Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hard Questions

This probably won't make me the most popular guy on the blogosphere.


1)  What if genius hour or 20% time are just unconscious bribes that teachers use to get kids to 'toe the line' the rest of the day?

2)  What if we work really hard to be better teachers because we don't believe that what we teach is important enough to stand on its own merit?

3)  What if we let students choose their own learning and they decided to learn things that won't help them long term, or worse they just decide to actively not learn anything?

4)  What would change in our classrooms if we really decided that the first, most important thing we had to do was love the students?

5)  What if we really bought into the idea that high stakes testing wasn't important? Grades? Social status? Beauty? Race?

6)  What if we spent less time arguing about what works best in the class and instead spent that time making what we do better?

7)  What if we attend conferences or edcamps to be seen more than to learn?

8)  What if we are invested so heavily in social media because we have an isolating, difficult job and are really lonely?

35 comments:

  1. Good question to ask with #7. Hopefully conference attendees are focusing on who they will see and what they will hear/learn. I find it easy (for myself) to get a little egocentric with the use of social media. It is enjoyable to be mentioned in blogs and tweets, but my hope is that the digital representation of myself is a true representation of what I do in my school.

    Keep asking these tough questions. We need sincere skeptics in this world and that is also a role we should all periodically take on.

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    1. I can honestly say that being approached by people at conferences and talked to because of who I am online is very heady stuff. I still don't understand why anyone would think I would be worth looking up but you can bet that I let my wife know that it happens.

      Asking questions is easy, it is the answers I have problems with...

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  2. Interesting thoughts. For our Professional Growth Period (PGP) modeled on 20% time it was my staff that came to me asking for a job-embedded growth model. At least in our case it wouldn't constitute a bribe. Do all teachers want this? I honestly don't know. What I do know is that they have a choice - get better your way by following your passions 2-3 times per week or resume your non-instructional duty 5 days per week. It is their choice and I respect it. Guess how many have asked to go back on full time duty? Here is more info on our program http://esheninger.blogspot.com/2013/04/autonomy-breeds-change.html

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    1. Thanks, I will definitely check the post out. Do you think that engaging adults in 20% time is the same as using it with students? I wonder how many students approached their teachers asking for it.

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  3. I don't think #geniushour is bribery to toe the line, at least not in my case, but it is a way to let the kids have a voice in their learning. I want my kids to have the opportunity to have time to explore something they are passionate about or to even find something they may want to be passionate about. I also think we teach a lot of things that honestly couldn't stand on its own merit. I have over 76 standards in most of the 11 subjects I have to teach and so yes their will be things that don't have merit or are being taught that maybe should be approached at a different level. Lastly I think we should love our students. It is probably one of the most important, often overlooked thing we could do. Oh, and I think most teachers agree about high stakes testing being overrated! and number 8, YES.

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    1. As with all the questions, each person will have different experiences. I imagine there are a lot of people doing genius hour conscientiously and successfully. I also suspect many are doing something along the lines of my question.

      Yes, number 8 bothers me a bit too.

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  4. Would it depend on whether the kids connect ideas/skills/content/methods from their 20% time? Is that one role students need to take during 80% time? Teachers too?

    More questions here (and I'll be adding some of yours if you don't mind).

    Thinkering Studio

    Less (Teaching) Is More (Learning)

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    1. Use anything you want, I need to remember to get my creative commons license on here. I have lots of problems with genius hour/20% time, most of which have to do with why we need to be so structured the rest of the time to begin with. I also can see it being used as a carrot and stick...

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    2. I'm fortunate to get to try it three ways: as an elective, Thinkering Studio; as a culminating project, Engage; and as a once a week workshop in Social Studies. Lots of bleed over from 80% into 20% and vice versa in my social studies workshop. Doesn't quite feel like a carrot, but then again I also offer a range of choice (topic, methods, media) on many of my 80% time projects. If 20% time was the only chance for choice or self-directed learning, it probably would be a form of coercion. But, don't teachers need to start somewhere?

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    3. Yup, but they need to remember they are experimenting on kids. I worry that many do it because it is the new thing, not because they believe in it or because they can effectively integrate it.

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    1. I saw the comment, thanks for the feedback. :)

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  6. Interesting post, I really appreciate how you posed questions instead of telling me stuff. Surely a great way to get the conversation flowing! I also appreciated how you asked hard questions, so many times on social media the same message propagates across the web with no dissenters or objections. Thank you for not adding to this with your post. The comments you've gotten and discussion that ensued show that these topics hit a nerve and deserve discussion.

