Posts Tagged ‘ADVIS’

CCO Creative Commons image

So, I’ve been thinking about student choice and format of work. I have been trying to remember and put into action what Marc Prensky said at an ADVIS event several years ago, “assign the verb not the noun.” This means assign what I want students to do, not exactly the tool or format it must take. (I wrote about something else from the event at the time; isn’t it interesting what you think is going to really stick with you and then what does stick with you?)

To date, I have been able to put this idea into action on more creative assignments. This year I have assigned things like “research and share your findings” or “demonstrate interdisciplinary thought” (that one really made folks crazy) but not “powerpoint presentation” or “podcast”. As it turns out, most students ended up choosing a similar format for these exercises, but I made a real point to talk about the actions and the important thinking work rather than numbers of slides or minutes of audio.

The current assignment my English 12 students are working on is the first time I have assigned “write” and not added “a paper” or “a story” after it. The assignment is, for the most part, an analytical paper that is meant to get students thinking about two works of fantasy and some other big ideas of the course. It is an assignment that lends itself to a typical English paper, but it is not an assignment that REQUIRES a typical English paper. It turns out that for the vast majority of my students, a regular, old English paper is just fine right about now. However, for one student a screenplay was the format of choice. He is SO excited about this prospect. Now, I did not just say, “great. Go for it. See you later.” We chatted about some of his plot options, and I definitely pushed for one particular idea over the others (which I thought was manageable and better answered the requirements of the assignment). It still may not be great. However, the student has been working hard on it, and, given that. I think there is a better chance that the finished product will be a better representation of this student’s best work.

Whenever I assess work, I want to learn something about the student’s progress with a particular skill or mastery of a particular concept. If I know that the student didn’t put forth much effort or that the format in which I collected this data was particularly difficult for the student, then the results on the assessment are less meaningful for me. Of course, there are some assessment formats that may be important skills as well. In that case, I just need to be aware of what I am actually measuring when I evaluate the particular assessment.

Back to my student. I have read the first draft and have made a number of significant suggestions. So far, the student continues to be willing to engage in the discussion; therefore, I am still positive about the experience for the student and the amount of thinking the student has had to do about the ideas and content. Since I always want my students to be successful, I hope that there is a lot of revising between now and the final draft. The screenplay has a lot of potential. But, even if it doesn’t get a lot better, I will know that I am looking at the result of significant time and engagement.

So, I’ve been thinking about what is normal and what kind of relationships we normalize in what we read in schools. I wrote about my experience reading Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan with my senior English elective, YA Fiction. I am continuing to think about these ideas given some professional learning on my part and more interaction with students, and just because I think it’s important.

CCO public domain image, by Stevebp on Pixabay.

CCO public domain image by Stevepb on Pixabay

Books are a big part of how students experience others and themselves. For white heterosexual students, they find themselves all over the place in books. For males in particular, they are the central characters time and again. They act. They search. They discover. They solve. They lead. They also dominate. A few years ago I attended a panel discussion that focused on diverse voices in YA fiction. Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely co-authors of All American Boys spoke about their early reading experiences. Keily noted that he saw himself in so many characters. Reynolds did not. Audience members pushed back saying that books let you see others and try out all sorts of unfamiliar ideas and actions. True. And, Reynolds argued, in order to see others in literature, you first have to see yourself. (I am paraphrasing and it was a while ago, but I’m confident that was the idea.)

So, when we have a diverse group of students in our classrooms (and some of that diversity is hidden from view) what do we have a responsibility to highlight? Really that is what we do when we pull a book out of the millions of titles out there and choose to read it. We highlight that book, that author, those characters, those ideas, those actions. Who sees themselves and who sees others? Should every student see him or herself at some point? If not, why not?

At an ADVIS event recently, Orpheus Crutchfield and Mary Rose Fernandez guided the group in discussing students and teachers of color in independent schools. We were asked to consider how seriously independent school really want diversity in a pluralistic society? What are independent schools willing to do to be places where diverse people (students, teachers, administrators, board members) want to be? I would not deliberately send my personal kids to a school that never read about them. My kids are white. There’s little chance of that happening. However, what about women and girls? Will my daughter see women acting in the literature she reads in high school, or will she read about women being acted upon? Will she have to identify with the men and boys in the books she reads to have any interesting characters to connect to? What if one or both of my kids is not heterosexual? What about students who have same-sex parents? Will they ever read about a relationship that speaks to them? Will all students read about people who are not white, and who are also neither victims nor incarcerated?

This year in my class, we are reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. There are many relationships in the book–friends, mentor/mentee, teacher/student, romantic, familial. One of the relationships is between two men. Again, there is VERY little description of anything physical (PG-13 for sure), and again I got some wide eyes after an assignment where there was little more than a reference to sex. “I wasn’t expecting THAT,” I heard. Why not? All signs were pointing to these two getting together. We had discussed this potential and the ways the author was leading up to it. I think I should translate the students words. Rather than “I wasn’t expecting that,” I think the students was saying “I’m not used to reading about a gay relationship.” However, now the student will have read a book with a gay relationship. Next book, it won’t be a first.

I have no answers here. The only thing I am sure about is that part of my responsibility as the book chooser is to continue to highlight more than one story.

