In our books, this just reaffirms that he is, in fact, The Boss.
When you design for the average, you design for no-one. He suggests instead we to need design for the extremes.
For anyone who has worked with students, it is an intuitive enough concept, in theory. Yet in application, it has proven challenging, especially in a climate fixated on norm reference test scores, where average is king (or queen). How do we design and deliver for the wide variability of students’ learning profiles when there is so much pressure to get all students to the same level in all subjects? The default has become education policies that claim to race to the top, but instead stagger for the middle, effectively limiting the extremes.
As Rose so eloquently demonstrates with a story from military history, in trying to target the average, we invariably isolate everyone.
What makes him an expert in this topic? He was a high school dropout with a 0.9 GPA who is now an author of “Square Peg” and a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education.
I’ve been to the very bottom of our educational system. I’ve been to the very top. I’m here to tell you that we are wasting so much talent at every single level. And the thing is, because for every single person like me, there are millions who worked as hard, who had the ability, but who were unable to overcome the drag of a educational environment designed on average. And their talent is forever lost to us.
Watch his talk above for more. We guarantee you will be even more inspired to cultivate that which makes your students unique, wonderful, and valuable to the well being of our communities.
One of the things we love about this talk is that it confirms what we intrinsically know to be true — innovation is more about interaction and engagement than sitting and listening.
Why is this important?
When we think about involving and investing all learners in education, we run up against the contrast between the traditional practices that sustain a factory “batch and queue” model of education with the reality of how people actually learn. Out of this contrast is born the dichotomous tension between focusing on efficiency and “teacher effectiveness” (an inherently top-down approach geared toward achievement on standardized tests) with that of focusing on the learners and their strengths/affinities/needs as a starting point (an inherently bottom-up approach focused on the whole child).
That the top-down version is currently the dominant paradigm is easy to see. There is more talk about accountability and outcomes than student engagement or motivation. Yet this video lays out the simple truth: innovation, via creativity, necessitates interaction and connections. If we want the strengths of dyslexia and other learning differences to be harnessed and applied, we need to think differently about how we involve students in learning. What is the role of the teacher? What is the role of the student? What patterns, norms, and habits of mind do we want for our graduates and what kind of learning experiences will help cultivate those?
Such questions will not be quickly answered. So, in the meantime, check out the clever video below.
This guest post by Bobbi Snow, co-founder of The Community Public Charter School in Charlottesville, VA, exposes the impact high stakes testing has her school’s neuro-diverse students and the teachers who work with them. It was originally published on Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog.
He was already exhausted and had 58 questions to go. On the second problem of the 8th grade math exam he was stuck for almost 30 minutes. This is the state standardized test given to all 8th graders in Virginia. Jim is a visual learner and needed to draw the answers for each possible option. Pausing a moment Jim reached into his snack bag and announced “Help me out here Pringles.” Turning to me he commented, “I hear salt helps the brain.” I smiled.
I was drained watching Jim’s agony, as he thought out every problem and bounced from question to question. But if I was drained, Jim was miserable. He wanted to do well. He stayed at it for five hours. The computer doesn’t fit Jim’s style of learning or showing what he knows. He is a hands-on, multitasking young man who likes to verbalize aloud what he thinks and figure out multiple solutions. He is an outside-the-box big thinker.
Melissa had a similar experience taking her SOL test. Melissa thinks like an artist and has the kinds of skills we will need in this century. She asks questions that connect to other questions and has trouble with information that is separated into decompartmentalized chunks. She just kept drifting off the test into some other world more interesting to Melissa. She tried to engage me in pondering some of these bigger interesting questions but I am a seasoned proctor and I gave my Buddha look and reminded her I could not have discussions during the testing. I brought my sewing in to establish a calm environment and stitched away. In the middle of the test Melissa said in a panic, “What if I fail this?” My heart felt touched knowing how scared she was at that moment. She returned to the test muttering, “This is a disaster.”
These are two students who do their work, have good analytical skills, and an intense desire to do well in school. Their families support them to use their minds well. Teachers did adequate review and they were well prepared for the tests. They both felt like terrible failures. So many of their peers felt the same.
