Building on our strengths

When you get up in the morning, what are you excited about?  For most of us, the thing that gets us going in the morning is also the thing that drives us throughout the day.  It’s also typically something that we feel confident about, that we think we do well, and we enjoy doing.  Most importantly, that thing is also something we would identify as a strength.

I feel that often in education, we get drawn into thinking about weaknesses.  As a teacher, we have to identify weaknesses in our students in order to find ways to support their growth.  As an administrator, evaluations often include identifying weaknesses of the staff in our building, and planning to lead to future growth.  We get caught in a cycle of looking for the weaknesses around us.  If our strengths are the things that motivate us, isn’t it safe to assume that our learners would be motivated by their strengths?

A few years ago, as an ongoing activity throughout our unit on Ancient Rome, I provided students with a list of possible ways they could articulate learning.  These choices involved aspects of Roman society and culture.  I was amazed by the projects that students were able to create based on their strengths.  I had students designing roman outfits based on research because they were interested in style and design.  I had a student write a children’s picture book about the Roman Empire because they felt they were good writers and illustrators.  And probably my favorite, I had a student, Patrick, who had struggled all year long but designed and built a scale model of a Roman Aqueduct that was SPECTACULAR (it’s still in my office today) because he liked to build things.  While we were doing in class activities for learning, students were also researching for these projects.  They were able to select a project that fit their strength, and the results were amazing.  Having students present something that they had learned that also fit with their strengths was such a rewarding experience for me, and I’m sure led to a greater transfer of learning for each of them.  I would guarantee that none of them would be able to answer any of the questions we had on a summative exam, however I would also bet they could tell you about what they created for that project.

Knowing how strengths can motivate all of us reminds me to be on the lookout for strengths as I am walking the halls.  I am challenging myself to look for the strengths or everyone, and recognize those strengths!  I challenge you to do the same.

Be thinking about the data that you collect on students.  Don’t just look for patterns in terms of weaknesses.  Also look at the data that supports their strengths.  Give them the opportunity to build upon those strengths.  Most of our students will choose a career path based on their interests and passions.  Wouldn’t school be a better place if we gave our students the opportunity to accentuate their strengths?  I’m not saying we ignore areas where a student needs to grow, but I can tell you that all the time that my sophomore English teacher had me spend diagraming sentences is not what has led me to be a good writer, a good reader, or any of the other skills I have developed.  All it did was make me hate sophomore year English (sorry English teachers!).

Take a few moments in the coming days to seek out the positives in the students that are in your classroom.  Identify the things you see, and share it with your students.  See how they react to some strength-based feedback.

#IMMOOC #IMMOOCB3: Engage or empower

Engagement.  We all say that this is what we’re striving for when our students are in the classroom.  We want our students to be engaged in whatever’s happening in our classroom.  Normally that means getting your students excited about whatever it is that your class is studying.

But as we think about what it takes for any of us to learn something new, being engaged in the activities doesn’t guarantee learning.  I can guarantee that in the next few days I will be engaged in hours of watching NCAA Basketball.  The likelihood of any kind of deep learning happening in that time is not very high.

Bill Ferriter – @plugusin

To get students to that deeper understanding, the learning needs to be meaningful.  Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) says “Kids need to be empowered NOT engaged.”  So how do we get there?  Ferriter goes on to say that “Empowering students means giving kids the knowledge and skills to pursue their: Passions, Interests, Future.”

One of the things I believe in education is that we have great power to help our kids be excited about learning.  The more student choice and voice we give, the more authentic and relevant approaches we take, the more we shift our students from engagement to empowerment.

#IMMOOC #IMMOOCB2: School vs. Learning

The graphic above was created by @sylviaduckworth in response to a blog post by @gcouros about the differences between a traditional school setting, and comparing it to what we know best about how people learn.  It makes me think of the TED Talk by Ken Robinson on Changing Education Paradigms (check out this version).

