• Treat educators as the professionals they are
  • Aim to end the practice of teaching being viewed a solitary endeavor; like other professionals teachers improve when they are engaged in collaborative learning, identifying best practices and critiquing one another.
  • Acknowledge that context matters. A practice that works in one classroom most likely will need to be adapted or significantly altered to be effective in another.
  • Strive to develop the dispositions in teachers that we also want to cultivate in children: curiosity, flexibility in thinking, open-mindedness, empathy, and an ability to reason with evidence.
  • Make learning relevant and meaningful. We know it is vital for children; it is just as important for teachers.”

From a piece by Howard Gardner, Clayton Lewis & Jim Reese of Harvard’s Project Zero about what makes Professional Development effective.

The most interesting people you will ever meet are also the most interested.”

From Regie O’Hare Gibson’s piece in Medium about what he learned from one of his teachers about the importance of boredom.

Smart Guys Can Get It Wrong

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREYou know that feeling when one of your friends says something stupid that makes a different friend angry?  And you realize that you agree with the angry friend?  Yeah, so that happened to me a few weeks ago.  Let me explain.

I am a big fan of the FiveThirtyEight blog that Nate Silver runs with his team of statisticians/economists.  Nate has a knack for explaining technical mathematical stuff using everyday examples.  He started in sports and moved to politics (correctly predicting most of the 2014 races), and then ESPN brought his blog back over to their site where it lives now.  When he sticks to those two topics–sports/politics–he is a bastion of logic in a world of opinions.

Lately, though, Silver has been dipping his toes into the realm of educational policy and the ridiculous questionable data that supports some of the recent “reforms”.  In the recent article “The Science of Grading Teachers Gets High Marks“, Silver’s ed dude Andrew Flowers analyzes some of the discussion around the Vergara case.  He discusses the back and forth between statisticians at Harvard, Brown, and Columbia and Jesse Rothstein of Stanford.

While I agree with Flowers that the arguments over methods for analyzing teacher impact are a positive sign that science is working as it should, I side with Valerie Strauss when she writes for the Washington Post that,

“The quality of the underlying standardized  assessment is assumed to be at least adequate — or why use the student scores to evaluate their teachers? — when, in fact, many of them are less than adequate to provide a well-rounded, authentic look at what students have learned and are able to do.”

Flowers provided this throw-away phrase that was guaranteed to make educators angry,

“In order to perfectly isolate the effect of a teacher on a student’s test scores — setting aside whether higher test scores is the right goalstudents would need to be assigned to teachers randomly.”  [emphasis mine]

What?!?  How can you “set aside” the source of all of the data that you are analyzing (or, more accurately, discussing the analysis of)?  That’s like saying, “Setting aside the fact that koalas are not actually bears, observing them is a great way to learn about the bear behavior.” We MUST stop pretending that mathematical analysis can make up for crappy assessments.

Opinions?  You know what to do.


Image: “Friendly Female Koala” by QuartlOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

“Writing and publicly sharing what happens in our classrooms demonstrates to the world that learning is at the heart of a classroom. It makes public the messiness of the classroom. It shows the world that we are indeed practitioners. It demonstrates that we are focused on growth. There is also another benefit, people might give you feedback and we might all grow together.”

An argument in favor of blogging to increase transparency from Chris Crouch in Huffington Post Education.

Feedback in the “Real World”

floops_loopsLike many classroom teachers, I’ve worked in a variety of non-educational jobs over the years.  From pub trivia host to tour guide, each role gave me an opportunity to develop skills that made me a better educator.  Working at the Apple Store is probably the best example of this: being a part of a huge, modern, progressive technology company has shown me what the workplace of the 21st century will look like for many of my students.  It constantly reminds me of the difference between what we teach in public schools and what employers seek.  The most important lesson was the critical role of feedback.

Historically, feedback has been something provided by managers to workers, flowing downhill as if pulled by gravity.  Schools have mimicked this flow: teachers evaluating students and delivering suggestions for improvement.  In contrast, at Apple there is an intentional and pervasive climate of feedback by and to everyone.  Employees at all levels and with any amount of experience are required to approach one another, ask for permission, and use a structured protocol to describe what they have observed and the impact that it has had.  The result is a powerful climate of constructive criticism, meaningful praise, and eager self-improvement.

Returning to my classroom after spending time in that environment, I was faced with the hard fact that my students resist feedback.  They see it as evaluation more than as an opportunity to improve.  They cringe at criticism and respond with reflexive words of defense, like “Yeah, but…” and “I tried that”.  Feedback from peers is met with even more pushback: like most adults, students see criticism as something provided by the “ones who know” to the “ones who don’t know”.  Assessment is something that experts do.