And so did I. I know as a charter school we are being judged by the outside world to do well on high stakes testing. The mission of our school is to help students who have been unsuccessful in their previous schools become thinkers and creative problem solvers. Our goal is to prepare young people for the real world and as a public school we also accept the responsibility of preparing students for their testing lives.
But there are so many consequences that come with this acceptance. One of our first year teachers reviewed the results of the writing tests and felt devastated by a few of her student’s scores. She felt that she had let them down by not preparing them well enough to pass. She sunk into her own feelings of failure as a teacher and considered shoring up the curriculum to be more aligned to the test. This was because three perfectly wonderful students who are able thinkers and creative beyond what most adults we know could ever contribute to a conversation much less a class were deemed not worthy of scoring the necessary 400 points to pass the essay test. They were close. But no cigar. Was their prompt they were given too off target for their life experience? Was it their anxiety that day that kept them from a good sequencing of ideas? What exactly was their issue?
One test, one day of a test, made this gifted teacher second-guess her whole year of teaching. How will it affect her next year when she has to make decisions about our arts infused project-based activities? Will she want to reduce the class to worksheets and drill to review concepts and skills?
I believe in accountability and knowing what works for students to be successful. There are better ways than this one-size-fits-all testing to assess and record what students know.
As educators, are we seen as so limited that we cannot be trusted to create our own rigorous assessment tools and be judged by them? Let us become the agents of our own work and design how to define mastery and be held accountable to our standards. We will invest ourselves to figure out the mysteries of what a quality education means and can provide. Until then we are held hostage to a system that is archaic, harmful for many students and teachers and missing an opportunity to involve local stakeholders in addressing the crisis in education.
For now we will just have to hope that Pringles can help.
Photo Credit: albertogp123 via Compfight cc
In a recent repost of Shawn Murphy’s “11 Characteristics of Meaningful Work,” the editors at QED’s blog noted that,
While this piece by Shawn Murphy is related to business practices and targeted to managers and business leaders, the parallels to education and student learning are striking. Teachers, curricula developers, and education leaders can find plenty herein to ponder, reflect on, and apply in practice.
We couldn’t agree more. Switch a few key words (for example: “work” to “learning experiences,” “employees” to students,” and “the organization” to “school.”) and, voila!, some great advice for educators and education leaders.
1. Basic needs are met
2. Strengths are leveraged
3. Pull personal satisfaction from work
4. Being in on things
5. Treated with respect by peers and managers
6. See how one’s work fits into the bigger picture
7. Personal sense of independence and interdependence
8. Employees believe they are valued by the organization, by management
9. Opportunities to know self
10. Promotion of other’s satisfaction
11. Recognized — give recognition for good work
Image: Shawn Murphy
Kim Carter, the Executive Director of our parent organization, Q.E.D. Foundation, was recently interviewed by the the good folks over at KQED’s Mindshift blog for a piece on competency-based learning.
As a leading expert in the field, she had a number of insights into both the benefits of competency-based learning and critiques of the traditional “batch and queue” model. Among the many valuable ideas embedded in the the article, we found one of particular importance for working with a neuro-diverse student body. The author, Katrina Schwartz, writes,
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 like manufacturing, 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.”
How often do students experience failure not as a stepping stone toward success, but as a road block to progress? Far too often, in our opinion. Too many students find themselves branded and labeled by a system not designed for unique strengths, affinities, and, ultimately, individuals. This lack of personalization, by proxy, communicates to the students that they are of value when they fit into the system, and not necessarily when they do not.
A competency-based model ensures that students are recognized for their growth while encouraging their involvement, contributions, and unique insights. It gives students a platform for employing their strengths toward achieving their goals / the standards.
This sort of empowerment transcends the walls of the school building and prepares the students for achieving success in life beyond graduation.
Photo Credit: Yvonne Thompson via Compfight cc
In this powerful and inspiring TEDxManhattan talk, teacher Stephen Ritz shares a program he started with his students called Green Bronx Machine. More important than the program itself, though, is how the experiences have transformed and empowered his students — their present and their future.
