Jeff Jarvis Would Be Our Ambassador To The Digital Natives . . .

Jarvis, J. (2009). What would Google do?. New York: HarperCollins.

I first learned about this author and blogger (buzzmachine.com) when I heard him as one of the weekly panelists on an amazing podcast I listen to called This Week in Google. I know you’re thinking, “seriously you listen to a weekly podcast about a search engine?” But of course google is not just a search engine, and the podcast is not just about google, but is a comprehensive weekly update of the exponential changes that are happening in the open information revolution due to the major cloud networks and mobile software platforms (Android, iOS).
Jarvis and the other genius panelist Gina Trapani (Smarterware.org) are especially fascinating because they are generally advocates of open-source everything. As an educator, I am especially invested in keeping up to date with this perspective, as I believe it will have a huge impact on our work in the next 10 years as we will no longer be able to resist the inevitable shift to open curicula and 1-1 learning devices for students. I think it will actually be much less than 10 years, but I have underestimated the institutional inertia of public schools before. For example, when I first read Clayton Christensen’s Disrupting Class, he had me convinced it was 5 years away. That was 2008.
This Jarvis book is generally written for businesses, and there are only 8 pages that speak directly to the impact this revolution will have on schools. However, it is still worth everyone reading (or at least start listening to the TWIG podcast), because it is easy to transfer the massive disruptions these changes are making in business to our work in schools. Jarvis identifies 8 new rules of the google age, but 3 of the 8 are especially disruptive in education.
– Customers are now in charge. They can be heard around the globe and have an impact on huge institutions in an instant.
– The most successful enterprises today are networks-which extract as little value as possible so they can grow as big as possible-and the platforms on which those networks are built.
– Owning pipelines, people, products, or even intellectual property is no longer the key to success. Openness is. (p.1-2*)
If you replace “customers” with “students” and “success” with “learning” in the above quote you start to get the idea of how revolutionary these ideas will inevitably be in a public high school.
Jarvis is one of the best communicators of the idea I discussed in last week’s post from Milton Chen that “the lecture is dead”. This will be the first and most obvious impact 1-1 programs will have on high school teachers. I already saw this in my doctorate classes as we all had laptops and could factcheck our professors on the fly. Jarvis explains the new realities of schools succinctly.
All the world’s digital knowledge is available at a search. We can connect those who want to know with those who know. We can link students to the best teachers for them (who may be fellow students). We can find experts on any topic. Textbooks need no longer be petrified on pages but can link to information and discussion; they can be the products of collaboration, updated and corrected, answering questions and giving quizzes, even singing and dancing.” (p.225*)
 “Curating” is a word Jarvis uses a lot in his work. Basically the idea is that information is power, but the trick is no longer in having enough information. Instead the trick is being able to sort through all of the information that is out there and like a museum curator, put that knowledge into some kind of coherent story that can convey meaning, express ideas, and solve problems.
Put simply, the digital natives in our classroom understand that the concept of the teacher presenting one version of knowledge is an antiquity. They understand that learning is now about curating and utilizing extant knowledge to solve problems. It is no wonder our students often disengage from instruction that focuses on consuming one version of knowledge. They understand the skills they need to be happy and successful are curation and creation.
This does not mean we should close our schools, give kids a google tablet and trust they will learn everything they need to in time to have a fulfilling life. I still need a job after all! Don’t disintermediate school administrators! :) We still need schools because the skills of curation and creation are sophisticated and do not develop organically. The internet makes schools as conveyers of knowledge obsolete, but makes schools as developers of curation, creation, and collaboration skills even more essential.
The last major impact Jarvis identifies for teachers and administrators is the shift towards open curricula learning. The days of each teacher, school, or district having its own unique snowflake of a curriculum for its students will also soon be gone. The common core standards, developed since his book was published, are quickly helping us stop arguing over the “what” of our work.
The “how” certainly need not be the same in every classroom, as that is where the art of pedagogy takes over. However, the best designed curricula for the courses we teach will soon be a living online document that we should all utilize, edit, and improve. If a U.S. History curriculum written by a district wide team of teachers is better than one written by just me, imagine how good one written by a world wide team of teachers would be!
Jeff Jarvis would be our ambassador to the digital natives, because although he is not a digital native himself, he understands how to explain to them that we are slowly coming to terms with the reality that we need to do more than hand them a 4 lb. textbook and one version of knowledge. We may be going there kicking and screaming, but we are going there . . .
* Page numbers are from the Google Books E-Edition :)
Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Robert Barr Would Be Our Instructional Coach . . .