Couros looks at the differences from the graphic above in his post School vs. Learning where he looks at the traditional school model compared to the way that research shows that people and students learn.  Think about the ways you learn best.  Do the descriptions on the left or right of the graphic above fit with your experiences of learning?  The next question – what do the classrooms that you are in most look more like?

Engagement is great, but engagement alone is not learning.  My kids can be engaged with YouTube for hours if I let them.  Does this mean they’re learning?  If we want learning to happen for our students, we need ask “what can I do less of?”

Reflect on what school looks like for you.  If what you reflect on makes you uncomfortable or gives you pause, think about where you can implement change to make learning new and better for your students.

#IMMOOC #IMMOOCB1: A culture of yes!

So we say we want innovation in our schools, in our classrooms.  Many of us feel that this is the best way to get our students past the point of engagement, and moving to the level of empowerment.  But there is one little word that can kill that process – no.

In the past couple of years, we have had many opportunities to interview potential teachers.  Every time we bring an interview team together, we all agree that we are looking for people who are “go-getters” – people who will do whatever it takes to make the learning experiences for their students new and exciting.  They have helped to bring exciting new learning opportunities into our school.  At the same time, many of the teachers in our building continue to learn and evolve – trying new formats of teaching, new activities, new technologies.  This innovation continues to spread, and is so exciting to watch!

If you know much about improvisational comedy, you know that during a scene the key is to not say no.  The mindset has to be to have an attitude of “yes, and…”  This is what we’re seeking for innovation.  When there are new and exciting ideas that will make learning better for students, I strive to say “yes, and…”

My hope is that this culture of yes will allow us all to continue to learn and grow.  Ultimately, our growth will allow us to make learning more innovative for every student!  Isn’t that the goal?

#IMMOOC Week 2 – How did this work for our students?

As I was reading Part 1 of The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros this past week, one of the “Critical Questions for Educators” really struck a chord for me: “How did this work for our students?”  In the book Couros shares that he used to survey his students at the end of the year, and I often gave my students a similar survey at the end of every school year.  I would ask what their favorite lessons were, and what were the things that they didn’t enjoy as much.  I would analyze the results, and use it to improve my practice for the next school year.

In retrospect, I feel I may have been missing an important piece.  I valued my student’s opinions, and would use their responses to improve, but how did my survey help them?  It didn’t.

Think about it like this: When was the last time that you were out to eat with your family or friends and had poor service?  Or what about a time where you server was so awesome you just wanted to show love in more ways than just a good tip? How did you handle either of those situations?  Did you ask to speak to the manager?  Did you call the restaurant after you left?  Maybe they had comment cards, or a website where you could leave feedback.

Have you ever thought of your students as being kind of like the customers of your classroom?  How often do your students get a chance to leave you feedback about your lessons?  They are in your classroom on a daily basis.  Shouldn’t we all know what our students like or don’t like about our class?

In The Innovator’s Mindset we’re reminded that innovation isn’t just doing things that are new, but doing things that are new AND better.  These days through the use of Google/Microsoft Forms, SurveyMonkey, and other simple survey tools, we can always be seeking the feedback of our students.  Wouldn’t it be a learning experience to take a moment to reflect on your student’s opinion about that lesson you were so excited about?

Create a simple survey.  Make a QR code that students can scan that will take them to the survey.  Encourage students to provide anonymous feedback of what’s happening in your classroom, and take that feedback to grow as a teacher.  What a way to build student empowerment in your classroom – when they see you responding to your feedback in a way that model’s growth, they will see the value in a growth mindset of their own.

Have you ever surveyed your students before?  What kind of questions have you included?  Share your thought in the comments below!

