficiency, and teachers truly do need a system to run a paperless classroom.  This is why we adopted Hapara Google Dashboard.  But substituting for paper is not the point, rather its one of the essential conditions for redefining the classroom to be more personalised, global, and collaborative.  Perhaps you should spend some time talking with passionate teachers out there who use your free services day in and day out to do these very things.

Sincerely,

Kevin Crouch
IT Director
American International School – Chennai

5 Ways to Transform a School – and 5 Ways to Fail

If your school isn’t currently in the throws of significant change,  you should be worried.  Every school and educator that plans on being relevant a decade from now should really probably be having some tough conversations.  Even if you have figured out the what and why questions it can be daunting to figure out exactly how to move forward.  What does great look like?  How will we know when we are there?  The simple answer is that you are never there, greatness is not a place, its a journey, a process, a disposition and a mindset.  From several years of experience in radical change environments, I can now begin to reflect on five essential conditions that can lead to an organisation that learns, grows, and improves. There are others that I have yet to learn for sure, but this is a good start.

Think Strategically

This might be plainly obvious to you but without a solid strategic plan that clearly describes the way things will be when you have achieved your goals then you should proceed with great caution.  Schools are far too complex for the wait-and-see approach.  You need a good mission that defines a vision of radical change.  If you are in the process of strategic planning and your vision looks anywhere like the school you went to, then you should be worried.  This is a good way to fail at transforming a school.

Build a Collaborative Culture

“Culture eats strategy for lunch”  or does it?

There is so much packed into this idea and that is what makes it so powerful.  It would be easy to bore anyone to death talking about the benefits of collaboration, so you need to see for yourself.  Think of it this way.

Individual experts working to solve complex problems are consistently outperformed by groups, draw conclusions contradictory to those held  by other experts in the same field, and overestimate the reliability of their own conclusions (Surowiecki, 2004).

credit: wonderferret, Flickr

This sounds nice, but the reality is that we are mostly really bad at working together.  You’re team is only as good as its facilitator and most team leaders haven’t been properly trained to facilitate collaborative groups. However, it is probably an absolute truth that inspiring teachers and other community members to share ideas, make meaning together, support and lead each other, and solve complex problems together is an essential condition to becoming a 21st century school (there I said it).

To succeed at this one you will need to commit to establishing and nurturing a program with good street cred, such as Adaptive Schools (now Think Collaborative) or Critical Friends, or both.  Its not a gimmick and everyone at your institution needs to be trained, not just a few favorites.  It is easy to fail at this by making collaboration something only leaders do, or by asking people to do it without proper training.  If it becomes a clique it will fail. If the extension into the classroom is not made explicit it will fail.

Get Everyone Mobile Technology They Want to Use

credit: capmac.org

The school of the future will be student-driven.  Don’t ruin this by forcing everyone at your school to use the same technology.  Let people bring what they want as long as its productive.  This will go a long way to empowering and motivating users.  If you aren’t thinking about Bring-Your-Own-Technology yet,  I would Google it.  One-size-fits-all is a 20th century paradigm whose time has passed.  This goes for teachers and admin as well.  If you do this, don’t go with the old BYOD model where you take their computer and lock it down so tight in the name of security that they can’t innovate with it.  This is a great way to maintain the status quo.

Implement a Cloud-Based Productivity Suite (aka Google Apps for Education)

There are other systems out there, but why?  Unless you are wary of the Eye of Sauron,  this is the single most transformative tool in the known Universe.  I can’t imagine being at a school, let alone a job, without it.  Office 365 works, but it falls short of the Google ecosystem that now works on all mobile devices really well.  A tried-and-true pitfall, or at least a speed bump, is to continue to offer ample server storage so that users can safely create and save MS Office documents, email them as attachments to everyone, and then email another one when something changes in it.

The reason this is so critical is that it dramatically increases productivity and the ability of teams to know what is going on.

Develop Teacher Leadership

We are all leaders.  We lead children, we lead tribes, we lead ourselves.  Teaching teachers how to be better leaders is essential to making lasting change happen.  Some schools are afraid of confident teachers.  This is a mistake.  Teachers who innovate and lead will not only impact their own classrooms but will inspire their colleagues to do the same.   With all the tools above in place, teachers will soar and take their school to unseen heights.  A foundation of trust and respect with dedication to a mission is essential to success.  Leaving teacher leaders to flail, undermining their ideas, providing inadequate feedback, and/or supporting the wrong teacher leaders are all  strategies best avoided.

What am I missing?  What other ideas are out there to help us turn the ship without running it into an iceberg?

