Category Archives: Professional Learning

Empowering LGBTQIA+ Youth and Promoting Parent/Professional Allyship: Models of Pride

Last week I was at a great talk in which Scott McCloud talked about stories being driven by desire. As long as the desire lives and unfolds, the story is unfolding and being driven. Yesterday I was reminded of McCloud’s framing of stories at the 2018 Models of Pride conference. As a parent I attended for my nonbinary child, and as an LGBTQIA ally I attended for the learning community I serve as the teacher librarian at El Cajon Valley High School. We can think of our personal development, our life, as the unfolding of a personal story. What we desire out of life moves us forward. Our desires keep us going. So, how does this connect to empowering LGBTQIA+ youth?

We should value everyone in our community. We should strive to create learning communities in which we welcome each other. We should seek inclusion. This is how things should be, but this is not the way things are. Groups of young people on our campuses get marginalized. Often, they face that same marginalization outside of school.

At the Models of Pride conference, Michael Anthony-Nalepa shared that thanks to neuroplasticity, long term suffering and damage can be caused when young people are forced to endure prolonged, sustained negativity around their LGBTQIA+ identity. How can allies seek to empower LGBTQIA+ youth in this context? We’re not able to change institutions overnight; we can’t change the hearts of those clinging to bigotry and hatred with a snap of our fingers; and we can’t be everywhere to call others out when they seek to dehumanize our LGBTQIA+ youth. What can we do?

Michael Anthony-Nalepa discussing LGBTQIA+ empowerment

Michael Anthony-Nalepa advocates using double listening as a way to listen for the desires of LGBTQIA+ youth. What he means is that as LGBTQIA+ youth express their frustrations and their traumas to us, we should listen in two ways. Yes, listen to bear witness to what our young people have to deal with, but also listen to their underlying desires. Their story, their path of empowerment, is wrapped up in those underlying desires. What do they desire? That desire is linked to what they hope for. What hope is wrapped up in that desire? Hope is what we do, what we have, when we have faith that our future can be better. Desire is what we do, what we have, when we believe we can achieve something better than what we have. When our LGBTQIA+ youth share with us, what do their stories reveal about their self value?

Helping LGBTQIA+ youth reach a statement like, “I want to be loved and accepted” reflects an underlying that desire is a belief that “I deserve to be loved and accepted.” That statement, that recognition of a desire to be loved and accepted, reflects a moment of empowerment.

To me, this is a beautiful, empowering way to view being an ally for LGBTQIA youth.

So, each and every time that we see marginalized individuals standing up and speaking out about the shit they have to put up with, we should recognize that as a moment of empowerment–of a switch being flipped–wherein a statement is being made about their value.

If we agree that we all have value, that we all have rights, that we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, then we should respect those individuals that we see in our communities who are being themselves in spite of how the world treats them for who they are. They are some of the host human people in our communities. Celebrate them. Be there for them. Love them. Support them.

My child had an amazing time at the youth events. This conference did a great job of providing amazing youth activities/sessions as well as positive, useful, authentic learning experiences for parents and professionals seeking to empower our LGBTQIA+ youth. I’m looking forward to the 2019 Models of Pride conference in Los Angeles.

Certificates to all attendees!

The conference started with several brief talks from members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community

Your PLN is Awesome, but Be Sure to Get Out There IRL

I value the fact that I have a virtual professional learning network. I love scrolling through Twitter to see what thoughts or resources are being shared by educators and creators that I follow. But nothing replaces going to professional learning opportunities in person. And if you can find an event that combines your personal interests but still relates to your professional learning, then go for it! Get out there!

I was in line for an event this year’s San Diego Comic Con, scrolling through Twitter, and I saw that Hank Green would be in town for his book tour. I follow Hank Green a little on YouTube and I listen to a couple of his podcasts, and I’m one of the many folks out there who are attracted to what he says and how he says it online. In an online universe that can be so toxic and shallow, Hank Green works to show us what can be good about how we conduct ourselves online. So, I bought the ticket to his book tour appearance while waiting in line for The Adventure Zone.