Milton Chen would Head our Office of Innovation and Improvement . . .


Chen, M. (2010). Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Milton Chen was a director of research for Sesame Street and Electric Company in the 1970s and 80s, so that should be enough to immediately make you a fan. He is currently one of the people behind the awesome web site Edutopia.org that is one of the great clearinghouses out there for what works and where it is being done in real classrooms. The book introduces some challenging ideas for changing the ways we help kids learn, while maintaining an even-handed tone that never becomes absolute and divisive. None of these ideas are totally new; they are things we have been arguing about in grad classes for the last ten years. Chen’s contribution here is that he compiles all the big things we need to be doing in one place along with real, concrete examples of where they are being done in real life. He divides the book into the six categories of change we need to be tackling, which he calls “edges”. They are:
The Thinking Edge: “changing our thinking about the enterprise itself” (p.11)
The Curriculum Edge: “transforming what students are taught and how their learning is assessed” (p.35)
The Technology Edge:  putting digital tools in the hands of all students and utilizing them to improve learning (p.87)
The Time/place Edge – “destruction of the old view of education happening within the four walls of the classroom, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.” (p.139)
The Co-Teaching Edge – “teachers, experts, and parents as coeducators” (p.189)
The Youth Edge: Capitalizing on the abilities of “digital learners, carrying change in their pockets” (p.213)
The whole theme of the book is very positive, while still calling for pretty ambitious changes in the way we do business. The title of the book embodies this theme, as Chen calls for us to “Imagine an Education Nation, a learning society where the education of children and adults is the highest national priority, on par with a strong economy, high employment, and national security.” (p.1)
The proactive tone he takes throughout is what really attracted me and made it a really quick, light read.  One of my favorite sections of the book is where he calls out our profession at large for the either/or debates we get into over issues that are really not zero-sum black and white issues. He advises us to stop debating two good things as absolutes (i.e. basic skills v. higher order thinking) and stop the destructive process by which educators “dig in their heels, sharpen their opposing points of view, hone their debating skills, and publish their op-ed pieces.” (p.22)
This really captures one of my own personal pet peeves which is when you can see people dismiss an idea out of hand, before it is even fully explained, because they have decided it aligns too closely with some previous idea that they did not like. I really see the urgency in our work being our ability to respond to increasing expectations and demands from stakeholders outside of our field effectively as a unified profession. The last thing we need to be doing is arguing amongst ourselves.
I also enjoyed his celebration of “the death of the lecture as we know it” as, thanks to google, “students now know that there are multiple versions of knowledge about a topic with varying lengths, depths, points of view, and media.”(p.118-119) He then shares a story from Edutopia about a teacher who gives students video lectures to choose from prior to the lesson, then uses handhelds to assess mastery at the beginning of the next day’s class. The teacher then uses the feedback from this class-opening formative assessment to provide targeted instruction in support of the concepts and skills the students most struggled to understand.
This method has been labeled “flipping” by some schools that have adopted programs where they use online resources such as Kahn Academy to move away from the idea that the teacher is the sole source of information on a topic and towards the role of the teacher as the primary support to help students learn the information. After all, any cab driver who watches The History Channel can give you a lecture about Roosevelt’s programs during The New Deal. The true art of pedagogy that we all went to school for is to help students when they struggle to learn or aren’t motivated to learn. The cab driver can’t do that!
Chen also makes an impassioned plea for more Project Based Learning (PBL), because “in investigating open-ended questions, students must decide for themselves which sources of information are most valuable.” (p.41) This is again not a new idea, but Chen provides really great real-school examples, many chronicled on the Edutopia web site, of how these innovations can be put into action. One example that resonated with me as a former AP social studies teacher was a curriculum for AP U.S. Government and Politics in Bellevue, Washington that was wholly designed around Project Based Learning challenges (p.43-46). Not only was the curriculum outlined, but results from a quasi-experimental comparison study were presented as evidence of the curriculum’s impact.
In a perfect school, Milton Chen would be our Director of Innovation and Improvement because he would not allow us to pay lip service to innovative reform without actually supporting its implementation in real classrooms. He would stop letting us talk about teaching 21st Century Skills unless we were actually doing it.
Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Jeff Jarvis Would Be Our Ambassador To The Digital Natives . . .