I Used to Think…

Recently I was challenged to answer a key question about my work as an educator. It doesn’t seem like much of a challenge at first, but when I actually tried to do it I found it much more difficult. During his workshop titled Diamonds to Rockpiles at NESA, Douglas Reeves laid out very clearly the notion that to truly achieve success with student learning or improvement initiatives, we must frequently ask this question about our beliefs:  I used to think….But now I think.   One could easily confuse this with growth-mindset thinking, which is something that I’ve been challenging myself with every since reading Dweck’s book.  I’ve written a post about that here.

Now, however, I have to put the thoughts in writing.  I have to walk the walk and talk the talk if I am going to make a difference. This one is going to be about creativity.

I used to think that creativity was mostly original work, that it needed to come from an authentic place within the creator. I didn’t use the word originality because I find too many circular references with that one. Now I think that creativity is mostly derivative. Why the change? I surmise that the digital age has spurred much more derivative work, speeding up the cycle and enhancing our understanding of it.

Transform Learning with Great Questions

We often hear others describe 1-to-1 computing in schools as simply an access model.  We hear it rationalised as a way to give students access to information, to the vast riches of the World Wide Web while learning to deter its evils.  Why, then, are there so many examples out there of schools expecting 1-to-1 to transform their schools?  Technology does not transform schools, but it is nearly impossible to transform a school without it.  As we near the end of an era in our 19th century schools, where a culture of work and rote learning prevailed while thinking was avoided, where talent was admired and creativity shunned, and where collaboration was confused with group work, schools everywhere are finally beginning to accept without question that access to information technology for learning is not optional.

Too often, however, I’m reminded how many of these schools are still aiming way off the mark.  It’s easy to tell if you are working in or leading one of these schools.  If you ever find yourself saying or confronted with the following phrase “transform learning with technology” then you are at one of these schools.  You are on the wrong path and you need to break out the map.  In the schools I’ve worked at that were moving from good to great, I can attest that it didn’t happen because of technology or tech integration, nor did it happen in spite of it.  Schools are transformed by great teachers sharing great ideas that inspire kids to learn.  This can be achieved in any number of ways, but without useful technologies in both students’ and teachers’ hands it will likely be incredibly painful.

One of my favorite insights is from Sugata Mitra in his TED Talk titled “Build a School in the Cloud” in which he ponders what makes the best teachers in the digital age.  He concludes that the best teachers are like grandmothers, who ask great questions and offer plenty of encouragement.   He talks about learning as a self-organising phenomenon where its not about making learning happen but rather letting learning happen with the simple formula of great questions+broadband+collaboration+encouragement.

Ultimately,  you will transform a school by getting back to the big questions and inspiring a sense of wonder, not by buying more shiny, sleek tablets.  Layering a 1-to-1 program on a school without inquiry may lead merely to digitisation of traditional practices.  I am reminded of the SAMR model, which though I support in its objectives, seems to muddy things a bit.  The apex of the model is ‘redefention’, but it starts out with ‘substitution’. Though it’s intentions are anything but, it supports the misguided approach many leaders take to slather a school with technology and watch as the innovation bubbles up from substitution all the way to redefinition.

SAMR Model

The hazy line in the middle between augmentation and modification is what worries me as it seems to suggest some sort of mystical crossing, over  which there is no clear path.  Indeed there is not.  In most industries we have seen the transformation happen within competitors who redefine the field and push the established players into radical do-or-die overhauls. Schools are no different.

In fact, adherence to the the model can actually undermine the very sort of visionary, begin-with-the-end-in-mind principles that  guide most successful reform efforts. Surely we’re not leaving transformation to chance are we? Augmenting a classroom with tablets or laptops may make sense in many ways but it is not transformation and should not be counted on to cause it.

I submit a revised version of the model that looks more like this.

A different view showing how the levels of the SAMR model actually represent different objectives.

A different view showing how the levels of the SAMR model actually represent different objectives. Creative Commons License
Modified SAMR by Kevin Crouch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.unity.net.au/allansportfolio/edublog/?p=836

Clearly,  the modification must come from the mission, the curriculum and the people, not the technology.  It must have student in mind first and foremost.  In fact, I believe it is possible to modify and redefine a classroom without digital technologies, but that would be silly and irresponsible with the embarrassment of riches out there for networked learners.

As this school in Singapore can attest,  significantly improving learning at an already high-performing school can be done with little more than smartphones and an inquiry program.  So, as Mitra’s Himalayan inspiration might say, Get on with it then!

Do you have examples of this from your own classroom or school?

 

Big Data

After attending a workshop on the Horizon Report at ISTE over the summer I woke up to the notion that one of the key trends rolling our way is Big Data.  I, like many of my colleagues, had fallen into the trap of believing several comfortable fallacies about data and schools.