Hank Green on stage with a guitar

Hank Green at the USD/Warwick’s Event

Fast forward to October 4th at USD, my friend and colleague Stephanie Macceca and I were in the crowd getting treated to a high quality experience. The audience was very positive, Hank Green and Dianna Cowern were smart and funny. And Hank ended the show with a great mini-talk on holding on to our humanity as we build our online identities.

After getting to meet Hank Green at the meet and greet event (very nice of Hank to hang out for this, he’s so patient

Anthony and Hank Green at the Warwick's USD event

Anthony and Hank Green at the Warwick’s USD event

with people like me who are no good at brief interactions with people who are famous on the Internet), I spent the following weekend reading all of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. I loved it. I loved it in the context of having gone to Green’s book tour event and hearing his talk on humanity in online spaces. I’m so glad I got out there for this event.

 

 

 

Then, just last Wednesday, I was browsing online while at my daughter’s Jiu Jitsu class (because, I love that she is sticking with this thing, but it’s not always enthralling as a bystander), I found out that Scott McCloud would be talking THE NEXT DAY at the San Diego Public Library. How lucky am I that I just happened to notice a post on an event that is right up my alley as a comics lover interested in how we make meaning from what/how we perceive?!

The cover of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics

A copy of McCloud’s Understanding Comics that was donated to my school by SDCC years ago

A stamp saying donated by San Diego Comic Con

So cool to be flipping through this copy to see this stamp

So, while my daughter pinned down her latest sparring partner in Jiu Jistsu, I registered for the event. I also registered my 15-year-old, Neva, because I didn’t want to go alone, and I knew as an artist, they would value what McCloud had to say about the way our minds interact with visuals.

 

Again, I love that I am building a PLN that helps me stay connected to educational discussions that energize me and the direction I want to go in my career. But nothing can replace getting out there and attending high quality events, especially when those events are in line with your personal interests. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities feed your personal and professional curiosities. Get out there!

Neva and Anthony at the San Diego Public Library in front of an art display

Yeah… I wore the same shirt to this event

A slide from a presentation: there are no neutral visual decisions

There are no neutral visual decisions

Scott McCloud on stage with a stick

Scott McCloud on stage with a stick

 

Students Communicating Ideas Through Videos @ECVHS! #guhsdtech

screenshot-2016-12-21-at-12-10-29-pmscreenshot-2016-12-21-at-12-11-16-pmI’m writing this quick post while sitting in Mrs. Miller´s AVID class watching as students showcase the videos they produced using WeVideo. Amazing ECVHS AVID teachers Mrs. Miller and Mr. Millican are preparing their students to write University of California Personal Statements by having them create personal statement videos this semester. I’ve had the pleasure of viewing many student videos in which students communicate their hopes, dreams, and experiences. I am inspired by the young people at my school who have allowed themselves to be vulnerable enough to share themselves.

screenshot-2016-12-21-at-12-12-03-pmscreenshot-2016-12-21-at-12-12-26-pmIn addition to WeVideo in AVID, I’ve seen Mrs. Jones have students create Adobe Spark videos for a cultural project and Ms. Goodin and Mr. Enerva have students share research findings through Adobe Spark videos. I love that students are getting practice communicating ideas through videos!

 

 

Keeping a PLN (and a PLC) Civil

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I began teaching at El Cajon Valley High School in 2007. As a relatively new teacher I was tasked with being the Professional Learning Community Team Lead for a team of English Language Development teachers. In order to prepare people in my position, all the PLC Team Leads at my school were given a copy of Revisiting Professional Learning Communities At Work.

6a00d8341c721253ef0120a5226c31970bAt that point in my career, I didn’t necessarily see myself as a leader. So, I appreciated having that book as a guide for how to develop effective PLCs. I remember slowly reading through the text throughout the year (I’m a slow reader and it’s a pretty thick book). The explanations and guides for how to run an effective PLC made a lot of sense to me. Yes, we should be learning together. Yes, we should be talking about how we instruct students and sharing our instructional experiments with each other. Yes, we should read some research together and discuss how to implement the best practices that we’re reading about. I saw all these great ideas for improving our ELD program.

