The Importance of Student Voice

The following is a guest post by Mark R. Boyer, Assistant Superintendent for Learning, Singapore American School

Student Voice

I was recently approached by a high school student who asked, “In order for student voices to be heard, should student evaluations of teachers be mandatory and used in the teacher’s performance review? Furthermore, is there a way to make sure that student feedback is fair and valid?”

If we truly believe in the value of students to be co-designers in learning and empowered in their learning, shouldn’t we also value their important feedback? If we do value student feedback, then how can we make this meaningful and constructive?

Many schools in the U.S. and internationally are addressing this “controversial issue” with no consensus on a particular approach to pursue. Some schools advocate for student feedback as a “weighted component” on teacher evaluation with other components, some schools provide opportunity for student feedback that is exclusively reviewed by the teacher, and some schools provide opportunity for the teacher to verbally reflect on “themes” within student feedback with one’s supervisor. Many schools simply ignore student feedback as too complicated and untrustworthy.

The most significant recent research on teacher evaluation was initiated in 2009 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and resulted in a 2011 report known as Measures of Effective Teaching (MET). One of the five variables valued by the MET report was “student perceptions of the classroom instructional environment” in which a field-tested instrument (i.e., Tripod Survey) was used.  A finding of the MET report was that there is a significant interdependent relationship among student achievement, classroom observations and feedback by supervisors, and student feedback.

The challenge in all of this, however, is to be clear about the purpose of teacher evaluation so as to guide appropriate selection of tools and processes, and to also understand that contextual needs in one system may be very different for another system. Finally, quality implementation of the right tools and processes is everything. Anything less than quality implementation can have confusing and damaging results.

The downside of ineffective implementation of student feedback can lead to the following:

* students may not appreciate demanding teachers until years later, and may provide premature responses

* students may not be “trained” in how to provide constructive feedback, whereupon responses can be personally and professionally hurtful

* teachers may feel that popularity is most important, and consequently adjust teaching to “win” students

* students may use their own grades to determine how they view their teachers, and perhaps not always take personal responsibility

* a culture of evaluation and judgment may become more prevalent than a culture of mutual respect, trust, and support

Having said this, the quality of the student-teacher relationship is essential to quality teaching and learning. I believe quality feedback is key to growth and improved performance, whether the feedback is as a student, teacher, or administrator. Rather than a “weighted” component on teacher evaluation, I would suggest the following approach for student feedback:

Allow all students throughout the school to provide anonymous survey responses using a few standard questions for their teachers (with appropriate accommodations for elementary students) and perhaps a few questions of particular interest to the teacher, which then becomes a conversation between the teacher and supervisor. This conversation would not be about specific comments, but rather about any predominant themes:

    • What pleased you most from your students’ responses?
    • What surprised you?
    • Are there any changes or adjustments you intend to make as a result of this feedback?

The supervisor’s evaluation of this component is then based on the teacher’s reflective ability to respond to “themes” within student feedback, and the supervisor can also serve as a prompt for any areas deserving further consideration. When effectively implemented, this approach would ensure that student feedback is purposefully heard and valued and that the professional relationship of the teacher and supervisor has further information for reflection and consideration.

In line with the MET report, I think some kind of triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data that utilizes student feedback (with teacher reflection), teacher and/or Professional Learning Community evidence of student learning and growth (with teacher reflection), and supervisor feedback from classroom observations (with teacher reflection) would help to provide a balanced and multi-dimensional approach for more intentionally and comprehensively understanding teaching and learning. There’s certainly considerable development needed in each of these areas, but can be worthy if the focus is on creating a learning-focused school in a trusting and mutually supportive environment where everyone is vested in each other’s growth and success.

Education is a lifelong calling, and it is value-added when there are meaningful processes to help all of us as educators to grow, to build on our relationships, and to continuously reflect and act on ways to improve the quality of learning and opportunities for all students.

Image: Dell’s Official Photo Page CC

The Student Quest: Choose 2 Matter

margaret mead quoteIf you ever have a chance to meet Angela Maier, you’ll know who she is immediately.While probably not the tallest person in the room, in a hall of 5,000 she may well be the most energetic. A former teacher turned consultant, author of two books, including “Classroom Habitudes” and now Chief Instigator, Angela has amassed a global, passionate network at the intersection of her enthusiasm, belief in each and every person, and unsinkable optimism.