Rick Stiggins Would be Our Director of Assessment . . .



Scriven, M. (1967). The methodology of evaluation. In R. W. Tyler, R. M. Gagné & M. Scriven (Eds.), Perspectives of curriculum evaluation (Vol. 1, pp. 39-83). Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

Stiggins, R., Arter, J., Chappuis, J., & Chappuis, S. (2011). Classroom assessment for student learning: Doing It right-using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Stiggins, R. (2005). From formative assessment to assessment FOR learning: A path to success in standards-based schools. Phi Delta Kappan. 87(3), 324-328.

So why would the perfect school pay the surely ridiculous fee Rick Stiggins would charge to work for us full-time? Because assessment is far more important now than it ever has been. We should be assessing kids more frequently now than ever before. I’m even willing to use the bad word for it: TESTING ! Sure, we should be testing students more now than ever before. But we should be doing so in a way that provides students frequent clear feedback about how they are progressing towards learning targets that are completely transparent. We should then make this information the focus of our daily instruction, so that students are constantly using the feedback from these assessments to help themselves move towards high expectations.

This kind of assessment is what was originally labeled “formative” by Michael Scriven in 1967 (Scriven, 1967). It is different than “summative” assessment, which is used to judge how a student is doing for some evaluative purpose such as a grade, and is most likely what springs to mind when you think of taking a traditional test. Formative assessment is what we need to be doing more of today. I warned you that this blog would sometimes be self-indulgent, so please allow me to go on a brief self-indulgent rant as to why:

Forty years ago, infrequent summative assessment fit the bill for a United States economy that still had an abundance of career options for high school graduates who never attended any college or vocational training after 12th grade. This economy of 40 years ago even had a good number of career options for students who didn’t graduate high school! There were still good union manufacturing jobs that could provide a comfortable middle class lifestyle, without requiring any kind of coursework after high school.

Very few of these career paths exist in 2011. Our high school graduates need to be college-ready, whether or not they plan to enroll, because any good job they take is going to require college level skills and additional high skill training. Meanwhile, the two most populous nations on the earth have greatly accelerated their educational attainment percentages, while a globalized economy is giving their workers access to jobs that were formally reserved for applicants who lived in the United States.

This current reality dictates that schools in the United States get out of the business of using infrequent summative assessments to sort kids, and into the work of using frequent formative assessments to help move as close to “all” kids as possible to high levels of academic achievement. It is no longer acceptable to be OK with a bell curve distribution of grades, that leads to a bell curve distribution of graduates, that enter a bell curve distribution of career paths – Oh wait, there is no bell curve distribution of career paths!

Now I understand that there is no getting away from the sorting business in the short term. Most colleges still request GPA and class rank. As a result, most parents demand that we sort students, as not doing so would make it more difficult for their child to distinguish themselves as exceptional when competing for scholarships and admission to selective schools. Still, we must commit ourselves to helping all students reach a reasonable set of outcomes that will prepare them for success in today’s world, while still allowing for competition among the students who exceed these core competencies.

OK, enough with the rant on our current reality and back to why formative assessment is so important to meeting the needs of our current reality.

Formative assessment, done well, provides frequent information to teachers about how the students in their class are doing in relation to clear learning targets identified for the course. Formative assessment done extremely well provides frequent constructive feedback to students to help them remain positive and resilient in the face of high expectations. In short, the best formative assessment is used by students and parents as well as teachers.

But allow me to let the man himself explain it to you:

It starts by providing students with a clear, student-friendly vision of the achievement target to be mastered, including models of strong and weak work. These examples reveal to learners where we want them to end up. Then the teacher provides learners with continuous access to descriptive feedback, which consists not merely of grades or scores but also of focused guidance specific to the learning target. Thus a foundation is laid for students to learn to self-assess and set goals. In this way, assessment FOR learning keeps students posted on where they are in relation to where they want be. By teaching students how to improve the quality of their work one dimension at a time and teaching them to monitor their own improvement over time, assessment FOR learning helps them close the gap between where they are now and where we want them to be. (Stiggins, 2005, p.328)
In a perfect school, Rick Stiggins would be our Director of Assessment because he would relentlessly challenge us to consider how much feedback we are providing to our students about how they are progressing towards our high expectations and how often we are availing them of this feedback. He would make high standards more accessible to a broader array of students by demanding that we provide clear learning targets for students to move towards with consistent indicators of progress. He would not allow us to have vague definitions of what success looks like, a few infrequent evaluations of who reached it, and a grim acceptance of bell curve outcomes. He would force us to adapt our assessment practices to our current reality.
Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Milton Chen Would Head Our Office of Innovation & Improvement . . .