#BookSnaps

This is a BookSnap I created while reading the second chapter of the book Launch by John Spencer and AJ Juliani
This is a BookSnap I created while reading the second chapter of the book Launch by John Spencer and AJ Juliani

If you are on Twitter and follow any of the same people that I do, you have probably noticed people posting pictures of text, sometimes with highlighting, adding emojis, bitmojis, or text, and then posting it on Twitter with their own comments.  Normally if you look at the comments, you will see the hashtag #BookSnaps linked to it.  Even if you aren’t on Twitter, you can see what people are posting by clicking this link: Twitter #BookSnaps

If you go to Twitter and check this out, you will probably notice that most of the posts here are educators who are sharing their personalized professional reading with their Twitter followers.  If you look closely though, some of what you will find is teachers sharing BookSnaps that students created in their classroom.  It got me started thinking about how some of you might be able to use them in your classroom.  Check out this student created BookSnap that the teacher then added some additional comments to:

This BookSnap was created by a student on SeeSaw and then shared by a teacher.
This BookSnap was created by a student on SeeSaw and then shared by a teacher.

Most of the ones that you see are using SnapChat in order to create and share.  For those of you that know what technology your students are using, SnapChat is a pretty popular app.  But here’s the thing, there are ways that BookSnaps could be created using other apps that don’t involve the social network aspect of SnapChat.  Any app that allows you to pull in your own pictures and add text, drawings, and emojis could be used in the same way.  The student created example to the left was created using SeeSaw.  Some other examples that come to mind are Skitch, Google Drawings, various PDF annotating apps, and even Instagram.

Think of the potential engagement for your students if you asked them to create their own BookSnaps.  Could you imagine what they would say if you told them to open SnapChat or Instagram in class?  In ELA classes, you could have students create a BookSnap when they run into a Notice and Note signpost.  You could have them create one to identify the climax in the book they’re reading, or create one based on their own writing, identifying specific plot points.

And don’t say “I’m not an ELA teacher, this doesn’t apply.”  I could see real potential for BookSnaps in nonfiction reading as well – identifying the main idea in a science article.  Sharing things that surprised them as they are reading about some historical figure.  Responding to the 3 Big Questions from Reading Nonfiction by Beers and Probst.

I could even see integration into math class – MathSnaps could be a thing (acutally I just checked, and it is a real thing on Twitter)!  You could have a kid snap a picture of the answer to a problem and then add text describing how they came to that answer.  Or there could be ArtSnapsMusicSnaps, or GymSnaps.  The limitations are only bound by the creativity of how to integrate this technology.

As for how to share, again, the options are probably endless.  If you’re already using SeeSaw, that’s an easy option.  Other ideas I’ve seen include Google Slide Decks, a class shared PowerPoint (these options allow everyone can see what BookSnaps other kids have created based on the same reading assignment), or even something as basic as emailing it to you (although a way to share with classmates would make the audience so much more authentic and meaningful).  Once kids have shared them with you, find a way to share beyond the walls of your classroom.  If you’re on Twitter, tweet it out with the #BookSnaps hashtag – others will see it.  You could also put it out on Instagram or Facebook – both have people actively using this hashtag.  If you don’t have social media, you could have students print them out and put on their locker, or create a BookSnaps bulletin board.

If you are still at a loss for how you even create a BookSnap, there are some great resources from Tara Martin.  You can find her on Twitter at @TaraMartinEDU or @BookSnapsREAL.

On Martin’s blog, she’s also created some how to videos that could be useful to see how she puts a BookSnap together.  Check it out here: http://www.tarammartin.com/resources/booksnaps-how-to-videos/

I know I’ve got some creative people in my audience.  If you have an idea for how BookSnaps could be used in the classroom, please share in the comments below.  My ideas above are simply ones that have come to me in the past couple of days.  You might have something that I haven’t thought of – or possibly never would.  Let us know!

If you begin using BookSnaps in the classroom, please share them!  Use the #RSIHawks or #RSIReads hashtag in your post!