Beginning with a TEDx Des Moines Talk, she launched her #YouMatter campaign, an effort to instill in others the simple idea that, well, they matter. Through her partnership with the International Dot Day, which ended up bringing together over 800,000 students from around the world, she recognized the demand for providing young people a way to turn their ideas for making the world a better place into a reality.

The Choose 2 Matter movement is an answer to that demand. As described on the Choose2Matter website . . .

CHOOSE2MATTER – a crowd sourced, social good community where world changers can create their own “Dream Team” to pursue solutions to global problems.

With her signature enthusiasm and network-ability, Angela has brought together a team of partners and visionaries to launch the “Quest 2 Matter,” which the Choose 2 Matter website describes as . . .

The Quest2Matter is a catalyst that challenges students:

To accept that they matter;

To tell others that they also matter;

To take action to change our world.

Students are encouraged to submit their quests — either ones they are currently embarking on or have previously engaged in — that seek to change something that “breaks their hearts.” The submission process is simple (and more thoroughly stated here):

  1. Students choose a quest that matters to them. 
  2. They register at one of Choose 2 Matters’ partners’ sites. 
  3. Students tell their story in a media of their choosing. 
  4. Students upload their story.
  5. Or, students can share their story via email or via another other social media site. 

Students have until May 31, 2013 to submit their quest if they want a chance to be recognized / highlighted at the 2013 Bammy Awards. However, Quests are on-going and the team is already hard at work to find new ways of honoring future submissions.

This is an important effort that seeks to simultaneously raise the volume on student voice, student impact, and how people view the current and future capacity of all students. Additionally, it communicates to students that not only do they matter and that their vision and action are valued, but also that they have power now to enact positive change in the world. No need to wait until they are in their college or career. The future they want for tomorrow begins with their effort today. Nice work, Angela. We at QED support you.

Want to be more involved in the Choose 2 Matter movement? You can “like” them on facebook, follow them on twitter, or contact the team via their website.

Image: RubberBoots And Elf Shoes

To Break the Mold, Is Competency Learning the Key?

This piece was first published at Mindshift KQED and was written by Katrina Schwartz. It is reposted here with permission of Mindshift.  

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More schools are starting to question whether traditional age-based classrooms are the best way to go, and to change the dynamic of teaching to the middle, they’re experimenting withcompetency-based learning, a system that moves kids along at different paces once they’ve shown they can grasp a key concept of a unit.

Kim Carter, executive director of QED Foundation, is a big supporter of competency-based learning.

“The choice is, do we want an education system that’s obsolete or do we want a system that is valued and creates value,” Carter said. The foundation offers training, coaching and consulting that focuses on student agency, as well as communities of collaboration both inside and outside school. Eventually, she says, that pace should be negotiated, with the student gradually taking over more responsibility for her learning.

Competency-based education is gaining momentum across the country. Already New Hampshire and Maine schools have transitioned to the model. Schools in Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, and many other states are following suit. The Common Core State Standards are also pointing in the direction of requiring competency rather than just a passing grade. Though Carter says the language of the Common Core favors performance-based assessments — students will have to show what they can do — she thinks it’s unfortunate that a test will measure the learning, because at best, a test approximates meaningful assessment, but does not demonstrate real-world application of knowledge.

“The standardized tests that allow us to compare across states tell us nothing about the individual,” Carter said. “They were not designed to tell us anything about the individual; they are designed to measure the effectiveness of programs. That’s a very different thing.”

If learning becomes more personalized, tests should too. “The whole idea of competency is the ability to apply, document, and defend your learning,” Carter said. She proposes that schools use a common rubric to assess “uncommon learning.” In other words, she proposes teachers need to be strict in their expectations and required criteria, but more flexible in terms of how a student gets there. Students don’t all have to read the same book or create the same project, but they do have to demonstrate that they understand and can use the core competencies.

If a student gets 50 percent in a class in a traditional school, she fails and has to repeat the course or grade level until she scores higher, even if the score means that she understood half the material. Forcing her to repeat everything is inefficient and puts the student at a disadvantage for the rest of her academic career. In competency-based classrooms, students relearn and demonstrate competencies in only the areas that challenge them before moving forward.

“‘Batch and queue’ is horribly inefficient and destroys kids’ concept of self,” Carter said. “It’s likemanufacturing, where you put everything through the same system and compare it to standards at the end. If it doesn’t match, put it through again.”

CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION

Shifting to a truly competency-based system means big changes for schools and would produce a ripple effect. “If you are truly going to go competency based and not just have a veneer of change, it will require retooling our systems,” said Carter.

