Saturday, May 30, 2015

Food for Thought: How fortunate we are

Dear all,

The death of Grant Wiggins early this week, coming on top of that of Paul Ginnis, makes one think how lucky we are to have enjoyed the influence of two great educational thinkers. There is no doubt that both these men have had a great impact on their sphere's of influence and upon us at ISHCMC.

There are a great number of tributes to Grant Wiggins on the internet that show his importance to the teaching profession. Although I regarded Paul as my educational mentor and more recently close friend, it was actually Grant Wiggins who ignited my desire to dig deep and to ask questions about education. I attended one of his weekend workshops on UbD at ISBangkok in the early 2000's and his insight, intelligence and practicality made me start to question how and why we do things in schools. Up to then, I'd just taught and managed by instinct on what felt right. The workshop on UbD changed all of that and I was inspired to learn more about children, how they learn and what we need to do to optimize that learning.That inspiration still persists today.

Here is an article I read years ago that made me think more about how and why we assess students. A topic that I am still grappling with today.

Have a good weekend,


Grant Wiggins: Defining Assessment
 Grant Wiggins
Grant Wiggins is a nationally recognized assessment expert who has been working in assessment reform for more than twenty-five years. He is president of the educational consulting firm Authentic Education, and with Jay McTighe, co-author of Understanding by Design, an award-winning framework for curriculum design used around the world. In this interview, Wiggins shares his thoughts on performance assessments, standardized tests, and more.
Wiggins has published several articles for In 2002, he wrote Toward Genuine Accountability: The Case for a New State Assessment System. In 2006, he wrote Healthier Testing Made Easy: The Idea of Authentic Assessment.
1. What distinctions do you make between "testing" and "assessment"?
Our line of argument is that testing is a small part of assessment. It needs to be part of the picture. Many people who are anti-testing end up sounding anti-evaluation and anti-measurement. A good test has a role to play. The language that we like to use is, it's an audit. It's a snapshot. You don't run your business for the audit. You want more than a snapshot, you want a whole family album. But the audit and the snapshot have a place in the larger picture.
What can the test do that more complex, performance-based, project-based things can't do? Look for discrete knowledge and skill for the individual student. Many projects, because they're so collaborative, end up making you wonder, well, what about the individual student? What does the individual student know?
For instance, in some state-based, performance-based assessment, they always had a parallel paper-and-pencil test for the individual student so that you had enough data on the individual. A different way to say it -- and this is what scientists and researchers say -- is triangulate the information. Match the quiz against the project, against the PowerPoint® presentation. Now what's the whole picture say? So, what we would say is "testing" is one piece of a portfolio.
2. What is authentic assessment and why is it important?
Authentic assessment, to me, is not meant to be the charged phrase, or jargony phrase that it has come to be for a lot of people. When we first started using it fifteen years ago, we merely meant to signify authentic work that big people actually do as opposed to fill-in-the-blanks, paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice, short-answer quiz, school-based assessment. So it's authentic in the sense [that] it's real. It's realistic. If you go into the work place, they don't give you a multiple-choice test to see if you're doing your job. They have some performance assessment, as they say in business.
Having said that, there is a misunderstanding. People say, "Well, if it's not authentic, it can't possibly be a good assessment." We never said that. We never implied it. There's a lot of authentic work that doesn't make for good assessment because it's so messy and squishy and it involves so many different people and so many variables that you can't say with any certainty, "Well, what did that individual student know about those particular objectives in this complex project that occurred over a month?" So there's a place for unauthentic, non-real-world assessments. We're just making the distinction that you shouldn't leave school not knowing what big people actually do.
3. Why is it important that teachers consider assessment before they begin planning lessons or projects?
One of the challenges in teaching is designing, and to be a good designer you have to think about what you're trying to accomplish and craft a combination of the content and the instructional methods, but also the assessment. And one of the things that we've done over the past years in working with teachers is share with them how important it is to say, "What are you going to assess? What's evidence of the goals that you have in mind?" Otherwise your teaching can end up being hit-or-miss.
We call it backward design. Instead of jumping to the activities -- '"Oh, I could have kids do this, oh, that'd be cool" -- you say, "Well, wait a minute." Before you decide exactly what you're going to do with them, if you achieve your objective, what does it look like? What's the evidence that they got it? What's the evidence that they can now do it, whatever the "it" is? So you have to think about how it's going to end up, what it's going to look like. And then that ripples back into your design, what activities will get you there. What teaching moves will get you there?
4. How do you assess project-based learning?
It all starts with, well, what are our goals? And how does this project support those goals and how are we assessing in light of those goals? So, you would expect to see for any project a scoring guideline, a rubric, in which there are clear links to the project, to some criteria and standards that we value that relate to some overarching objective -- quite explicitly, that we're aiming for as teachers.
Sometimes we run into the problem that the project is so much a creature of the student's interest that there's no question that lovely learning occurs, but we sort of lose sight of the fact that now it's completely out of our control. We don't even know what it's really accomplishing in terms of our goals other than the kid is learning a lot and doing some critical and creative work.
What we have to do is realize that even if we give this kid free reign to do really cool projects, it's still got to fit within the context of some objectives, standards, and criteria that we bring to it, and frame the project in so that we can say by the end, "I have evidence. I can make the case that you learned something substantial and significant that relates to school objectives."
5. How can technology support and enhance assessment?
Once we get beyond the idea that assessment is more than just quizzes and tests -- and that it's the documentation of whereby you make this case that the student has done something significant -- this body of evidence, if we want to stick with that judicial metaphor, proves the student actually learned something.
Technology is an obvious partner because whether it's on a CD-ROM, floppies, or an old-fashioned technology like video cameras or even overheads, the student is bringing together visual, three-dimensional, and paper-and-pencil work. We want to be able to document and have a trace of what the student has accomplished and how the student got there.
Having said that, I think sometimes technology is overused and we don't think carefully enough about the evidence we need to give the grade, put something on the transcript, and track that information over time. Many well-intentioned people say, "Let's have student portfolios of the student's work K-12." Well, that's fine for the student, but there's hardly another human being other than the kid's family that wants to wade through all that.
And that's actually another role of technology: It's a good database system -- information management, storage, and retrieval whereby we say, "I don't want to look through the whole portfolio. I want to just see some samples, some rubrics to get a sense of the student's current level of performance." Tracking information over time through technology is actually an important part of it as well.
6. How do you respond to the argument that teachers don't have enough time to design and conduct authentic or performance-based assessments?
One of the criticisms often leveled at alternative forms of assessment -- whether we call them performance, portfolio, authentic, real-world, or project-based, -- is they're too time intensive, they're too expensive. It's too big of a hassle. What's the payoff? What's the cost benefit?
I can understand that argument at the state level. The state is in the audit business. And one of the things I think we've learned over the years is that given their need to save money, to not be too intrusive, to make it reliable as an assessment, then they may have to not do some of this. But many of those arguments that the critics make don't hold up at the district level at all. On the contrary, it's not very expensive. You've got all your own local people who are in the business of assessing. It's not inappropriate or a waste of time because you can't meet the standards without doing performance-based assessment.
7. Standardized tests, such as the SAT, are used by schools as a predictor of a student's future success. Is this a valid use of these tests?
Standardized testing has a role to play as an audit, but one of the things that many policymakers and parents forget, or don't know, is that these tests have a very narrow focus and purpose as audits. They're just trying to find out if you really learned the stuff you learned in school.
Whether these tests predict future performance or success -- they do not. Even with the SAT, ETS and the College Board are quite clear about what it does and does not predict. It just predicts freshman grade point average in the first semester. That's all. And there's plenty of studies to show that grades in college don't correlate with later success.
So, one of the things that people get in trouble with is assessment. It's like a bad game of telephone. Remember the game you played as a kid? What starts out as a perfectly intelligible sentence ends up being some wild distorted thing by the end.

