Friday, July 25, 2014

Sometimes Words Do Hurt (My Brain)

When you are over 50 years old and have been in a profession for a couple of decades, you see periods where certain buzz words are all the rage.

I googled "education buzzwords" and found a list of some words I have heard a ton within the last few years but the following is a list of words that I feel are use wayyyyy too much.

The list, in no particular order, includes: Rigor, Grit, Agency, Influencer, and the phrase "allow to fail." If you notice, with the exception of Influencer, they all deal with getting students to work through their problems. We want them to have stick-to-itiveness and not give up until they have exhausted all options. Or, most commonly, to persevere: To keep steadily on in doing or striving; persist 
So why can't we just say we want them to work hard and not give up? Instead we talk about increasing the "rigor" - does that mean they have to work harder to understand? Well last time I checked the ol' Funk and Wagnalls, rigor meant: Stiffness of opinion; Strictness; Harshness; Austerity . That definition doesn't make me want to do that to anyone. So why would we do it to our students? Intuitively I knew that someone must have the same issue with this word and so I started searching.

Having heard Alfie Kohn talk about his dislike for the word rigor I wasn't surprised to see his name linked to many posts on this word. But the best post I found was by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach from a few years ago. It is called In Defense of Rigor and she has already done the legwork on this topic. Take the time to read through the comments left there before you decide what side you are on. In the end I still feel the same.  Why should I use a word that has so many meanings to so many people? It just renders it meaningless in the end. Head aching....

When I was 11 years old John Wayne starred in a movie called True Grit. I also helped my Dad a lot and I knew it was important to have the right sandpaper grit for the job that you were working on. Since I was young I took the word grit to be synonymous with the word tough. I was happy to go through life keeping those two words together in my mind. They remade the movie in 2010 and I went and saw it and liked it as much as the first one. It was different but still great. And I never had to think about the word grit because I already had my definition.

Suddenly I'm hearing that we want our students to have grit. The vision I had for 50 years of a stern, driven, and not so nice person wasn't what I wanted my students to turn into. But I do remember hearing the adage "grit and determination." As in he did the task with grit and determination.  It couldn't be that bad. Maybe, just maybe, it had more to do with perseverance than being a tough old goat.  Having to shift my definition of the word meant more headache.

About the same time the new version of True Grit was coming out I heard the New Tech Network talk about a new learning outcome. It was all about perseverance and the word they were using was agency. Like a travel agency? An acting agency? No, I was told, agency meaning students being resourceful and continuing to work on a project exploring all options rather than giving up.  Ummmm, isn't that perseverance?

I have been completely happy using the word perseverance all of my life. Why then, can't we use this word? It seems that "real" academicians use the word agency because it is better than perseverance. I'm sorry. Even though the word has grown on me I still prefer my own words and you won't hear be using agency in a sentence describing our students. That would just add more pain to my growing headache.

The expression "allow to fail" is used when you say that you want students to persist even if things aren't going well. We don't want teachers telling the students how to solve the problem, directly. We do want teachers guiding the students to find the answer though. I don't have a problem with this concept. But I do have a problem with the word fail. Allow students to struggle? I can live with that. I just don't want to have students who are so tied to academics to think it is ever OK to fail. So I won't be using that with my teachers. I will be asking them to get away from giving the students the answer quickly however. I want the students to struggle and then persevere.

So, out of the first 4 things I've talked about I only plan on using one of them. I will now add grit to my lexicon. As for the last word, influencer, you won't see me ever using it. I haven't really seen this word used in the education world, yet. But it is used in business all of the time. Anybody who is influential is an influencer. Well, duh, why don't we just call that person an influential person. Why do we have to make up a word?

So, if you have finished this post and I have swayed you in any way, please feel free to consider me an influencer. Just don't make me describe myself that way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yes There IS a Right Way to "Do PBL"

It started when I was contacted by some friends who were attending the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference this past February.  "What is your principal saying about PBL here - do you REALLY do this at your campus?" What they were talking about was someone who was filling our spot because we had to cancel at the last minute. And, what that person was saying was, "We do PBL at our campus and here's the issues we have had..."

"Doing PBL." I really, really hate that expression. You do NOT "do PBL." That's like saying you do teaching, or you do coaching, or you do directing music. If you are using PBL as a method of instruction then what you are doing is - wait for it.... - teaching. You are a teacher and you teach. I know, crazy, right?

When you teach do you use various forms of assessment? Do you randomize selecting students? Do you have warm-ups or do-nows? Do you pull students into small groups? Do you flip your class? I could go on and on. These are things that you "DO" in your classroom to be a better teacher and each of these things that you do are things that you feel comfortable doing and you feel that (or, even better, KNOW that) your students are getting a better education because of these processes.

Project Based Learning (PBL) incorporates any and all of the things I have just mentioned. That's because PBL wants us all to use best teaching practices. So, if you are a teacher using PBL in your classroom, then you DO great teaching. And, based upon who you are and who your students are, each PBL classroom might look very different.

If I go into a PBL classroom I will see students working collectively. Even if the teacher is doing a whole group lecture or all of the students are engaged with electronic devices, I can see that they are grouped.  Collaboration is a key element and I want to see the students working together towards a common goal.

If I spend time in a PBL classroom I should hear academic discussions and questioning.  I should see students doing some sort of reflection on their learning. I should see students assessing their personal and group progress and assigning future tasks. Like a good company, their groups should be working towards a common goal.

If I spend time in a PBL school I should hear and see everything I just stated in every classroom. And, because of the varying time requirements for projects, I should be able to see every stage of a project happening in the classrooms. I should see projects starting with entry events. I should see lectures and group work. I should see students preparing for their presentations. And, I should see presentations.

If you think you want to "do PBL," then the first thing you need "to do" is your homework. You are probably a beginner and you need to get a deeper understanding of how the PBL process works. Google "PBL" and you'll see hundreds (thousands?) of possibilities. On the first page of these you will see BIE.org and Edutopia.org. Both are incredible places to get knowledgeable about what PBL is and how to do it.

If you want to go deeper you can attend PBLU (a BIE product) remotely or you could get BIE to come to your school or district and train a group of you by attending a PBL 101. A PBL 101 is three days of helping you design one project while learning about how to plan projects and manage the process.

Once you have been trained; you have done a dozen or so projects; and you have been frustrated by not feeling like you are doing it right for the first 4 or so of those projects, then, and only then will you be allowed to say "I do PBL." I'll still think you're a rube for saying that but I won't correct you because you will now be beyond the beginner stage of practicing the PBL process.  So if you want to be incorrect go ahead - you've earned it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Things That Piqued My Interest This Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.