Jackie Gerstein describes his work in her post “Learners as Entrepreneurs,”
Stephen Ritz’s Bronx classroom features the first indoor edible wall in NYC DOE which routinely generates enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals and trains the youngest nationally certified workforce in America. His students, traveling from Boston to Rockefeller Center to the Hamptons, earn living wage en route to graduation.
One of the things that makes his talk so incredible, besides the breakneck pace of it and his constant stream of witticisms, is how the program embraces the diversity — of mind, body, class, and culture — of his students. The student variation becomes a proof point for the validity and integrity of the program. Take a look and see for yourself.
What other projects / programs do you know of that support diverse student profiles and bring about good in a community? Share in the comments.
A recent piece at KQED’s MindShift blog titled, “How Free Play Can Define Kids’ Success,” explores some of the ideas from Kenneth Ginsburg book Building Resilience in Children and Teens. It is part of a growing trend of research and theories related to student efficacy, tenacity, and persistence.
These are important ideas for anyone working with students and kids in today’s schools. With so much focus on test scores within a limited scope of “basic subjects” we sometimes lose sight of the larger goals in “schooling” students: We want them ALL to be successful in whatever they choose to do.
In looking to reach all students, regardless of their learner profile, we might do well to consider how we might foster resilience in our students. Below are Ginsburg’s “7 C’s of Resilience” which should lie at the foundation of our design and delivery of learning experience for meeting the needs of all students.
7 C’s of Resilience
1) COMPETENCE: Young people need to be recognized when they’re doing something right and to be given opportunities to develop specific skills.
2) CONFIDENCE: Confidence comes from building real skills that parents and educators can teach and nurture. Confidence can be easily undermined, but also bolstered by tasks that push learners without making the goal feel unachievable.
3) CONNECTION: Being part of a community helps kids know they aren’t alone if they struggle and that they can develop creative solutions to problems.
4) CHARACTER. Kids need an understanding of right and what wrong and the capacity to follow a moral compass. That will allow them see that they cannot be put down.
5) CONTRIBUTION: The experience of offering their own service makes it easier for young people to ask for help when they need it. Once kids understand how good it can feel to give to others, it becomes easier to ask for that same support when it’s needed. And being willing to ask for help is a big part of being resilient.
6) COPING: Kids need to learn mechanisms to manage their stress by learning methods to both engage and disengage at times. Some strategies for doing this include breaking down seemingly insurmountable problems into smaller, achievable pieces, avoiding things that trigger extreme anxiety, and just letting some things go. After all, resilience is about conserving energy to fit the long game and kids need to know realistically what they can affect and what should be let go.
7) CONTROL: In order to truly be resilient a child need to believe that she has control over her world. Feeling secure helps engender control, which is why kids test limits.
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An All Kinds of Mind’s School of Distinction, St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Potomac, Maryland discovered their top to bottom attention to research-based practices necessitated founding an institution dedicated to exploring the meeting ground between neuroscience research and educational practices. Their Center for Transformational Teaching and Learning was created with four key questions in mind:
1. What is learning?
2.Where does learning happen?
3. How do all students best learn?
4. What research in educational neuroscience can help inform and measure exceptional teaching and learning?
As a center, their mission states:
The CTTL’s long-term vision is to be a thought-leader in the neuro-science of teaching and learning and to share what we know and learn with public and private schools nationwide.
Its recent publication, Think Differently and Deeply, explores the application of emerging trends in the science of learning with their efforts to push each and every student to their fullest potential. While the publication unpacks the theories in the context of their school, readers will find transferable ideas for better meeting the needs of all students. Topics include neuroscience in education, design thinking, play, centrality of arts, and foreign language and the mind, among others.
By Mary Mannix, Guest Blogger
Last spring, administrators at Indian Creek School, an All Kinds of Minds School of Distinction, searched for a book for summer reading for the faculty that would be meaningful and relevant to teachers across all three divisions of the school, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.
Why Schools for All Kinds of Minds?