Ten or fifteen years ago, the Secretary of Education was having wall charts about each state's SAT performances -- as if that was a measure of school and school-system success. But the SAT was invented as an aptitude test, not an achievement test linked to curricula. It was just about general intelligence. Let's be very careful about what we're making claims about, what these assessment results do and don't mean. Most state and national tests are predicting very, very narrow results about certain types of school performance. That's all.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Food for Thought: Ideas of Professor Yong Zhao

Dear all,

I didn’t send a Food for Thought last weekend because I knew this one would be long and I want you to read it. This is the final part of the excellent learning experience that I enjoyed at the INTASE World Educational Leadership Summit. I have already shared the ideas of Tony Wagner, Stephen Murgatroyd, Simon Breakespear, Pasi Stahlberg and Sugata Mitra; all of whom were very much on the same page with the call for change in education. In this final part I will share the ideas of Professor Yong Zhao from the University of Oregon. I will try to bring together two lectures and a Masterclass as succinctly as possible for you.

It’s not only the speakers at this conference and your Academic Director who feel that education needs to change radically and it needs to happen now! In Sir Ken Robinson’s new book, Creative Schools, that  I have just started.  The introduction, One minute to Midnight, starts:

“Are you concerned about education? I am. One of my deepest concerns is that while education systems around the world are being reformed, many of these reforms are being driven by political and commercial interests that misunderstand how real people learn and how schools actually work. As a result they are damaging the prospects of countless young people. Sooner or later, for better or worse, they will affect you or someone you know. It’s important to understand what these reforms are about. If you agree that they’re going in the wrong direction. I hope that you will become part of the movement to a more holistic approach that nurtures the diverse talents of all our children.”