  1. Schools are different than other institutions, and the nature of our relationship with kids means that we should be suspicious of relying too heavily on data for decision making.
  2. Schools  and the learning that happens within are too complex to be measured in any reliable way with datasets.
  3. Getting useful data would require standardising everything, putting kids on computers all day, and sidelining teachers.

Big Data Book cover

These are many of the same arguments that teachers and school leaders use to  limit growth and retain the status quo in an era of dramatic change. Look around you, there are few pursuits left that haven’t been improved or at least heavily impacted by Big Data.  Are these three things just weak excuses or do they truly hold up?

I didn’t come up with this on my own.  No, I decided to dive into a highly recommended text on the topic.Yes, we do have to be careful how we collect data and what we do with it,  and teachers will always serve as indispensable to the academic and human development of children.  However,  the underlying premise of Big Data is too eye opening to ignore:  Human beings lack the innate tools to make sense out of  complex behaviors, learning being one of these.  We rely on crude assumptions, weak relationships, and wishful thinking to make decisions based on terribly incomplete datasets.  Only when the dataset gets so big as to mask the individual points does it reveal reliable correlations from which we may draw reasonably accurate and unbiased conclusions.

Reflecting on Effect Size

I recently came across a reference to the book Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie in Grant Wiggins’ blog in which he lists the teaching techniques with the greatest effect size on student learning in relation to a research meta-analysis done by Hattie.  I couldn’t help but notice some of the stand-outs.

  • Student self-assessment/self-grading
  • Providing formative assessments
  • Classroom discussion
  • Feedback
  • Reciprocal teaching
  • Concept mapping
  • Cooperative vs individualistic learning
  • Cooperative vs competitive learning

What strikes me the most is that many of these are strategies that we regularly reference when talking about how to improve classroom instruction with technology.  Self assessment is the big one, with eportfolios the natural example of ways to enhance traditional self-assessment.  Each of them, however lends itself nicely to technology enhancement, usually by facilitating the process in ways never before possible.

I’d love to take some time to expand on each of these by gathering research on the impact of technology on their effectiveness.  Have any of you collected technology-related research on these?

Thinking Differently About Tech PD

For many years I’ve worked with integration and coordination teams that offered technology professional development as a one-shot one-day-a-week one-size-fits-all workshop.  If someone wasn’t able to make it, well, they had to come find us.  Last year sometime, I think it was after reading the first paragraph of the fine book Differentiated Professional Development in a Professional Learning Community, I realized that this was just plain silly.

As tech trainers, teachers are our students, and we must model the type of differentiated teaching and learning we would expect for our kids.  Even more importantly,  adult learners are smart enough to know that they aren’t being differentiated for and will quickly lose interest or worse if they feel their time is not being used efficiently.

Thus, after many months of collaborative planning, drafting, and re-drafting we came up this program to better meet the needs of our diverse group of teachers at AISC:

  • Have all teachers take a survey with delicate but firm language that we agonized over. Require only the skills that are necessary to function with our core tools first.
  • Process responses and develop a technology learning plan for each teacher.
  • Invite groups of teachers to short (20 min) sessions for each of the skills at the level they indicated a need for. These are mostly after school, but we’ll leave no teacher behind.  Skills are taught at stations in various spots in our Collaboration and Inquiry Center (otherwise known as a 21st century library).
  • Offer the “basics” first, then the “beyond the basics” immediately after for any teachers who wish to stay.
  • Give teachers who attended the trainings a link to post a badge to their G+ page for some digital footprint augmentation.
  • Offer teachers a printed certificate.
  • Take attendance.
So far the feedback has been great with teachers generally loving the format.  Yes, its a lot more work for us as a tech team, but when everybody has been trained up and feels proud and confident, it should make for much more productive conversations about technology in the future.
I would love to know if anyone has tried anything similar and what feedback you got from it.  What have we left out?  How can we make this even better?

Is a Growth Mindset the Answer?

 

Search for Growth Mindset

Results for a search in the description field.

In two days at ISTE 2013 I’ve already experienced countless inspirational moments, heard dozens of fantastic quotes, and left presentations feeling renewed, invigorated, and empowered. One theme that seems oddly absent from this conference, however, is the idea of a growth mindset and student motivation.