Teacher training tailored to a competency-based education system is still one of the biggest hurdles. Many training courses have been the same for decades and don’t reflect some of the changing trends in education, Carter said. Successfully implementing a competency-based system is no easy feat — it means valuing what a child can demonstrate he knows, rather than assuming a correctly answered test question signifies he can apply that knowledge.

“Competency-based education is a huge shift, not just in terms of actual practices, or what we do in the classroom, or how we document what happens in the classroom, but a change in what we believe,” Carter said. And teachers need to act their way into believing, they can’t just be told to do it. She points to nursing or other higher education programs that ensure graduates have the basic skills and competencies before they can progress as good models to follow.

The other big barrier is teacher evaluations. Right now teachers are assessed by how well students do on a test. But understanding how well a student really knows the material should take more than that, just as teacher assessments should be based on more data points, Carter said. Teachers and students are trapped in the same system, one that is at odds with competency-based models.

“Our whole evaluation system is pretty young in the sense that we have only a few rudimentary means of assessing what students know,” Carter said.

Ultimately, teachers need to be trained and supported in the same way as students. And for both groups the standards have to mean something. Carter fears that if the education system continues as it has been, it will not only be obsolete, it will provide diplomas that have little validity.

Image: Mike 1952 via Flickr cc

America’s Promissory Note . . . Still Outstanding

bart-simpson-chalkboard-wallpaper-generatorIn a startling article in the New York Times, columnist Charles M. Blow lays out some statistics published in a recent UNICEF report that should equally appall and inspire us. He writes,

According to the report, the United States has the second highest share of children living under the relative poverty line, defined as 50 percent of each country’s median income, and the second largest “child poverty gap” (the distance between the poverty line and the median incomes of those below the line).

The United States ranked 25th out of 29 in the percentage of people 15 to 19 years old who were enrolled in schools and colleges and 23rd in the percentage of people in that cohort not participating in either education, employment or training.

When we consider the gravity of the challenges these young people face, both in terms of early educational opportunities and educational outcomes, we can’t help but confront our own moral and ethical responsibility to fulfill what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

We must work together to reverse these trends and actualize a better tomorrow . . . starting today.

Below are some additional facts Mr 100mg viagra. Blow provided that are both sobering and enlightening.

In fact, according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:

2 mothers die in childbirth.

4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.

5 children or teens commit suicide.

7 children or teens are killed by firearms.

67 babies die before their first birthdays.

892 babies are born at low birth weight.

914 babies are born to teen mothers.

1,208 babies are born without health insurance.

1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.

2,712 babies are born into poverty.

2,857 high school students drop out.

4,475 babies are born to unmarried mothers.

Image: Simpson Chalkboard Generator
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Year At Mission Hill – Chapter 6: Like a Family

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The idea of living “like a family” is explored, like other topics within the school, as a community — among faculty, students, parents, and every combination thereof. Faculty see parents as partners, and talk about trust, cooperation, and communication as building blocks of that key relationship. The footage shows interactions between parents, teachers, and students — the kind of interactions that shape the culture of the school and ultimately shapes the experience students have day in and day out.

How to Increase Group IQ

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The following is a guest post by Annie Paul Murphy – book author, magazine journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better. This post was originally published on her site, The Brilliant Blog.

What makes a group intelligent? That is: what enables a team of people to effectively solve problems and produce solutions? You might think a group’s IQ would be simply the average intelligence of the group’s members, or perhaps the intelligence of the team’s smartest participant. But researchers who study groups have found that this isn’t so.

Rather, a group’s intelligence emerges from the interactions that go on within the group. A team’s intelligence can be measured, and like an individual’s IQ score, it can accurately predict the team’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. And just as an individual’s intelligence is malleable and expandable (a big theme of The Brilliant Blog), a group’s intelligence can also be increased. Here, seven suggestions to guide the development of smart teams:

1. Choose team members carefully. The smartest groups are composed of people who are good at reading each others’ social cues, according to a study led by Carnegie Mellon University professor Anita Williams Woolley and published in the journal Science. (Woolley and her collaborators also found that groups that included a greater number of women were more intelligent—but the researchers think this is because women tend to be more socially sensitive than men.)

2. Share the floor. On the most intelligent teams, found Woolley et al., members take turns speaking. Participants who dominate the discussion, or who hang back and don’t say much, both bring down the intelligence of the group.

3. Talk about the “how.” Many members of teams don’t like to spend time talking about “process,” preferring to get right down to work—but Woolley notes that groups who take the time to discuss how they will work together are ultimately more efficient and effective.