#IMMOOC Week 1: The Power of Ice Cream

This week is the beginning of The Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course.  For the next five weeks, I look forward to the opportunity to reread a great book and interact with educators during the weekly YouTube Live sessions as well as the Twitter chats!  I love this format of PD, and look forward to creating new connections and growing my Personal Learning Network!  If this sounds like something you would be interested in, you can still sign up here: IMMOOC

curiousAs I was reading the introduction to The Innovator’s Mindset this week, there was one line that really stood out to me: “if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.”  Given the meaningfulness of that line, I was so glad that became a major topic during the YouTube Live event on Monday evening.  During this session, AJ Juliani talked about a self-audit based on 4 questions, and I felt that these questions could really help us think about what we do in the classroom that might encourage students to “play” school and take away some of their self-agency and curiosity.

  • What do I allow for in my classroom/school?
  • What do I make time for in my classroom/school?
  • What do I support in my classroom/school?
  • What do I praise, assess, look for in my classroom/school?

What intrigued me the most about these questions is that students who play school well get there not because of their own desires.  Instead they get there due to the things that the adults in their lives (both educators and family members) value.  Watch kids of any age, and you will see curiosity – whether it’s on the playground, with their friends, or while playing a video game, our students our naturally curious.  But for many, when we put them into a classroom and ask them what makes them curious, the response is “I don’t know.”  If this is happening in your class, then your students are probably well trained to play school.

If we want our students to create, we have to model creativity (or at least a willingness to try).  If we want our students to be problem finders and solvers, that spark has to be modeled through our actions.  All of us have our interests and desires.  A lot of us keep those interests and desires separate from what is happening in our classrooms.  If we want to ignite the fire of curiosity in our students, we need to show them that their interests matter.

Recently in our school building, a student noticed that our cafeteria never served ice cream at lunch.  She knew from talking with friends at other intermediate schools that ours was the only one in the school district that did not ever serve ice cream as part of the school lunch.  Instead of just complaining about it, or even accepting that’s just the way it is, she went into action.  She did research.  She got friends and classmates involved.  She met with our school’s cafeteria manager to understand why we didn’t serve ice cream.  She met with our district facilities manager to learn about options to make ice cream a possibility at our school.  She got the student council on board to do a fundraiser.  All of this started last year with the question of why.

The Creamsicle may not be the fanciest of all ice cream treats, but it was a huge step forward in a school that had not served ice cream at lunch ever before! The Creamsicle may not be the fanciest of all ice cream treats, but it was a huge step forward in a school that had not served ice cream at lunch ever before!

Last Friday at lunch, our school served ice cream for the first time.

I would argue that the learning that happened for this student, and her classmates who were part of this work, was some of the most meaningful learning in the past year.  All of this happened because the adults around this student saw the curiosity and the drive that this student had – for ice cream – and they let her run with it.

What are the ice cream moments that are happening in your classroom?  In your school?  How are you helping to ignite that curiosity?  What are the ice cream moments for you?  Are you modeling that curiosity with your students?  As the leaders of our classrooms and schools, we have the ability to choose a course for our students that inspires them, or we can choose a course that creates students who “play” school well.  Which course do you choose?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  Keep the conversation about innovation in learning going here, or hit me up on Twitter @brian_behrman.

Successful adaptation

I’m not sure how many of you have read the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  It’s a book that I have referenced in the past, and today I happened to be on his blog and came across a great post that I want to share.  Below you’ll find a link to his short post titled “Successful Adaptation.”  Click the link to check it out, and then come back here for some closing thoughts:

Successful Adaptation – by George Couros

How many of those contradictions are things that you’ve heard, or maybe even said, before?  I feel our steps with the HSE21 Best Practice Model have helped us to attack many of the contradictions, however I still see some of those contradictions within our building.

I know Couros shared his own remix of those contradictions written as questions, but I have a few more questions for us to think about:

What have you created in the past week?  Month?  Year?  Have you shared any of those things with your students?  How could our own efforts at creation model that expectation for our students?

What are some areas that you would be willing to give up the expectation of students asking for permission? (assuming they are acting responsibly)  How would this promote greater empowerment for our students?

What are the things that you have let go of this year in order to show more of a growth mindset?  What are the policies within our classroom or our building that get in the way of the growth mindset?

