Friday, December 28, 2012

What I've Been (Re)Reading in 2012

Looking for a good read to kickstart 2013? Here is a selection of some of the books I’ve (re)read during 2012 that have really influenced my thinking. Thanks to those of you who recommended them to me through your tweets and reflective blog posts! If you know of another worthwhile read, I’d love for you to share it with me!
Drive (Daniel Pink)
A great read for teachers leaders and administrators who are interested in learning about what intrinsically motivates people. Pink’s big three are autonomymastery andpurpose. Big questions I’m once again asking myself…How can we create the conditions where all teachers are intrinsically motivated to be learners? What frameworks/models can we apply to increase student-driven learning?

Shifting the Monkey (Todd Whitaker)
Another good one for leaders. Whitaker shows how to shift an organization’s focus from compensating for and working around people to cultivating and supporting responsible employees. I’ve definitely identified some ‘monkeys’ I’m carrying. The challenge for me is to shift these ‘monkeys’ back to whom they belong to!

Start with Why (Simon Sinek)
“People don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it!”  Sinek discusses what inspires us and the people around us. This is a natural complement to Drive. I’ve realized that often times I’m too quick to share ‘what’ I’d like to see without fully sharing the ‘why’. I may know the ‘why’ for myself, but I will only inspire action if I share the ‘why’ with those I hope to influence.

I found this a really easy read that touches on a variety of educational technology topics. Anyone interested in exploring ways to use digital technologies in schools can benefit from this one.  I will continue to revisit sections of this book as we explore ways to engage teachers, students and parents through digital technologies.

Tom’s book has really made me question some of my beliefs about assessment and grading. The biggest point I continue to reflect on having read Tom’s book is the impact that grades can have on student motivation.

It’s all about Thinking (Faye Brownlie, Carole Fullerton & Leyton Schnellert)
Having just participated in one of Leyton’s workshops a few weeks ago, I’m very interested in reading about practical strategies we can use to differentiate for all learners. Many of the ideas he shared in his workshop (and I anticipate are shared in this book), Leyton modelled when we co-taught 17 years ago.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Earning or Learning?

Just over a week ago, we distributed first term report cards to students. In the days that led up to this, many of the comments I overheard students say reminded me of the question, "Is the focus on earning or learning?"

Here are a few examples of students comments:

"I have to get the assignment done. I need the marks so I pass the term!"

"I'm already getting an ok mark in that class. I need to spend time studying for the test in the (other) class so I can raise my mark for the report card."

"It's marks cut-off time. I have to finish it before the cut-off otherwise it'll be too late and won't be counted towards my report card mark."

"Whatever...I totally don't know what I'm doing in that class. I'm failing anyways. What's the point in doing the assignment?"

"Seriously, why does every teacher have to give us a test right before marks cut-off? Couldn't some of them wait until next week? I need to keep my grades up and this is stressing me out!"

When I hear comments such as these, a number of things come to mind about these kids.

Their motivation to do the work and study for tests is marks and grades.

Not even the threat of a low mark/grade is enough to motivate some students.

Our obsession with marks and inflexibility about due dates is causing stress for some students.

Sadly, these kids seem more interested and concerned about earning marks than learning.
Is their focus on marks something they have arrived at independently or have we, as educators placed such a high value on marks that we have coached them into this thinking this way?

I think back to the beginning of my career, full of energy but very inexperienced. I remember wanting my students to believe that every class period is important. So, I attached marks to almost everything my students did. This would teach them to come to class and hand in all their I thought! By the end of a term/year my marks book was bursting with entries. Of course, I figured the mark I would assign each student would have to be valid. I'd have so many entries as evidence to back it up.

But what I started to notice is that my students were asking lots of questions about their marks, how to gain more and how much an assignment/test would be worth. Fewer and fewer of my students'  questions related to their learning. Rather than motivating my struggling learners, many were getting overwhelmed and turned off by a lack of success. They were disengaging, withdrawing and some were avoiding class. The impact on the higher achieving students was no better. They were becoming so consumed with point gathering that they were afraid to make mistakes and they were no longer asking deep questions. The constant pressure of meeting deadlines and having their work judged was contributing to leading to anxiety and in some cases caused them to cheat!

As I look back, I realize I was really missing the point.

I should have placed much greater emphasis on formative assessment.

I should have provided greater opportunity for students to make mistakes without punishing them in the gradebook.

I should have provided much more descriptive feedback that would point out to students what and how to improve.

I should have been more flexible with my arbitrarily decided due dates.

When determining grades, I should have exercised my professional judgment when looking at the data I had collected on each student. Data should be nothing more than a guide.

So now think about the students in your class..."Is their focus on earning or learning?"