Some of the improvements suggested by this text were readily adopted by my fellow PLC members, and some were opposed. I couldn’t understand the opposition at the time. I thought that if we were going to have an effective PLC and serve our students well, then we should implement as many of the ideas in this book as we could. Opposing the ideas in the book, refusing to even read about them, these behaviors seemed so anti-improvement, so anti-progress.

Believing that the ideas in the book represented improvement, I basically resorted to ideological campaigns fought in the email and PLC meeting battlefields. In my mind, I built myself up to be superior to any colleague who disagreed with the ideas I saw as so obviously beneficial. I emailed point-by-point rebuttals to their concerns. I tried using peer pressure to turn reluctant PLC members over to my “side.” I wrote off their educational experience as simply many years of doing things the wrong way.

I’ve since apologized to some of them, and I believe that the majority of the people I work with see me as someone who they appreciate working with, someone who is fair and helpful, but I am sure I permanently damaged my relationships with a few people at my school.

Teaching is such a personal thing. Educators’ beliefs about teaching are an extension of who we are as people. When the ideas about education I was attracted to came under attack, I felt attacked. So, I attacked back, not recognizing (for a long time) that I was hurting some of my colleagues. And I’ve found that when you hurt someone, they’re not too keen on trying any of your ideas. When you hurt a member of your PLN, the trust required in a learning community is damaged, and people stop learning from each other.

 

I’m not proud of how I acted during this time in my career, but I am proud that I was able to reflect on my behavior and recognize that I needed to change. I still have colleagues who have different educational philosophies than I do. I have colleagues who hold ideas that I see as detrimental to how humans learn. But I don’t feel the need to bully those colleagues into believing what I believe (as I did back when I was the PLC Team Lead). What good can come of that? None. I’ll still voice what I believe about how to improve our school. I want our school to improve, but I recognize that trusting each other enough to disagree with each other and still be productive together is one of the most powerful ways our school is going to improve.

So, keep your PLN (or PLC) civil. Learn from each other, and when you disagree, be sure to remember that it’s a conflict of ideas, not a conflict of people.

Share Your Ideas

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Please take a couple minutes to view this video:

This video is a pep talk to all those educators out there who doubt that they have good ideas to share. Participating in a professional learning community means more than simply connecting to resources and experts, it also means contributing your own ideas. I think many teachers shy away from sharing, thinking: my ideas aren’t good enough to share (as the video illustrates).

EDpuzzle- Teacher InstructionsI experienced something similar to the situation in the video: I started using @EDPuzzle, and I really liked it. I liked it so much, that I wanted to share it with others. To do this, I made a Google Slides presentation with instructions and screenshots for how to get started with EDPuzzle. Now, EDPuzzle has their own instructional tutorials on how to get started (and their instructions are better than mine). More than that, some of the screenshots and instructions in my presentation are a little outdated. Still, I made this presentation and sent it to my colleagues to show them how to get started with this instructional tool. I was also sure to set the sharing settings so that it was public on the web, just so it would be easier for others to see.

I thought nothing of this presentation for a long time, and then out of the blue I got emails from teachers out of my district–out of my state! They were asking for permission to use this presentation to help their own colleagues get started with EDPuzzle. Of course, I told them to go for it–make a copy and modify it for their needs. I even changed the title slide to include a link that makes a copy of the presentation (see above).

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I’ll admit, I felt proud that a presentation I made was being looked at (sought out) by educators I didn’t even know. It told me that the idea I had (to share this cool instructional tool and make it as easy as possible for others to get started with it) was valuable to others. It told me that my idea helped others.

But the part of this experience I really appreciates goes back to the idea in the video at the top of this post: This wasn’t some spectacular insight. This wasn’t an epiphany that would reshape the pedagogical world. This was just a “how to” presentation for getting started with a useful edtech tool. Still, by sharing I was able to contribute to more educators and more students than if I had decided to keep my ideas to myself.

I hope the non-sharers out there have a change of heart. It would be great to see more educators contributing their ideas so we can all better serve our students.