I do not mean to be cynical, only to provide iste conference planners and future keynoters with some useful feedback. After having read Carol Dweck’s book and reading through Larry Ferlazzos work (he’s also written a book on this) it’s increasingly obvious that educators will not improve student performance with all their initiatives and expensive IT investments unless they recognise this key belief and take steps to adopt a growth mindset program in their school. The logic behind this assertion is simple:

Assumption1: The problems we face in life are getting more and more complex and challenging.
Assumption2: The way to address these problems in schools is becoming more and more complex and challenging (think interdisciplinary, collaborative, project-based learning)
Fact1: Individuals with a fixed mindset show significantly (shockingly even) LESS aptitude for success as work gets more challenging.
Fact2: Individuals with a growth mindset show significantly MORE aptitude for success as work gets more challenging.

If you follow this logic, you might conclude that schools and their students who foster a growth mindset are well-positioned for success, while the other is not.  This may be true both in spite of and because of the move toward 21st century learning that policy makers, administrators, and other educational leaders are promoting.  Don’t get me wrong, I am firmly in that camp and feel we aren’t moving fast enough to transform learning.  Could it be, however, that we’re missing an essential step in the process?  Are we forgetting the essential component of transforming ourselves from fixed mindset educators to growth mindset learners?

“IF, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even it it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively”

― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Do you know whether you have predominantly a growth or a fixed mindset?  Do you know how to tell?  You will find that you are probably not entirely one or the other.  In some areas of life and work you are probably growth-minded, while in others you are fixed.  Dweck outlines these qualities as such.

Fixed mindset people:

Believe talent is fixed and that if they fail at something it is because they don’t have that talent and cannot develop it.
Do not seek feedback or share their work because negative feedback can be catastrophic.
React to failure in a destructive manner,  often becoming depressed and giving up.

Growth mindset people:

Believe talent can be developed and that if they fail at something it is because they did not try hard enough.
Actively seek feedback and convert that feedback into stimulus and guidance for further improvement.
React to failure in a constructive manner,  trying harder to overcome it and be successful in the future.

After reading Carol’s book I realized that I am decidedly more fixed in my personal interactions with family and friends.  I am growth-minded in my hobbies and pursuits such as with golf, photography, and home-brewing.  I enter contests and tournaments, actively seek feedback, and handle it pretty well when the feedback is not praise.  In my professional life, I’ve overcome a fixed mindset earlier in my career by starting this blog, presenting at conferences, and actively seeking feedback from my peers.  Of course, I have much growing left to do.  If I thought I was perfect, or even good enough, I would be decidedly fixed in my mindset.

Overcoming the fixed mindset is tough and takes training on its own; it’s not as easy as just recognising your mindset and changing it.   This alone speaks to the difficulties of school reform. For great masses of teachers to radically change their thinking they will will have to first work on their mindsets.  Is this even possible you ask?   I hope it is yet I cannot be sure.  What I can be sure of, however, is that very little substantive change will happen without it.

Have you done any work with your school or students on mindsets?  If you have, I’d love to learn about it.

A Week with Tim and Sarah

We have been extremely blessed to have Tim Rylands and Sarah Neild at our school for the last five days, including a mind-blowing PD day.  The banquet Tim has laid out is far too much for us to digest fully anytime soon, which leaves us with a deep well of shared experience to tap for semesters to come.  With nothing to disclose and nothing to gain from it, I write this post to express a sincere gratitude for being able to spend this time with these professionals at this school.  Briefly, here are three of the many reasons why the message Tim and Sarah share is so important.

Invisible Technology
You’ve asked the question, you’ve mulled the answers, and yet you still need to know how to deemphasize the technology at your school and set your sights on the transformation that needs to happen.  Tim barely shares a slide or a strategy that doesn’t involve something analog, manipulative, or social.  Tim’s use of technology is never for the sake of the technology itself and always in support of something more meaningful and enduring.

Divergent Thinking
There is a perception out there, and probably not without good reason, that throwing technology at our students reinforces binary, right or wrong, conformist thinking.  Like any application of technology, edtech can indeed do this dangerously well in the hands of educators who may not know any better.  It can, however, equally as powerfully help free our minds, spur creative thinking, and enhance the sharing and growth of new ideas.   Tim’s strategies show us at least a few ways to get the better half of educational technology to facilitate rather than hinder this key 21st century learning outcome.

It’s (almost) all Free
You don’t have to spend big bucks on software to make a big splash with your investment in technology.   Tim and Sarah share scores of amazing free apps that teachers and students can innovate with at their leisure.  In most instances these are simple one or two lesson tools that often don’t even require a sign-up.  There’s no ROI, no buy-in, no critical mass necessary to use any of them.  The only thing needed is an adventurous spirit and a mind wide open to the endless possibilities they offer.   Especially if you don’t foresee a visit from Tim to your school anytime soon, put yourself on his mailing list or subscribe to his RSS feed for a steady “drip” of inspirational ideas.