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  7. Your questions, hard, yes, but also insightful. You include, "What would change in our classrooms if we really decided that the first, most important thing we had to do was love the students?" That one really stuck. Reminds me of the guiding principles of Responsive Classroom (http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/principles-and-practices-responsive-classroom) as we need to be mindful of why we are doing what we do in the first place. Appreciate your post. Thanks.

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  8. I would add these questions:

    What if we believed that we were in the presence of genius?
    What if we listened when student told us they want and intend to make an impact?
    What if we expected students to contribute their genius /talents to the world?
    What if we let students dream big and act audaciously?
    What if we invited students to be a part of the solution?
    What if we asked kids to solve wicked , difficult and challenging problems?
    What if we taught kids to BE BRAVE, BE BOLD, SERVE, and LEAD?
    What if we got out of the way and let them do exactly that?.

    i do not ask these questions to be crass or provocative. I ask them with whole hearted transparency and belief in what happens and what can happen when we do ask questions like these.

    I have had the privilege of asking and exploring the answers to these questions with students across every demographic, age,and content area. I encourage you to listen to the answers they have provided in the following videos:

    What Kids Really Want from School: http://buff.ly/15Pip59
    Students Reflections of "20 percent time, Genius hour, etc,,) http://buff.ly/15PiuWH

    I hope this leads to a conversation where we can ask these questions of one another and our students.

    Thank you for igniting the conversation William; it is an important one!

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    1. Your questions are great as well. The whole purpose of the post was to be provocative, if questions aren't asked that make people rethink their choices then I'm not sure they will.

      I appreciate your links, my questions weren't meant as an indictment of the work you and many wonderful educators are doing with genius hour. It is really more about asking teachers to look carefully at their motives for the choices they make and how they affect their students. I honestly have done things because I thought they were the right thing to do without having made a critical analysis of how that right thing would work with my students and in my classroom community.

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    2. I absolutely know that William. You are courageously asking the questions that many wonder and rightly so.

      We should be and need to be having conversations about what really matters. We spend to much time fighting for our limitation rather than dwelling in what is possible.

      Every minute matters and to be spending even one single minute working on work that does not build skills of citizenship, skills of learning, and skills to serve humanity is a waste of both teacher and student time.

      This is a great post, and I hope it continues to get our community asking better questions.

      Thank you!

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  9. Excellent questions William. I think it is so very important to ask these questions and examine them. I am extremely open-minded and like to constantly analyze what I am doing and try to make improvements. I will offer my take on these questions, although I do not have time to answer them all at once.

    1) Many of the teachers that I know who implement 20-time have not had any prior problem having students "toe the line". I have personally not had a behavior issue in 12 years and was definitely not looking for a way for them to "toe the line". By describing it as a bribe-worthy activity, seems to imply that it is very fun and something the students would appreciated (similar to eating ice cream). It is!!! I can, however, point out an extraordinary amount of benefits that I have seen come out of this 20-time. The ability to teach 21st Century Skills through this, get students more excited about the process of learning, and allow for the ultimate formative assessment and feedback is amazing. Therefore, if I have a method that gets students excited, feel empowered, and learn to love learning while also being a tremendously effective teaching method.......EXCELLENT!!! This seems to be the ultimate win-win scenario.

    2. I do not believe that what I am teaching is important enough to stand on its own merit. I cannot believe that education initiatives do not place a higher emphasis on teaching students to become excited about learning, learning how to learn, becoming more altruistic. I am extremely baffled as to why we are not required to teach more life skills such as communication (proper email, phone, conversation etiquette), collaboration, critical-thinking, innovation, creativity, inquiry, argumentation. Most students do not leave high school with these skills, but we expect they have read "Catcher in the Rye", they know the phases of mitosis, and they can identify all of the rivers on a world map.

    I have had a unique opportunity to partner with 75+ community businesses and organizations and almost all of them stress that they feel students need more of these "21st Century Skills", yet in many of the classrooms I have seen, they are not taught.

    20-time - Genius Hour provides an absolutely PERFECT time to teach all of these skills through a topic that the student is passionate about.

    I have done this type of teaching for 3 years, and co-found an interdisciplinary program that is based on its concepts. Through using this method of teaching I have seen greater improvement, learning, and preparation for success than I have ever imagined possible.

    Oliver Schinkten

    @schink10

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  10. Oliver, thanks for the comment. I agree that we often emphasis content that often isn't very relevant over having students learn how to learn. Unfortunately when we are given objectives we must teach we often abdicate the responsibility to teach anything beyond those objectives. I would also argue many (most?) teachers never even consider there is something else they need to do besides covering those objectives.