4. Make sure members spend time face-to-face. L. Michelle Bennett and Howard Gadlin, two high-level administrators at the National Institutes of Health, performed in-depth interviews with members of five teams of NIH scientists. The conclusions they drew from these interviews, published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine, point to the importance of bridging the physical distance between the members of a team. The most successful collaborations assembled regularly for video conferences, or better yet, in-person meetings.

5. Foster informal social connections among members. Sandy Pentland, an MIT professor who studies group dynamics, has found that the smartest teams spend a lot of time communicating outside of formal meetings. He tells of a call center where team members’ coffee breaks were staggered across the workday. Changing the schedule so that all the members of a team had a coffee break at the same time led the workers to do their work more efficiently and to feel more satisfied with their jobs.

6. “Modularize” the work to be done. Bennett and Gadlin of the NIH advise groups to break up big tasks into distinct chunks that can be distributed among team members. Just because you’re working together doesn’t mean each member must have a spoon in every pot. Make sure that the correct incentives are in place, too: if your teammate’s boss rewards individual achievement but not productive collaboration, it won’t be long before your team falls apart.

7. Make contingency plans. While no one wants to think about it in the exciting early days of a project, group ventures do sometimes fail—so it’s important for prospective team members to write and sign what Gadlin calls a “prenuptial agreement,” spelling out how responsibilities are to be allocated, how credit is to be awarded—and who gets custody of the work if the collaboration should falter.

Abstracts of the studies mentioned here can be found on my blog.

Photo Credit: Lin Schorr via Compfight cc

Stop Deficit-Model Thinking

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This is a guest post by Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, PA. This post was originally published on Chris’s site, Practical Theory.

A few years ago, a vendor for one of the many online tutorial companies was giving a presentation at a principals’ meeting. The vendor was talking about how students could work independently and teachers could get an instant report of all of their deficits.

I raised my hand.

“Does your software have a joy report?”

“Excuse me?”

“How about a passion report? Is there anything in your software that tells me what my students enjoy or are passionate about or are even really good at?”

The conversation didn’t go well from there.

Whether we are talking about students or schools, too much of the conversation about education deals with fixing what is broken. There is article after article about all the weaknesses our students have, where we fall on the international tests, or what schools did not make AYP, or at perhaps the most cruel – which teacher ranked lowest in Los Angeles — an article that may have resulted in a teacher’s suicide. (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/local/la-me-south-gate-teacher-20100928)

And in schools all over America, students are forced to “learn” in a way that befits deficit model thinking. We make sure that students are doubled and tripled up in the subjects they are worst at. Schools are reducing the amount of time students have music and phys-ed and even science so that kids have more time to raise their test scores. It is as if the sole purpose of schooling for many kids is just to make sure that they are slightly less bad at the things they are worst at.

We have created a schooling environment where the sole purpose seems to be to ameliorate the worst of abilities our students have, rather than nurture the best of who they are. We have created a public environment where “reforms” label schools as failing without ever stepping foot in them on the basis of one metric.

This has to stop.

And it has to stop, not because we should accept the current educational landscapes as the best we can hope for, but because the “fix what is broken” model is getting in the way of the evolution we need.

If we want kids to care about their education, we are going to have to encourage their passions.

If we want kids to believe in themselves, we will have to help them build on their strengths, not just mitigate their weaknesses.

If we want parents to believe that we see the best in their children, we have to remember to reach out, not just when something bad happens, but when something good happens too.

And if we are to ask students and teachers and communities to dream big about what they want the future of school to be, we have to ask them to take risks. We have to ask them to see beyond their current structures to envision the possible.

Deficit-model thinking will never get us there.

Yes, we need to make sure that we help kids to mitigate their weaknesses. Yes, we need to make sure that schools are doing right by the kids they teach. But we must do that without creating an environment – in schools and about schools – that makes all of us in school think the worst of ourselves. 

Photo Credit: .:AnnetteB:. via Compfight cc

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 5: The Eye of the Dragon

missionhillSo much of the language that we know to be valuable in education comes alive at Mission Hill. Art. Empowerment. Choice. Voice. Inspiration. Creativity. Student experts. Student teachers. Community.

Every year they employ a school wide theme that aims for depth and breadth throughout the school. This year’s, “Long Ago and Far Away,” and the students share a seam of study (though not necessarily specific content) that everyone can relate to, no matter the age.