QTEL Summer Institute

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The week of July 18th I was able to go to The Quality Teaching for English Learners Summer Institute in San Francisco with a team of educators from my school. I was connected to this professional development opportunity through Brent Enerva (@mrenerva). Brent was drawn to this institute as a science teacher working on effectively implementing Next Generation Science Standards with a high English learning population. However, he initially thought that the cost would be prohibitive (flight, hotel, registration would add up to about $4,000). Still, he asked our school site council, and not only was he approved, it was suggested that he bring a team of educators. To make a long story short, with the support of our school site council and our principal (@KimPattersonECV), Brent brought a team of five to this valuable (and expensive) learning opportunity.

20160719_151959One lesson from this experience is that it never hurts to ask when you see a valuable PD experience come along. I am very glad that I got to participate in the QTEL Summer Institute. I spent about 6 hours a day learning in my sessions, and then I spent time in the afternoons exploring San Francisco with colleagues while processing what we were learning.

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The institute was held in the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I was able to hear from icons of English learner instruction such as Aida Walqui and Kenji Hakuta. Our session leader gave us instruction on QTEL’s 3 moments approach to designing lessons for English learners: Preparing the learner, Interacting with the text, and Extending student learning. As a Trainer of Trainers in SDAIE, I was familiar with these concepts, but participating in an immersive training like this Summer Institute helped me internalize how keeping QTEL’s 3 moments in mind will ensure effective implementation of ELD standards. I look forward to bringing what I learned to future meetings and trainings with staff members this school year.


Take Aways

The most significant connections I made during this training were:

1. If learning, especially language learning, is social, then we should facilitate the kinds of interactions among students that promote language exchange.

2. ZPD! Is it bad that after 10 years of being an educator that I’m still growing in my understanding of Vygotsky’s concept? Before, I thought of ZPD as a magical realm in a student’s ability where he/she could still access a slightly more difficult task, like a step on a staircase that’s not too easy and not too hard to take. Now I understand ZPD, I believe, more accurately. The Zone of Proximal Development is the space in which all learning occurs. It is the zone in which a learner has ventured out of what is known and taken a risk to build new knowledge. This knowledge building path is something that, in order to be authentic and substantive learning, the learner must take on his/her own. This is why it is soooo much more meaningful to have learners “discover” concepts rather than simply having the teacher tell him/her the concept. In order for the learning to “stick,” the learner has to be the one to build the learning in his/her own mind (through things like quality interactions with peers within learning activities). It’s the teacher’s job to notice when and how a student is venturing into the ZPD and supporting that journey as needed through instructional scaffolds.

20160719_2027273. Instructional scaffolds! How appropriate that right across the street from my hotel, there were scaffolds set up! I had to snap a picture. Just as with ZPD, I feel like my understanding of what scaffolds are have changed due to this training. Before, I thought that instructional scaffolds were those meticulously pre-planned supports that I, as an educator, would put into place as part of a lesson in order to help students reach a high level of understanding. Now I understand instructional scaffolds to be:

  • temporary (I already knew that)
  • given to students as needed (I kind of knew that, but now I understand why)
  • based on the risks students make venturing into the ZPD (wow!)

That last point is what felt new to me. So, in order for any real learning to occur, a student must venture into the ZPD, take a risk, to build new knowledge. That step, that risk taking, must be based on something the student wants to do/learn. If the thing the student wants to do/learn is too difficult, that’s when the teacher adds scaffolds. With my misunderstanding of scaffolds, I was creating scaffolds for a path of learning that I predetermined students would take. That’s not how people learn. Instead, I should be providing scaffolds to help students with a learning path that they want to take. Put it this way: if a worker needs to get work done on a 4th story window of an east-facing wall, I shouldn’t be constructing scaffolds to a window on the 6th story of a south-facing wall. The worker doesn’t want to get there, so the scaffold is useless. I can hear the opposition to this idea: “But I want my student to learn X, not Y!” I get it! But if we don’t get our students to want to learn X, no scaffolds in the world are going to cause them to truly learn it. And until we figure out ways to get students to want to learn X, why not experiment a little and learn some Y?