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    1. That is a great way to summarize it. I think that there are objectives we must teach, however, good teachers need to find ways to teach the other relevant things that will make students successful in their futures. 20-time & Genius Hour is one of those methods.

      In the meantime, I encourage every teacher to speak up about the need for teaching students what they think is best for their students. When we are "given objectives", who is doing this? How can the majority of administrators, teachers, and community members not agree with what is being taught, yet we are given these objectives?

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    2. Re: #2, I am more concerned with learning HOW to teach the content/skills better. Students do not automatically see the importance of what I teach; they need skilled guidance.

      #4, I am hoping to keep this foremost in my mind instead of feeling pressure to make sure students can write and speak well. Maybe my attitude will have an impact on students' willingness to apply themselves to these skills.

      #5, I am planning to train students to evaluate themselves. We'll see if it flies with the new principal.

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    3. So you believe your content and skills are valuable enough to teach. I agree that students don't often see the value in what we consider valuable. I have to admit I feel the same way about the objectives an outside agency created for me to teach as well.

      Good luck with your new principal, I have been blessed with very supporting administrators. They have all believed in me enough to let me try new things.

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  11. #3. I think this question would represent a misconception about the way that many people run 20-time. I am using this time to help encourage students to get excited about learning, and learn skills such as research, communication, contacting an expert, collaborating, giving feedback, receiving feedback, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, technology skills, etc.....

    With this in mind, I do not care what subject they choose. I want them to choose whatever they are most passionate about so that there isn't a barrier between what I want to teach them and what they are using as the topic.

    A list of things that will not help students in the long term include:

    * The phases of mitosis
    * Locating all of the worlds rivers
    * Learning about the abyssal plains
    * in-depth specifics about the Kreb's Cycle
    * The Calvin Cycle
    * Catcher in the Rye
    * Country Capitals
    * Fine details about the periodic table
    * Writing a paper to only a teacher
    * Mountain ranges
    * Details about volcanoes, calderas, etc...
    * Grapes of Wrath
    * Binomial Equations
    * Algebra
    * For most people, foreign languages
    * Islets of Langerhans
    * Dates, Fact, person memorization
    * Etc.... This list could be huge

    Unfortunately someone else has decided for them that these are things they must learn (and we are upset when they are disengaged).

    With regards to "what if someone chooses not to do anything".....I would follow that up with a questions.....

    "What do you do when a student in class chooses to do nothing?"

    In my classroom we would have some one-on-one discussions. I would talk to the parents. I would try to motivate the student, and if they still did nothing they would receive very poor feedback on their 21st Century Skills including Self-directedness.

    Oliver Schinkten
    @schink10

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  12. I am not sure what #4 means. If we really loved each student as if they were our own child, we would make sure that they are equipped with all of the skills necessary to succeed in the future instead of just becoming really good at Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy, and standardized tests. We would look them in the eyes and say "please buy in to what I am helping you learn", because this is going to prepare you for a successful future.

    Oliver Schinkten
    @schink10

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  13. What if we really bought into the idea that high stakes testing wasn't important? Grades? Social status? Beauty? Race?

    Are there people that believe high stakes testing is important?

    Our world would be so wonderful.

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  14. 6. What if we spent less time arguing about what works best in the class and instead spent that time making what we do better?

    What if we spent more time trying to make what we do better and innovating our lessons, and then when we find something excellent, we share it with others, and they argue against it, and we have a good healthy argument, and we all grow from the argument, stay open-minded and continue to evolve our teaching so that it gets better every year?

    7. I don't fully understand this question. People that are attending them only to be seen, seem strange to me. If we all did it, I guess that we would all look strange (to me).

    8. If anyone is invested in it for that reason, than I feel bad for them, however, I am happy they have an outlet so that they do not feel so lonely.

    Oliver Schinkten
    @schink10
    ComPassion Based Learning

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    1. Regarding number 7, I wonder about my motivations sometimes when I attend an edcamp. That is where the question came from. (The reality is there is a little bit of me in every question.) I can definitely identify with 8. I didn't know how alone I was until I found people on Twitter that I could talk to.

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  15. Good questions!