Over time, I began to see that the importance of learning to give and receive feedback trumped the challenges of changing student perceptions.  Like so many much-needed changes to grading and assessment, students and parents have been programmed to think a certain way… and they are wrong.  We can not simply acknowledge their resistance to change and give up.  We must push forward to practices that improve learning and develop responsible citizens.

What is the role of feedback in your classroom?



image from Smashing Magazine, used with permission

Looking Back Through The Eyes of My Students

passenger-traffic-122999_1280This past school year, I decided to embrace an idea that Larry Ferlazzo discusses on his blog every year: End-year Student Surveys.  I know that opinions differ about whether (and how) to poll students about what worked and what didn’t.  And I have frequently shied away from even asking students for their evaluation at the end of the year because I didn’t value their perspective and didn’t want to hear what they had to say.  But, I realized this year that I can’t pretend to be a reflective educator who continuously improves if I don’t seek out feedback about my practice… especially from those who spend the most time with me everyday.

In following Larry’s lead, I composed a short but detailed survey and administered it to students during the last few days of the 2014-2015 school years.  I explained to them that their responses would be anonymous and that I would be publishing the results here.  I wanted them to know that they were free to be honest and that I would be taking the results seriously.  In the interest of true and complete transparency, you can view the survey here and the results spreadsheet here.  Here on the blog, I’d like to point out my three biggest takeaways from the survey data:

#1: My students really like my class.

Between the grade that they gave me for teaching the class (B+ average), their assessment of their own learning (4.3 out of 5), and their overall comments (e.g., “because he’s a good teacher and he teaches in a fun way”), it is clear that my students have positive feelings about the experience they had this year.  That’s an important fact, especially since their perception often defines their reality and can have significant impacts on their performance in class.

But, it’s dangerous to let positive general feedback lead to a “warm fuzzy” that blocks improvement.  Throughout my career, I found myself improving the most when it was clear that I needed to.  That’s why I smile at these data, but I don’t let them drive my decision-making.

#2: Nearly all of my students took the survey seriously.

By reading the open-ended comments that they wrote, it’s clear that my students took the time to provide meaningful feedback.  Here are some examples in response to a question that asked them to grade me as a teacher and explain the grade:

  • “C. He was a fun and good teacher, but I didnt feel like I learned what was needed to pass the benchmarks, I never got higher than 2+, trying my hardest. Its not your fault mostly mine. Overall, it was a good and fun year.”
  • “A.  I gave him that grade because he is a great teacher who is patient(ish) and always works hard to make sure we learn. Also he is funny. :D”

In every situation where I asked for them to provide feedback, more than 80% wrote multiple sentences.  I think that the combination of anonymity of results and my emphasis on the importance of the survey made an impression on them.

#3: There are concrete ways that I can improve.

I should admit that I didn’t expect to receive a lot of really useful criticism from the students.  In my experience, the advice that students give is often self-serving and non-productive, or just outright logistically impossible.  They often want unlimited free time or amnesty from all of the rules.  In this case, however, my students provided some really useful suggestions, like:

  • On a scale of 1-5, my students gave me a 3.6 average for patience.  By comparison, they gave me a 4.4 for how hard I worked to prepare lessons.  Being more patient (or perceived as more patient) is definitely an opportunity for improvement.
  • On the same scale, my students scored our EOG (End-of-grade standardized test) Review Booklet at 3.5.  This was a tool that I now plan to rethink for next year.
  • When asked why she gave me a “D”, one student wrote: “I felt like that he often ran out of time in class. Some of the material was missed or we didn’t get to do the other things that other classes did.”  That’s a real issue that I did struggle with last year, and knowing that students picked up on it makes it even more important for me to find a solution.

Be sure to check out some of the other submissions, and let me know what you think.  How do you determine what worked (and what didn’t) from year to year?  Share your ideas in the comments.



ISTE 2015 Presentation Screencast [CROSSPOST]

ISTEMy last two posts on Scripted Spontaneity have been about the steps to convert student-completed Google Forms to WordPress blog posts and a Cross-Post from a colleague on why she uses it in her classroom for Independent Reading.

This technology process was developed with my colleague and friend Erica Speaks (@TeachingSpeaks and teachingspeaksvolumes.com).

We were fortunate enough to present at #ISTE2015 in a Snapshot format on Tuesday afternoon and a Poster Presentation on Wednesday morning about it.

We had lots of positive feedback, and screencasted our ISTE 2015 Presentation to be able to share it with our wonderful, extensive digital PLNs.


Check it out here:


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