I want to say again, I am not asking you to change for change’s sake, rather I am asking you to think about how you might change in order to make your classroom a better learning environment for our students.  With that, I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Couros:

learner-centred

If you feel up to it, share your response to one (or more) of these questions, or one of the questions from the original quote by Couros in the comments below.

The Apple Teacher Program

How many of you like to play games?  Maybe you like board games or card games that you can play with your family and friends.  Maybe you like to play video games on the PlayStation or Xbox.  Or maybe you are more into games that you can play on your iPad or phone.  One thing that has become a trend in a lot of the digital games is the idea of earning badges to symbolize advancement in the game.  People love to compete for those badges.  Some teachers have even integrated this gamification into the learning process.  Today I want to share with you something that Apple has developed that can allow all of us as educators to collect our own badges, and maybe learn some new things in the process.

A couple of days ago I saw a post on Twitter from an educator that I follow saying that he had just earned a new badge in the Apple Teacher Program.  I didn’t know much about the program, but a quick Google search took me to Apple’s site with more information about the program (click here if you want to check out the site!).

Reading over the short pieces of information on that site, I learned that through this program you could learn how to use built-in apps to “enhance creativity and productivity” in the classroom.  As you complete lessons, you can take a quiz, and if you pass the quiz you earn a badge.

I decided to sign up so that I could learn more about the program.  Once I was signed up (almost instantaneous – you sign up with your Apple ID, and then you receive an email with the link to sign in to the Apple Teacher Learning Center), I was able to find links to learning resources for teachers, inspiration for new things to try out, and links to earn badges that are based on the iPad or the Mac.  Since we are 1:1 with the iPad, that is where I went first, and without having to participate in any lessons I was able to pass quizzes to earn a couple of the badges.

There are options to earn general badges for the iPad, to learn about productivity, and to learn ways to integrate creativity with the iPad.  There are also badges for specific apps like Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie, and GarageBand.  When you select a badge you want to earn, you have the option to go to a Starter Guide with tons of information about apps – I just skimmed through looking for things that were new to me.  What I also found interesting about the started guide is that it instructed you on how to play with the app in order to learn to use it better.  We all know that we learn better by doing!  In addition to the starter guide, there are links to online help for the app, or even options to sign up for a live workshop at the Apple Store.  Once you feel like you understand the app, you can take a quiz and earn a badge.

In addition to the original options for badges, once you complete all the badges you earn an official Apple Teacher logo, as well as access to additional learning resources and badges.  I wanted to share this with you because I found it interesting.

Have any of you ventured into the Apple Teacher Program in the past?  There seem to be tons of great (and free) resources that could be used in the classroom.  Share with us if you decide to sign up, and then let us know as you add badges to your collection!

What is the “average” student? (Part II)

Last week I shared with you a little bit about the idea of averages.  From astronomers in the 16th century, to the work of Quételet in the 1800s, to Lincoln’s efforts to standardize the military during the Civil War, averages have a long history of being used to understand humans both physically and mentally.  During World War II, the research of Gilbert Daniels showed that averages were not a great idea for design of the cockpits of airplanes because no pilot fit the mold of the average man.  As a result, the Air Force banned the use of average for design, and began demanding design to the jagged edges.  This led to adjustable foot pedals, helmet straps, flight suits, and seats (things that seem like a no-brainer today).

airforce-dimensionsThrough the choice to move to flexible design, our Air Force was able to move forward in ways that they were not able to do when design was based on the average.  Now I know that some of you probably read last week’s post and may not have seen an immediate connection to education.  If you recall, in last week’s post I mentioned Todd Rose, a Harvard professor and a high school dropout, who is doing some interesting research in the science of individuality.