 

Growing New Branches in my PLN

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As an educator, I agree with the people who say that the most valuable thing we can help students learn is: how to learn. With this in mind, I like to think that I’m the kind of person who can make connections to people and resources that will help me learn what I want (or need) to learn. This is essentially what we’re talking about when it comes to building a personal learning network. So, in the spirit of  reflecting on my learning process and the development of my PLN, I want to share a few things I’m currently learning about and how I’m learning them:

1. How to run a TED Ed Club

I first heard about TED Ed Clubs on Twitter and I thought, “That sounds cool–we should have one of those clubs at my school.” And then I didn’t do anything about it. A few months later, I saw a local middle school district announce on Twitter that they were putting on a TEDxKids event. I couldn’t register fast enough. I really do love the idea of empowering students to share their ideas, and I was eager to see what a middle school in my own back yard was doing with TED Ed Clubs. I was very impressed by the event and blogged about it here. I went to the same event this year (as well as another TEDx event). I also attended a couple presentations on TED Ed Clubs, including one by Liz Loether (the organizer of the TEDxKidsElCajon event I first attended). From there I finally took the step to sign up to be a club leader and I am in the middle of my very first cycle of helping students develop their talks. I am very new to this, but it’s easy to track how I grew my PLN to get me to where I am: First) I was attracted to cool things I saw on Twitter. Second) I attended an event related to that cool thing. Third) I attended a couple conference sessions teaching me how to do that cool thing I was learning about. Forth) I am trying it myself. There will be many steps beyond this, but I am where I am thanks to how PLNs work!

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2. The Raspberry Pi

I love what technology can do to amplify learning for students, and I am pretty good at learning how to use edtech tools, but I am very new to coding and building computers (I’m an English major!). But I run a library now, and that library has a makerspace. Our retiring librarian bought a Raspberry Pi for students to tinker with in the makerspace. That Raspberry Pi kind of just collected dust all year. I didn’t know what to do with it. I had kind of heard you could do cool things with a Raspberry Pi, but I just didn’t know and I was so busy learning other library stuff, I just ignored the Raspberry Pi for a while. Then I attended a session at the Computer Using Educators conference on the Raspberry Pi. The presenter framed the Raspberry Pi in a way that I valued: teach planning, teach problem solving, encourage creativity, foster perseverance. I was sold. I asked my vice principal for some money to buy more Raspberry Pis. He said yes! I advertised a Raspberry Pi Club to students. They showed up! I told them before we started that I had no idea what I was doing and that we would all have to learn about this thing together. I think they really liked the idea of the teacher not knowing all the answers. The situation I’m in with my Raspberry Pi Club members makes students much more authentic members of my PLN. We’re learning together. I’m excited to see what we do with our Pis in the fall!

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3. 3D Printing

As I wrote above, my library has a makerspace. I’m thankful that the previous librarian at my school was forward thinking enough to leave me with a very well developed makerspace. To make a long story short, I was able to order a 3D printer for my library’s makerspace! This is cutting edge maker-stuff here! And what did I know about 3D printing when I ordered the 3D printer? Almost nothing! But I couldn’t pass up on the chance to get a 3D printer for my makerspace, so I moved forward. Now I’m watching YouTube videos and reading through the manual that came with the printer. I received it the last week of the school year, so I have a few weeks before school starts in August. I hope to develop a student-friendly how-to guide for students to use the 3D printer.

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So there is a little insight into 3 things that I’m currently learning about. I look forward to developing my PLN to further these and other learning goals. Sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed, like I’m trying to learn too many things at once, but I feel very fortunate that I have access to learn about the things that interest me.

Leaning on the Experts

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One of the first “libraryish” things I did after getting the teacher librarian position at my school was to attend an information literacy workshop put on by California State University San Marcos librarians. The presenters offered to deliver an information literacy workshop to all the librarians in my district, so we jumped at that opportunity.

The timing was perfect. Our district librarians were in the midst of developing district-wide research practices for each of us to deliver to our individual school sites. And as we made decisions about what skills to focus on, we had these CSUSM librarians to guide us. So far, it has been a match made in heaven and I am very thankful for the work CSUSM is doing with local school districts.

Now, as a way to deliver what we are learning about research practices to our school sites, all the librarians in our district are working together to build this Research Toolkit (work in progress!). I am co-presenting this toolkit next week with my librarian colleague Stephanie Macceca, but the creation and organization of this website (and the work it represents) was shared among all nine of our district librarians.