Administrators chose Schools for All Kinds of Minds because they believed it would serve as a platform for the faculty to review, reflect upon, and discuss Indian Creek’s ongoing commitment to using the All Kinds of Minds approach to teaching and learning. Group discussions would also provide the opportunity to learn how teachers in each division are using the All Kinds of Minds philosophy and framework in their instructional practice.
All faculty members were given a copy of the book on the last day of school and asked to prepare for small group discussions to be held at the start of the school year.
Framing the Book Study
Ten faculty members, designated as small-group facilitators, developed guiding questions to frame the group discussions. Throughout the summer, they shared their thoughts and reflections on their own blog. As their discussion unfolded, several questions emerged:
- How are teachers nurturing and using students’ strengths and affinities to support learners and learning?
- How has the teacher’s role changed with the All Kinds of Minds approach?
- How do we help students develop metacognition and insight into how they learn best?
The facilitators agreed that the goal of the discussions would be to determine how reading the book would affect our teaching and our students’ learning this school year.
Over 80 faculty members gathered in small groups on the first day of school. A major “aha” for many was the book’s shift away from a focus on students’ weaknesses and the emphasis on using students’ strengths and affinities to support and leverage learning. Teachers perceived this to be an important change in perspective which would allow a broader implementation of the All Kinds of Minds framework and would ultimately improve the learning experience of all students.
“To build a mind requires that you understand it” was an idea that resonated for many teachers.
Teachers also felt that the book validated the importance of investing time and effort into understanding the unique minds in our classrooms. During discussions, it became obvious that while the details of how teachers achieved this goal differed according to the grade level of the students, teachers shared a belief that getting to know students is the best way to support them. “To build a mind requires that you understand it” was an idea that resonated for many teachers.
Book Study Takeaways
Reading Schools for All Kinds of Minds as a faculty allowed us to see clearly that the All Kinds of Minds approach is a thread that weaves itself throughout all three divisions of our school. This way of thinking about teaching and learning allows us to realize the goal set forth in our mission statement: “to provide an academically challenging education in a warm, nurturing environment to a group of students with a wide range of talents and skills.”
Discussing Schools for All Kinds of Minds reenergized our teachers, deepened their understanding, and renewed our commitment as an All Kinds of Minds School of Distinction. It provided a meeting ground in which elementary, middle, and upper school teachers could learn from each other and share insights and ideas. For us, it was the right book for building bridges across three divisions.
What’s next at Indian Creek?
The book discussion was so successful that another has been planned for mid year so teachers can share how they are implementing the ideas they took away from the book. We are focusing on “small-wins” – a concept highlighted throughout the book – and sharing our success stories regularly at faculty meetings. Administrators are also giving teachers an opportunity to visit classrooms across divisions to observe the implementation of All Kinds of Minds strategies and practices.
Mary Mannix is the Lower School Learning Specialist and All Kinds of Minds Coordinator at Indian Creek School in Crownsville, Maryland. She is also a long-time All Kinds of Minds facilitator.
Have any other schools out there engaged in a book study using Schools for All Kinds of Minds? If so, tell us about it! What were your faculty’s “aha’s”? How will you continue to use the book throughout the school year? Questions for Mary? Leave a comment … we’d love to hear from you!
Note from All Kinds of Minds: Did you hear about our free book giveaway? We’ve already given away several books, and this is the last week of our giveaway! Here’s how it works: Each week that we feature a blog post related to Schools for All Kinds of Minds, we’ll be giving away a free, signed copy of the book! To be entered to win this week, you must (1) subscribe to our blog, and (2) share your thoughts about this blog entry by posting a comment. Remember: Non-subscribers are not eligible to win! Subscribing is easy: just look for the “Email Subscription” box to the right. We look forward to hearing from you!
- Tools and templates for using the book with your colleagues, including chapter-by-chapter discussion questions, an action plan template, and more
- Learn more about Indian Creek’s School of Distinction designation
- “Hitting the Books,” an article about the value of teacher book groups from Education Week’s Teacher PD Sourcebook