Public domain image from

Public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about change. Over this past school year, I’ve been part of our strategic planning committee and am now leading a task force to investigate our interdisciplinary program. And last week, I participated in the week-long Penn Summer Leadership Institute course organized by University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and ADVIS (Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools).

Our first session on Thursday was led by Cathy Hall. She spoke about the shifting ideas in technology in schools over the past 25 years or so. After some discussion, she asked the group to think about $5 million dollars and what it could be used for in the name of innovation at our schools. What would we do if we had that amount of money to spend over the course of 3 years, what  would we spend the money on? What would we definitely keep? What would we change? I thought this was a really interesting idea to consider.

Here’s what I came up with (remember the assignment was to consider using this money is support of innovation) in 7 minutes.

  • I would rewrite teacher contracts to include 2 weeks of professional learning each summer and a pay increase to cover this time.
  • Then, I would have significant professional learning for everyone around project based learning and interdisciplinary work. Buck Institute and High Tech High would be up on my list of options there.
  • Finally, I would give grants to grade level teams as they developed particular projects that required either professional development, resources, books, visits etc.


Then, as I was describing this to my husband, I realized that an interesting next step would be to consider how far you could go without $5 million. How important is that money to the process? Once you have your plan, is that more important than the money? Does the idea of the money get you thinking outside of the box, but turn out not to be critical in the implementation?

So, what if I did not have all that money? What could I still plan?

  • Serious summer work: maybe this gets spread across several years with smaller groups attending each year. With paying for training and a smaller group make this financially very reasonable?
  • And, could we go with more of a train the trainer model so that in the following years, we would be able to provide the relevant training in-house?
  • Team projects could also be scaled down in terms of money. Yes, to all the online research and talking to others people can do. Maybe less travel that involves flying.

Either way, what a great catalyst for thinking. I may give it a try with the task force in the fall.


Public domain image from

Public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about going to some new conferences.

@TeacherDebra and I were talking about this the other day. I am a regular attender at some solid events. I’ve been a regular EdCamper for years and attended the very first one in Philadelphia. EduCon and I are well acquainted. I’m not a stranger to ISTE. We go to various local events through ADVIS or other organizations. You get the idea.

Anyway we were talking about how we need to get out of our bubble. We love the events we attend, share what we learn, and present at times. We also see a lot of the same people and sessions at the events. And, while these are topics we love and people we are always happy to see and talk to, we are looking to break out. We are wondering what we are not hearing about? Who we are not meeting (I’m not great at that part)? What we are missing?

Then the other evening, I was making a cake and my husband was reading to me from a NYTimes article by Frank Bruni while I mixed ingredients (a slight variation on this grapefruit cake from Saveur). So nice, right? He was reading about how Facebook, or whatever other boogyman we might accuse, is not to blame for the various bubbles we put ourselves in, but rather we are the makers of our own bubbles.

We’re the real culprits. When it comes to elevating one perspective above all others and herding people into culturally and ideologically inflexible tribes, nothing that Facebook does to us comes close to what we do to ourselves.

No one is keeping this ‘other’ information from us, we are not seeking it out, or not seeking it out forcefully enough.

This is what Debra and I are going to do–intentionally go outside our self created bubble. No unseen force signs us up for conferences against our will. We sign ourselves up, we make the choice to look, or not look, for new options. Well, next year, we are busting out.

Any recommendations for us?

Search and Research

Posted: November 30, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,
look downstairs into stairwell whirl

photo by Quapan used under creative commons license

So, I’ve been thinking about the difference between searching and researching since I attended an ADVIS tech retreat with Marc Prensky on Wednesday. One of the things he said, and that I and many others in attendance then tweeted, was:

Kids need to know the difference between search and research.

I was talking about this with a colleague at my school the next day. We talked about how quickly many students say, “there’s nothing here” in regards to an online source. Many times it seems students say this before the page has even loaded. As the adult in the room here, it is time to say, “um, have you read any of the words here?” or something to that effect. Less snarky would probably be appropriate.

What we then talked about was that perhaps the students are not really aware of when and how to switch between these two modes of online behavior. Some people love the hunt, the search. It’s exciting to collect all that stuff. They would prefer to search and gather all day long. The reading and digesting of the results, not so appealing to them.

Others, may prefer to sit with that first result and read it start to finish before moving on. This group might spend time on a mediocre source because it came up first and they are in research mode when searching is more appropriate.

How to help kids understand when and how to do both?

Well, I think that being very explicit and naming and explaining these 2 modes of working is a great place to start. So in fifth grade, just to pick a random grade, I would certainly explain these 2 terms and spend a few minutes talking about what it would look like in various settings.

  • Is a dog fetching a ball search or research?
  • What about Trick or Treating?
  • What about examining your candy after trick or treating and trading with your friends or siblings?
  • Maybe have kids make a quick (really quick, 2 minutes quick) skit of what each might look like in our classroom

Once we were good on that, I think a few minutes working on a T-chart of the uses and benefits of each would be in order. I’d also probably ask people to freeze mid-work a time or two and identify which they were doing, search or research.

I’m not guaranteeing any of this would solve the problems of students not wanting to take the time to read carefully. If I could solve that problem, that would be a great gift to society. I do think that being able to name the behavior has to come first.

Does this issue arise in your school or classroom?