Saturday, April 14, 2012

What Should Kids Read?

Everybody seems to have an opinion on the matter.  First, there was this report by Renaissance Learning (of AR fame), which showed the book levels per the ATOS scale from students who are using AR in grades 1-12.  The report has opinion pieces from several different YA authors like Dan Gutman and Dave Pilkey, one of the authors of the Common Core Standards, as well as a librarian.  Renaissance thought only to give one teacher a voice in the discussion.  Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education Reform,  University of Arkansas added her opinion in the New York Daily News.  Finally, Robert Pondiscio chimed in at the Core Knowledge Blog.  Of course the Common Core Standards have answered the question by telling us that students should be reading a lot more non-fiction, an idea that I think has a lot of merit.  So, what should students be reading?  Where is the proper balance between student choice and teacher choice?

What Does Educational Research Really Tell us?

Photo Credit Nic's Events

Most educators in the past 10 years have confidently followed the lead of Robert Marzano in his famous meta-analysis of What Works in School and attempted to implement some or all of those high impact strategies that his organization has uncovered by looking at hundreds of studies and averaging the effect of each study to determine which strategies have the greatest impact.  Therefore, summarizing and notetaking is considered an effective strategy because the average improvement of performance on the studies under consideration was strong.

I started wondering about the advantages and disadvantages of this approach as I was reading Creating the Opportunity to Learn by A. Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera.  These authors used a different approach as they recommended promising practices to close the achievement gap.  They often cited research from a singular study (though they also referred to meta-analysis as well).  For example when discussing Teacher Student Relationship Quality (TSQR) they cited a study by Hamre and Pianta where the researchers followed 1900 Kindergarten students through 8th grade.  The relationship between the teacher and student was quantified in Kindergarten and their academic performance and grades were compared every year.

My wondering is what can we learn from these two approaches to research. It seems to me that the individual study gives us some specific lessons, especially if we dig into the manner that those Kindergarten teachers built productive relationships with their students, for example.  Whereas in the meta-analysis we are left with the general idea that students should be taught note taking and summarizing.  While I feel that this is a gain in our understanding, I'm guessing that within those many studies that were used for the meta-analysis there were students who gained, some who stayed the same, and a few who even dropped.  Therefore, we need to know more by looking at some of the individual studies with the biggest gains to determine the specific factors that led to success compared to those who did notetaking and summarizing but saw no student gains.

Either way, educators need be wise consumers of research, looking closely at the claims of researchers and practitioners alike.  We need to be able to judge for ourselves these claims and judge our own work through reflection and objective analysis to determine if what we are doing is working for the students we serve.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting Things Rolling

Photo Credit: Kevin Cochran

Michael Fullan likes checklists and another list he has is around a concept he calls Motion Leadership.  It is really about creating a culture where change can flourish.  An effective leader builds the systems, conditions, and processes that will develop sound decision making. He quotes Schwartz and Sharpe in their book Practical Wisdom, "(System Changers) .. have to build institutions with the culture and organization to encourage wisdom in everyday practice.  they have to create communities of practitioners who not only nurture moral skill but help inspire moral will, the commitment to o right by those the practitioners serve."  Fullan gives his checklist to create such a culture:

  1. Relationships First
  2. Beware of Fat Plans (My favorite)
  3. Behaviors before beliefs
  4. Honor the implementation dip
  5. Communication during implementation is paramount
  6. Learn about implementation during implementation
  7. Excitement prior to implementation is fragile
  8. Take risks and learn
  9. It is OK to be assertive
What would be on your checklist for creating cultures that embrace learning and change?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Photo Credit:

Michael Fullan's book Change Leader describes his approach to leadership, one he has used successfully in Ontario to lead that city to significant academic gains over the past 9 years.  He prescribes seven key insights leaders should adapt to create the conditions for change to flourish.

  1. The effective change leader actively participates as a learner in helping the organization improve.
  2. The effective change leaders combine resolute moral purpose with impressive empathy.
  3. Realized effectiveness is what motivates people to do more.
  4. Collaborative competition is the yin and yang of successful change.
  5. Change leaders are more confident than the situation warrants but more humble than they look.
  6. Statistics are a wonderful servant and an appalling master.
  7. Simplexity is salvation for an intricate world.
Numbers 1, 2, and 5 deal with the character, demeanor and approach of the leader.  I agree wholeheartedly that an effective leader participates as  a co-learner with the staff (#1), maintains a healthy balance of push and support (#2), and balances confidence with humility (#5).  We would do well to cultivate these three character traits in our work and life every day.