During a TEDx Talk titled The Myth of Average (if you have a chance, this is a really good TED Talk with some real implications for the education of all students), Rose talked about the educational repercussions of using average to design learning.  Sometimes our classrooms are like the airplane cockpits at the beginning of World War II.  There aren’t a lot of options for adjustments, and because of that, there are students who struggle.  Here’s the dirty little secret though – it’s not just the kids at the bottom who struggle in school.  When you look at dropout rates, a significant portion of high school and college dropouts aren’t leaving because it’s too hard, they’re leaving because it’s too easy and they aren’t challenged or engaged.

Over the summer I had a video post to the blog titled “An Open Letter to Educators.”  More recently I have been reading the book The Boy Who Played with Fusion, the story of Taylor Wilson, a 22-year-old who built a fusion reactor at the age of 14.  Both talked about a need to embrace new formats of education in an effort to be more individualized and prepare our students for the real world.  The implication I saw was that this individualization isn’t just for the kids that we identify on the low end of the spectrum, or those on the high end of the spectrum, but also for the kids we identify as the “typical” student.

No matter how we might identify our students (typical, below average, above average), our students come to us with jaggedaverage-student learning profiles.  Some are strong in math, but struggle in ELA.  Others have a talent for memorizing facts in social studies or science, but when you try to get them to think deeper, and solve the problems of our scientific world, they just can’t do it.  What if our education system was designed to adapt to the jaggedness of our students instead of expecting our students to adapt to the school setting?

The HSE21 Best Practice Model is a great method to get there.  Through student-centered approaches, transfer of learning, cognitive curriculum, and fundamental classroom conditions, we can develop an environment that accepts students where they are, and helps to move them further.

As you continue to design your classroom conditions for your students, be thinking about their jagged profile of learning.  How are you making the learning environment more flexible?  What are you doing for that science genius who struggles with the reading?  They may be awesome with the hands-on portion of science, but when it comes time to read and learn about theories, they just don’t get there because the textbook is too challenging for them.  Our goal has to be one of constant incremental growth, both for the kids who are struggling in a lot of areas, as well as those who seem to have it all together.  Remember, we’re all jagged!

Technology can help us to get there.  With an iPad, each of your students has the ability to translate text, look up vocabulary, or even have text read aloud to them.  With programs like NEWSELA or Achieve 3000, we are able to have our students read materials that are at the appropriate level for them, be able to understand what they have read, and in turn have an opportunity to grow.

Flexible design in learning is the school equivalent to adjustable seats!  These adaptations will nurture the potential of each individual in your classroom.  And remember, adaptations aren’t just for those on either end of the spectrum.  That kid that you think of as average probably has a jagged profile of learning too, with strengths that we can tap into, and weaknesses that we can target for growth.  The adaptations that we’d make for anyone with a label can work for those without any specific label too – and as the teacher, you are allowed to make the choices of what is best for your students!

What might flexible design in education look like in practice?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Get rid of specific numbers on assignments (3 pages, 5 paragraphs, 4 signposts, etc.) and shift to requiring quality work instead.
  • Allow modifications on assignments.
  • Create a loose structure for projects to allow more student autonomy in what they are creating and how they are making it.
  • De-emphasize standardized test scores or other systems where averages are used to judge students.
  • Let students select the strategies that work best for their own learning (that student who struggles with reading might be able to listen to a podcast or watch a video on YouTube and think just as deeply as that star reader who can learn from the text).
  • Change the pace so that certain students can finish earlier and have enrichment opportunities and others who are behind can have more time to work and not feel like all they are doing is to catch up.

Now, I know some of these ideas sound crazy, or scary, or hard to put into practice.  We can’t change everything at once, but we can move incrementally to try to develop an environment that our students will be able to have more success.  Just like setting goals for students to grow, we have to set goals for our own growth, and then take steps to get there.

But isn’t it worth it?  Who knows, that kid who is struggling in your class right now might be on the path to dropping out, but they may have the potential to be a professor at Harvard – or any one of millions of other successful paths.  They just need to have the opportunity to embrace their individuality!

So what are your thoughts?  What successes have you had when adapting to be better suited to the individuality of your students?  What challenges do you see in this way of thinking?  Let us know in the comments below!