    As for #3, if we let students learn about what they really care about, that can blossom into something amazing. Passion must be tempered with necessity. Even the military mastermind Napoleon practiced hygiene every day. I believe we must teach students to be mindful of the consumption of information and products that come of it, not just how to acquire knowledge. A healthy understanding of good decisions comes with bridling your passions to work for you. That's the truth of #3. Where do you draw the line at learning for substance and learning for learning's sake? Active learning looks different for every student. Education is not necessarily something that can be tangibly measured within a year or even three. It takes a lifetime.

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    1. I agree with you but honestly none of that can be measured and compared to other students, especially on a state or national level. The reality seems to be that education as policy is less about learning than it is a competition to see who can score the most meaningless points.

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  17. ven BlackAugust 8, 2013 at 4:22 PM
    These are stimulating and challenging questions to ask. What's best about them is that there is no one right answer, no "yes" or "no" answer. Regarding #6: it all works and it all doesn't work. No matter what we try, it will work for some kids, not for others. What is important is matching the student with the method or setting that works best for that student, and forgetting about the idea that there is one magic anything that will work for all.

    Regarding #3: With the world changing as quickly as it has been, how the heck are we supposed to know what knowledge is going to benefit students long-term? Is long-term the next school year, the next five years? 10? 20? 50? Teach students to comprehend English, to communicate so that someone else understands what it is they are trying to say, to understand the difference between adding, subtraction, multiplication and division, and how to use a calculator. Teach students how to take care of their bodies, how to reason through a problem, how to listen to different ideas -- particularly those you disagree with -- carefully to understand what the other person is trying to communicate. Teach them that the way to progress is not through winning debates or elections, but through finding solutions that work for as many people as possible, with the understanding that you can't please everyone. Teach students to be proud of their being, to know they have abilities, that they have value just for being alive, but it would be useful if they did something.

    To do the above, particularly the last sentence, we adults have to be able to remember that not everything we ever did was considered valuable by our parents and their peers, but that whatever it was had value to us at the time, and somehow we came out alright. We have to remember that we made mistakes, some of them doozies, and learned from them, then trust that today's youth will do the same. We have to stop being self-righteous know-it-alls and start being mentors and guides, interlocutors and challengers of thinking so that we will have value to youth that even they will recognize.

    Thanks, William, and Angela, for your challenging questions. They helped me clarify some things in my mind and disrupted other things I thought I had settled. Well done.

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    1. Thanks Deven, these are questions I have asked myself about myself too. The real problem with education is that we will never really know how much influence (for good or bad) we have had on our students. We pick a course to follow and hope that it is the right course and that it works well enough for all our students. The easy way to 'judge' teaching, testing, seems to encompass so little that anyone with any critical thinking ability should see through it. Alas, they don't. Ultimately it seems we have to step out on faith, reflect on our practice, and make necessary adjustments when we identify problems. Sometimes I think we are practicing voodoo more than teaching.

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  18. Thank you so much for posting these questions, William! Keeping people thinking, opening their minds, defending their stances, sharing their opinions is a wonderful thing to do!

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  19. 1) What if genius hour or 20% time are just unconscious bribes that teachers use to get kids to 'toe the line' the rest of the day?

    The reality is that people are most creative when given a box...or so the researchers say. Kids will be less creative when told do whatever you want. It seems like they are creative because they are doing all sorts of different things, but just because they are doing different projects on their passion does not lead to more creativity. 20% is a bit misleading in how it has been presented to the ed world. Not everyone at google gets 20%, just certain people, and while yes, some of them might do yoga, most work on problems connected to their job which leads to more products for google.

    What I found one year while doing genius hours and 20% time is that as the year went on most kids decided to use the time to work on whatever we were doing in class. I am questioning whether to offer it all all this year. I am not a newbie convert, I was doing both before they had fancy names, so I have gone through several cycles and renditions, experimented with many ways of doing them, and in the end I would say 80% would have rather have done more of what we were doing as a class and found both to be an interruption in their flow.

    Just like flipping, I am a huge proponent because I think eventually if teachers do it enough it will lead to the regular classes feeling like 20% time.

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    1. Wow! I have had the exact opposite experience. I hope that a teacher would not avoid attempting it based on this feedback. I found it to be a fabulous time to teach 21st Century Skills, the students worked extremely hard, greatly appreciated the time, and I saw some of the most innovative and creative work that I have ever seen in any classroom in 12 years. Some of the stories were amazing. I also thought that by using 20% of the time to "learn how to learn" that the class became much more efficient during the other 80% of the time.

      I do not like the direct Google comparison, because obviously the students are not Google employees. 20-time is difficult to do and does take some "structured autonomy". If done correctly, I think this is one of the most powerful teaching tools that I have come across.

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