Learning Transcends School

Learning Transcends School

Learning Transcends School

Do you believe learning happens only at school? Probably not.

Yet somehow, we act like it’s true. It’s like the matrix – a kind of false sense of reality. It’s similar to “God is experienced only at church.” Hogwash. God is everywhere. And learning happens everywhere, too.

For years, we have conditioned them that learning occurs in specific subjects, in specific rooms, at specific times, in specific desks. If there isn’t a grade attached to it, they may not be interested. Such conditioning limits the possibilities of learning and metacognition.

This week, we challenged students to discuss and upload examples of “learning outside the school.” It was more difficult than you might imagine.

Students met with their Conference Mentors and were asked to answer the following questions and upload at least one image, drawing, video etc, in their eportfolios/blogs…

– Describe something significant you have learned in your life “outside” of school.

– What do you like to do when you are not school? What activities, interests, and topics are most motivated to learn more about?

– Outside of school, what is something you are proud of?

– If school was abolished completely, what would you do all day? How would you spend your time?

What have you learned “outside of school?” How do adults continue to learn without the structure of “school” after “school” is completed?

Expanding the Learning Measures

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How might we expand the ways we monitor student progress and the measures of learning beyond quantitative, numerical systems that are not always reliable?

Since May, eight dedicated educators have engaged in four summer grant opportunities to accelerate the work of our entire team, all with the purpose of expanding our ability to measure and monitor student progress and learning.

While our Middle School continues to use a quantitative, numerical grading scale (0-100), we have been working to add additional, qualitative gauges to our dashboard, with the purposes of greater student engagement and ownership, and making learning visible.

The (XLR8) summer grants include:

  • Assessment – Not only a summer grant, but also a school-wide focus for the upcoming year, assessment is a powerful tool in the professional educator’s design kit. This grant will survey the research and narrow the focus into practical applications for teachers. Formative and summative, constructed and selected response, assessment for and of learning, authentic and real-world vs traditional; all of these topics will be explored and expanded.
  • ePortfolios – An ePortfolio is a collection of examples of a learner’s work which may be used for evaluation, information, and celebration. It is a visible record of learning including reflections which provide a representation of student achievement and a set of targets the School wishes to communicate. It includes two sections: the collection and the showcase. The showcase is used to display the best work, like a published collection of a writer’s best work, yet it often includes pieces in it that have been revised or show growth over time.
  • Student Led Conferences – Middle School students will lead two conferences with teachers and parents in 2015-2016 (one Fall, one Spring). The conferences will give meaning to ePortfolios, as well as focus on the quality of work, reflection, and organization skills. Benefits of SLCs include more involved parents, increased student motivation and ownership of learning, meeting standards/learning outcomes, and celebrating each student’s unique passions and interests. The goal of this grant is to research, develop, and communicate the best strategies for implementing student led conferences in Middle School.
  • Badging – A badge is a validated display of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in any learning environment. Badges can represent traditional academic achievement or the acquisition of skills such as collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and other skills. They can be earned by people of all ages, from kindergartners on up, and they can make any notable accomplishments visible to anyone and everyone, including potential employers, teachers, and peer communities. In addition to finding new ways to engage and motivate students, the goal of this grant is to iterate and develop not only a suite of actual badges and criteria, but also a system for how they are issued and displayed, ultimately, in coordination with MVIFI.

 

 

Why ePortfolios? Workspace & Showcase

If you try to follow #eportfolios on twitter, you may be disappointed. When you search and view samples of ePortfolios on the internet, you will find several schools with templates and beginnings. You won’t find many quality ones in the grade levels proceeding college. At least I haven’t yet. Many of them appear more like resumes than an instrument that not only documents learning but accelerates it, too.

This summer, our team is designing an ePortfolio for students spanning Preschool through Grade 12. The team consists of representatives from Preschool, Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School working together to create one cohesive platform. It will look a little different at each level to meet the needs of the students. For example, Preschoolers will require greater teacher assistance to curate, reflect, and upload their demonstrations of learning while Upper School students will possess greater autonomy.

Regardless of age, what is the purpose of student ePortfolios? Why do they exist? Why should they exist?

As a Workspace…

1. Document Student Learning – At a national level (and elsewhere), when we hear about the state of education, we hear about test scores. There are so many better and alternative ways to measure student growth and performance. ePortfolios lend themselves to constructed learning by design. The status quo for assessing student learning is and has been selected response learning (ex: multiple choice questions, give me four choices and I will select one. this tends to require little critical or creative thinking). Schools must employ a comprehensive and balanced approach to assessments. Teachers must design more units and assessments that encourage and require students to construct a unique and original response.