Here is what this process is making me realize about my professional learning network: I am far from the smartest, most capable person in the network of librarians I belong to. I don’t mean to come off as too egotistical, but I’m used to being near the head of the group when it comes to the different subjects my personal learning network is dealing with:

  • Developing literacy? I’m on it.
  • Integrating technology to amplify learning? I’m ready to train others!
  • Developing prompts and assessments? You’re talking my language!

I’m used to catching on quickly and (if necessary) doing a lot of the heavy lifting. But this first big project with my fellow librarians is reminding me that I have a lot to learn, and I can learn from the amazing colleagues I work with. I don’t have to be near the front of the pack in all areas of my PLN. I’ll admit, I kind of like being near the front of the pack and helping others catch up. But there’s no way to sugar coat it: I am a novice in the librarian world.

As I’ve worked with the librarians in my district to build the Research Toolkit, it has become abundantly clear that I could NEVER have done this on my own. I cringe a little remembering telling a fellow librarian: “I’ve got time this summer–I may just build the whole website myself!” I made that comment in a state of ignorant hubris. What made me think I could, on my own, develop this research resource for use across the entire district? The website we’re building together is so much better than what I could have done on my own.

I’m very glad for this experience. Without experiences like these, I worry that I would become the kind of person who feels like an expert at everything–the kind of person who thinks others should look to to learn from, but who doesn’t need to learn much from others. I would hate to become that kind of person. Of course, I don’t want to feel completely inept and ineffective, but I do hope to always stay in touch with the ability to be vulnerable and admit that I don’t know and that I need help.

Finding Connections: Sometimes it Takes a While

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For a lot of my teaching career, I was the kind of team member who listened to other peoples’ good ideas and supported them. I just wasn’t really coming up with anything new to add to the pedagogical conversation. My colleagues were already sharing such great ideas, that I had plenty to do to help make their ideas a success. Ideas like:

  • English learners should be developing their cognitive academic language proficiency
  • Let’s share our ideas on a website that we build together
  • Let’s read research to inform our instruction
  • Let’s ask local colleges for advice for how to prepare our students for their courses

Again, there were plenty of high quality ideas to support–and it took work to implement these ideas! It wasn’t until I was finishing up my masters in education that I came across an idea I hadn’t heard my colleagues talking about. I completed my action research project on formative assessments (specifically, how we can use weekly formative assessments to improve writing among English learners). I read from Reeves and DuFour (2 of them!) and Ainsworth and Marzano, and along the way I got the impression that the way I did grades was not ideal for learning. In fact, based on what I was reading, the way a lot of my colleagues did grades was not ideal for learning. I finished my research project/presentation on formative assessments, but what stuck with me was the issue of grading.

So, I read more and I watched videos. I found some great blog posts by Shawn Cornally and I was inspired by the ideas shared by Rick Wormeli on YouTube. Point after point I found myself agreeing with sources I found in books and online. I now had this idea that I thought was GREAT, and I wanted to bring it to my fellow English teachers. I presented this Prezi at a department meeting (I even made it into an exhilarating 22 minute video) with the aim to revolutionize how we grade in order to promote more learning. The reception to this idea was lukewarm. I was able to get the department to agree to some changes to our collective grading practices, but not others. It was clear that no one in my immediate professional learning network (the teachers in my department) was very passionate about this idea that was influencing me and my practice so significantly.

I made some pretty big changes to how I grade, but in the spirit of developing common practices, I didn’t fully run with standards based grading because I felt like I didn’t have many other teachers in my department willing to go along for the ride.

Fast forward to a few years later. I was at a Google Apps for Education conference, and I was stopped in the hall by Natalie Priester. She said something to the effect of: “You’re Anthony Devine. You posted some stuff online about standards based grading, right?” Now, this made quite an impression on me because I hardly expect anyone to remember or remark upon anything I post online (except that my mom is always sure to “like” the pictures I post of my kids to Facebook). But Natalie basically ran with the idea of standards based grading (I think she went well beyond what I’ve done with it). She mentioned coming across my video (linked above) early on in her development of standards based grading practices. She sent me some rubrics that she developed and other materials she made based (in part) on the explanation of standards based grading that I cobbled together from my research.