 

Laura Desimone Would Evaluate our Professional Development Plan . . .

Desimone, L. (2011). A primer on effective professional development. Kappan, March 2011.

Desimone, L., Porter, A. C, Birman, B. F., Garet, M. S., & Yoon, K. S. (2002). How do district management and implementation strategies relate to the quality of the professional development that districts provide to teachers?. Teachers College Record, 104, 1265-1312.

Desimone, L., Smith, T., & Ueno, K. (2006). Are teachers who need sustained, content focused professional development getting it? An Administrator’s Dilemma. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42, 179-214.

Schmoker, M. (2006). Results now: How we can achieve unprecedented improvements in teaching and learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

OK. First of all, in a perfect school we would actually have a professional development plan. With increased mandates, much of the time previously available for adult learning has been reallocated to technical training for programs required by legislation. As a result, administrators often feel a pressure to use whatever available time that remains on staff development days for short “one-shot” workshops on hot topics. This too often results in a professional development plan by default; one that looks more like an adult learning buffet, where you can choose from a variety of food, but at the end of the meal you don’t really remember anything you ate. Mike Schmoker (2006) is smarter than me, and he says we too often “[strike] a strange bargain: if [teachers] sit through our workshops, we promise not to make any real claims on [their] time or practice” (p. 26). We don’t have enough time to have a sustained learning program, so therefore settle for isolated, scattershot workshops.
What would a well designed professional development plan look like? I would turn to Laura Desimone, who is a professor at The University of Pennsylvania who I discovered while doing the lit review for my dissertation. One of her studies aggregated national data from district professional development coordinators who received federal funding from the Eisenhower Professional Development Program. The study examined four key management and implementation strategies that could be isolated from the evaluation tool used in the program. The specific district management and implementation strategies examined were “(1) the alignment of professional development activities with state and district standards and assessments; (2) coordination among multiple professional development programs; (3) “continuous improvement” efforts based on indicators, needs assessments, evaluation, and guidance; and (4) how districts involve teachers and other school staff in planning professional development activities” (Desimone et al., 2002, p.1269).
These key factors became independent variables in my research on what an ideal implementation would prioritize. I will write more about implementation of professional development programs later in this blog. Initially though, I just want to emphasize Desimone’s more recent work where she identified  “a consensus on the main features of professional development that have been associated with changes in knowledge, practice, and, to a lesser extent, student achievement” (Desimone, 2011, p.68). Basically, what features the best professional development programs possess:
Active learning, described as teachers having “opportunities to get involved, such as observing and receiving feedback, analyzing student work, or making presentations, as opposed to passively sitting through lectures” (p.70).
Coherence, described as professional development programs that are “consistent with other professional development, with their knowledge and beliefs, and with school, district, and state reforms and policies” (p.70).
Collective participation, described as reflective participation by teachers in “professional development activities together to build an interactive learning community” (p.70).
Duration, qualified by professional development programs that are “spread over a semester and should include 20 hours or more of contact time” (p.70).
In a perfect school, each of our professional development programs would embody these features. These programs would also be implemented well, a topic I will address in a future post. The above features would seem to be common sense, so why don’t we see them more often realized in real life teacher professional development programs?
I would argue that the biggest reason these features are hard to achieve is that they require strategic, long-term planning. They require best-practice implementation of professional development which calls for a multi-year professional development plan. Our systems have the people power to develop these types of excellent plans, but those people are most often assigned to projects that are seen as higher priorities due to current realities (students reading below grade level) or legislative mandates (required bullying training). In the worst cases, principals are just not disciplined enough to say no to staff excited about a new hot topic. Too often professional development is seen as a non-essential meal, so it ends up being the $9.99 fast food buffet instead of a 4 hour Thanksgiving dinner, cooked with love.
Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Rick Stiggins Would Be Our Director of Assessment . . .