2. Accelerate Student Learning – Students who actively engage in their learning not only retain more knowledge but develop higher order thinking skills. Are we only force feeding content and standards? When do students get to choose their own learning path and pursue unique interests? An ePortfolio must include student reflection. It must include feedback from peers, teachers, parents, and external experts. It is a way to engage the greater community and inspire others to deeper learning or new discoveries.

As a Showcase…

3. Serve as a Discussion Starter for Student Led Parent Conferences – Have you ever wondered why parent teacher conferences often exclude the most important party; the student? Sometimes, it is more appropriate for the adults to meet, but I think we miss an opportunity to not only include the student in the conference, but to ask them to lead it. As they lead, students should leverage their e-portfolio as the starting point to showcase their learning and even highlight their areas of struggle, too.

4. Serve as a Discussion Starter for College Acceptance/Interviews – What does the SAT measure? And why do we care? Why do we put so much weight and emphasis on a limited tool with a narrow frame. How do we measure creativity? Ethical decision making? As a Director of Admissions, I relied on a comprehensive approach that included standardized test scores, but we did not hang our hat on them at the exclusion of other gauges including the required items (transcripts, interviews, application questions, writing samples, recommendations) and the un-required touch points (every interaction was a chance to get to know an applicant, to ask questions, observe behavior, and communicate an expectation. many team members were included in the interactions.) It takes more time to be thorough and relational. It is simply easier to pin it all on a test taken on a Saturday morning. Kinda lazy yet convenient. And a money making machine, too. I’d like to see more authentic measures begin to take over.

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What other purposes can you think of for a student ePortfolio? Also, what questions do you have? Please share.

#2 Introducing Your Newest Team Member: Gandalf

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Organizing and improving all of the goals, events, reflections, feedback, ideas, touch points, and priorities that occur in the life of a school from year to year is like drinking from a fire hose. I am constantly seeking out new ways to be more effective and efficient at managing and leading. This Spring I had a breakthrough.

In the summer of 2005, I took a week long course at Oglethorpe University through the College Board for certification to teach AP World History. The instructor was Larry Treadwell. I will never forget him. In one week, my approach to teaching was reshaped. It was a defining moment in my career as an educator.

Mr. Treadwell unchained me from the textbook and empowered me to rely primarily on primary sources. “A document a day makes the DQB okay.” He gave me permission to have ridiculously high standards for my students. I took an entire legal pad worth of notes. I retyped them the next week and shared them with my teammate Elliott Rountree (a master AP teacher, Academic Team coach, entrepreneur (ACE Quiz Bowl Camps), and Jeopardy contestant.

There were countless ideas and strategies that I experimented with and adopted that year (my first year as an AP teacher will make for a good future post – it was a year of tremendous professional and personal growth). And then there was one simple idea: George.

Mr. Treadwell suggested that we get an empty box and label it George. As we created new material and handed out copies (this was pre-Google Docs/paperless classrooms), we were to give a handout to George, too. Thus, at the end of the semester, we would have a copy of our entire work in order, in one place. Simple and genius.

I followed Mr. Treadwell’s instructions and was pleased at the end of the semester to have all of my work for the course in one mostly organized pile. I was then able to develop it, improve it, add to it, delete from it, etc.

This Spring, I adapted and welcomed George to the 21st century. He is now a Google Doc named Gandalf. He is not longer a student in my AP World History classroom who receives handouts. He is now a member of my leadership team who serves as a calendar, curator, and administrative assistant for the rest of our team. Gandalf solves problems.

Interested in having your own Gandalf? Here’s what you do…

1. Create a blank Google Doc and paste all key dates for 2013-2014

2. Go through your endless list of Google Docs (if you’re like me, you receive 2-3 new ones each day from creative team members)

3. Link every single Google Doc to a specific date on the calendar. (ie – Orientation, 1st Pep Rally, Faculty Meetings, etc.)

4. Share the document with your leadership team. Ask them to add their documents by linking them to specific dates.

5. Sit down and review/revise the document with your team to make sure all is included and accurate. 

6. As new documents arrive, you must link them into Gandalf or delete them. No stray documents.

Presto! You have just organized your entire upcoming school year in a collaborative way. 

* It is a living, organic document whose maintenance is never complete.

Gandalf Screen Shot