This interest got me to start thinking again about advocating openly for some changes to the way teachers produce student grades. It took a while, but after experimenting with my grading practices, I wrote this little post to help explain my grading practices to students and parents. And based on that post, I presented earlier this year at a local conference on using our a 4 point grade scale in our electronic grade book (Infinite Campus). In attendance at that session were staff members from an experimental high school within my own district where EVERYONE was giving proficiency grading a try. I loved talking with them about the ins and outs of implementing proficiency/standards based grading in a “traditional” grading world.

One of the outcomes from that presentation was that a colleague of mine who teaches math at that experimental high school, Melanie Ruiz, approached me to co-present on proficiency grading practices this summer. We’re finishing up this website as our presentation tool and our plan is to get teachers to reexamine their grading practices and to adopt some practices that will encourage and value learning more than “traditional” grading practices do.

That’s where I am with this journey with this one idea. And while it’s definitely a story about sticking to an idea that I think is good, it’s also about the fact that finding the people who will connect to an idea with you can take time. My personal learning network did not necessarily gravitate toward supporting this idea at first. That doesn’t mean I abandoned that network! It also doesn’t mean I abandoned the idea. Slowly, over time, I was fortunate enough to add to my network other educators I admire who agree that this idea is a good idea.

In summary, lessons learned from this situation:

  • If you have a good idea, but not many in your immediate PLN agree, stick with it! You may find people later who appreciate your crazy, innovative ideas.
  • Go to conferences! Whether attending sessions or presenting sessions, conferences give you the chance to make personal connections to educators in other schools and districts (and they probably have some great ideas to share).
  • Share your ideas. You may think what you have to say won’t add anything all that great to the conversation, but you’re just wrong! You never know who will latch on to the ideas you have to share. And you never know when you may decide to revisit your old ideas to share again or modify. Just look at this post. The things I’ve linked here go back to 2012 (and that action research project I mentioned was from 2009). Share–join the conversation!

Are you encouraging students to shelter knowledge, or share it?

As teachers, we’ve got important things to do. We need to develop lessons, deliver those lessons, assess student learning, and provide quality feedback. In reality, we do a lot more than that. One thing we may struggle with, though, is designing quality groupwork. But that’s okay, right? I mean, we have a lot to cover–we’ve got enough to do as it is!

Consider this situation when thinking about whether or not we should spend more time emphasizing groupwork with our students:

A student recently visited me in the library because she heard a rumor that I know how WeVideo works. She wanted to know how to layer sound tracks and change the volume of her video as it played. I showed her what I knew and she applied what she learned to her video. Then, and this is the important part, she turned to her friend and said: “Okay, let’s not tell ANYONE else in class about this!”

Woah! Where did that come from? I asked her why she wouldn’t share what she learned with her classmates, and she had clear reasons:

I want to have the highest grade in class.

If I tell other people how to make their videos better, they might get a higher grade than me.

The student’s thinking is pretty attractive to our culture. We want people to be competitive. We want people to want to be the best, right?

Let’s pretend that was the end of the conversation. This student would go back to class. She would show her video. Students would be pretty impressed that she figured out how to edit the sound in her video. She would have produced one of the best videos in class. A few other students might have good videos, too.

But what if the teacher had placed more emphasis on cooperative learning? What if students knew that one of the primary goals of this activity wasn’t that a small number of students would produce good videos, but that the class would work together and learn from each other in order for everyone to create good videos?

What if that student, after learning her new information about WeVideo, had turned to her friend and said: “Okay, let’s run back to class and tell EVERYONE how to do this.”?

Would we lament that this student was diminishing her own accomplishments by freely sharing what she learned? Would we worry that she was setting herself up for failure in a competitive world? I don’t think most of us would. I think many of us would recognize the value that she was bringing to our learning environment? I think we would appreciate seeing a class full of videos that were better, because one student shared what she learned with others.

Share or ShelterSharing her inside information may run counter to some of our cultural values, but it’s right in line with what we value most as teachers: learning. As we give students group assignments, let’s stress the value of sharing learning and helping each other solve problems.

How are the problems our society faces going to be solved? By sheltering learning to maintain a competitive edge, or by sharing learning to make our world better for everyone?