Narrowing the Digital Divide Between High and Low Income Students

No-Cell-Phone-Sign-S-4979In a recent post at KQED/Mindshift, Tina Barseghian reports on the work of Michael Mills, a professor of Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Arkansas, who advocates for closing the digital divide between high and low income students.  He argues that increasing access to digital devices can play a role in empowering low income students by opening pathways to information and social media, and by proxy, achievement. Ms. Barseghian cites a recent study reported at Mashable that demonstrated a 30% increase in test scores for low income students who were allowed to use mobile devices for learning and collaborating.

However, access and usage in schools vary along economic lines. The higher the income of the student body, the greater the availability and application of digital tools. Dr. Mills argues that this trend could be a matter of expectations and perhaps even “blatant racism” in the form of adults assuming that low income (read as minority) students will misuse digital domains. Ms. Barseghian quotes him as saying,

Access is a basic right. It’s the same as roads or clean water or electricity. Those are [accessible] here in this country because we expect it. The same thing should apply to the Internet. The Internet is about empowerment. If we take away this access because we think certain people aren’t going to use it right, we’re no better than governments who take away voting rights from minorities.

Ms. Barseghian goes on to provide a list of 11 ways that Dr. Mills suggests educators can work to narrow the divide.

HOW TO NARROW THE DIVIDE

For educators who want to start chipping away at the divide, Mills listed a number of ways.

1.   GIVE STUDENTS ACCESS.
Many Title 1 schools — those in low-income communities — receive funds and grants, but don’t always buy what they need. If they have enough funds, Mills said schools should invest in a 1-1 program — a device for every student.

2.   GIVE STUDENTS PROMPTS

Whether it’s the school that provides the device, or whether students are allowed to use their own, it’s important to give them guidance on how to use those devices for learning. “Students do not generally use their personal technology for learning activities unprompted,” he said. “We have to provide them with prompts.”

Educators should also be instrumental in guiding student etiquette with devices. For students who use text-speak and shorthand when handing in assignments, teachers can ask them to proofread and resend until the assignments are up to par. “We can teach them to use mobile literacy to help themselves,” he said.

3.   PROVIDE INSTRUCTIONAL OBJECTIVES.
“We need to think about what we are teaching,” Mills said. “This is not technology — this is Pedagogy 101.” Educators must understand the dotted line between an assigned activity and the instructional objective, which should be tied to learning skills.

4.   MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE.
Just giving kids a number where they can reach you has “exponential impact,” Mills said. “Just that small gesture tells kids you’re available.” For those who don’t feel comfortable giving students their phone numbers, Mills suggests using a Google voice account, which students can call and leave messages.

5.   INVITE OBSERVERS TO YOUR MOBILE ENHANCED CLASS.
Parents, other teachers, and administrators will learn a lot from watching how kids can plug into learning by using their devices. During their visits, talk about the upward trajectory of kids you’ve noticed who have benefited from the change.

6.   INVENTORY THE DEVICES.
Keep track of who owns what kind of device (especially after the holidays when kids receive new ones). This way, you can create flexible, shifting groups to make sure there’s a good variety of devices in every group. Don’t place all the iPhone 5 users in one group — mix them up to promote equity.

7.   USE DISCRETION.
Be careful not to publicly call out kids who don’t have a device when organizing groups. Use common sense and compassion.

8.   USE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE.
If the school has 10 Kindles, find ways to use them in your class. If it has six iPods or 30 computers, don’t let them collect dust. Even the oldest computers can be fired up for basic research.

9.   REFRAME PRODUCTIVITY.
Sitting quietly doesn’t exemplify productivity, Mills said. If you have flexible processes, you can give students different ways of understanding.

10.   TEACH PROCESS NOT CONTENT.
All educators, but especially those who teach low-income students, need to be open to students’ ideas of showing what they’ve learned. If they don’t want to write a blog, but want to create a video, be open to it.

11.   VALUE COLLABORATION.
Promote group work and project based learning.

While these can make a difference at a classroom and school level, what can we do on a larger societal level to change the game for low income students when it comes to digital access and technological empowerment?

Image: SmartSigns

 

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 4 Love and Limits

Working and playing — essential components of learning and keystones for establishing both the love and limits that create a safe space for each student. The question of how to best set appropriate boundaries within a loving context became all the more important because Mission Hill is a full inclusion school, meaning students with exceptionalities are not pulled out and separated from their peers.

This chapter unpacks the false dichotomy between social emotional learning and academic learning, looking instead at how they inform one another.

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