 Last weekend I read this Mindshift article, What theFuture Economy Means for How Kids Learn Today, by David Price, that starts:
“If you were only to listen to politicians and policy makers, you could be forgiven for harboring two delusions: first, that the sole purpose of schooling is to create the workforce of the future; second, that the only place that our students learn is at school. If you believe that preparation for work is at least a part of education’s function, at what point do educators have a responsibility to face the radically changing employment patterns facing our students? And how can we re-think schooling to complement, not compete with, their informal learning?

Both of the above authors connect directly with Yong Zhao’s work and thinking and that is what I want to share now.

Although this YouTube interview given by Yong Zhao does not capture his energy and humour it accurately provides a synopsis of his ideas.

He has also written several books. This is his latest that will be followed by several others and in particular, Counting what Counts: re-framing education evaluation which will be released this summer.

Yong Zhao feels that globalization and technology are rapidly changing society and redefining the value of human talents, knowledge, and skills. The knowledge and skills valued by schools today may not help our children live a successful life in the future. Yong Zhao discussed how technology and globalization has changed the value of knowledge and skills and suggested schools can do to cultivate successful citizens in the future.

Professor Zhao posed the questions, what matters in education today? What are the important qualities that make a person successful?  Success at doing what? What really matters? He talked about how all the data collected from longitudinal studies such as the Terman Studies show that high IQ, SAT scores and Standardized test results do not predict success in life. Zhao showed that IQ accounted for approximately 20% of success whilst EQ 62% and Feng Shui about 23%. Writers such as Keith Baker, in a key article published in 2006 called "Are International Tests Worth Anything?  questioned whether standardized tests are valuable at all. Research into the data would say not.
Talent has to do with context and given the change in context it is now time to redefine talent.

Zhao talked about our present economic environment and how we are living in an age of abundance. Gone are the days when it was necessary to produce a workforce that was compliant and ready for their roles as clerks and factory workers. Today’s economy is not producing the jobs to employ everyone leaving schools and universities. Big companies are getting fewer and are being replaced by small start-up enterprises run by small scale entrepreneurs. He explained that no longer will there be a job waiting for the next generation of youth but rather that future generations will have to create their employment. They will have to be entrepreneurs; business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs or policy entrepreneurs.

He explained that the skills he saw as critical were the 4 C’s; Communication, Creativity, Collaboration and Critical Thinking and that it is education’s responsibility to focus on developing these in all our children. He pointed out that modern assessment “assesses what teachers teach and not what students learn,” and that for education to change it is vital that what we value through assessment these changes.  He summed up this argument by saying, “what counts may not be countable, and what is countable may not count.”

In his Masterclass, he suggested that we should focus on the now, start from zero, don’t look backwards and asked what do we know about now:

·         Human nature is diverse, curious and creative
·         The economy is fast changing
·         Information is everywhere
·         The world is globalized

Working from this premise he suggested that we need to find ways to optimize each of these opportunities.

Human nature: We understand multiple intelligence and know that no one is supremely talented in all areas. What we need to understand is what are our motivating factors and what makes us willing to pursue areas of strength. It is clear from research and motivational profiling that there is a very complex set of objectives that encourage motivation and therefore makes us very diverse in our talents. Curiosity is seen as natural and is accompanied by a capacity to create. Humans use a trial and error methodology in order to come up with original solutions and this leads to new learning. Learning has to involve creativity. It is previous experiences that account for human difference in creative problem solving. Children are natural born learners from birth. Our ability to learn is what stands humans apart from the rest of the animal world. 

Fast changing economy: We have entered the second machine age. Machines are taking over many jobs but this provides opportunities. We have to decide which problems are worth solving and which should be left to far quicker and efficient machines. The key for education is to identify the skills and talents that will not or cannot be replaced by machines. As D. Pinks say,” we need to make sure students are learning something that can’t be done cheaper somewhere else.” In our age of abundance we have no need to hunt for food or find shelter which gives us free time that is occupied by consuming entertainment, health and education. This is where we need to focus on the unique qualities in each of our students. Opportunities that didn't exist before are opening every day.  In developed economies the rich are getting richer, the middle class are losing their jobs and automation has removed many working class occupations. But this should not just been seen as a negative because data shows that our economies are providing just as many opportunities for new jobs as they are taking away old ones. The cost of starting a business today is the lowest it has ever been.  The key question is how do we help students capture these opportunities? Are we providing them with the skills to recognize and accept these openings when they appear? Or are we still focused on the old economy that has disappeared?

Information: Today information is available everywhere and can be accessed very quickly. Schools were built to be the centers of knowledge.  However, they have lost their monopoly over information/ knowledge but are not reflecting this change. Education is refusing to accept the need to redefine its function in society. Schools still have an important role to play in society but it can’t be the same as in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

Globalized world: The biggest problem is the need to get on with each other. Our national systems still focus too much on competition with others rather than collaboration and understanding. We have to move away from a world where we want to be better and beat those from other countries. We need to teach children to see themselves as part of a global society. The globalized world provides the opportunity for everyone to flourish and make a living. As an entrepreneur it has always been the case that not everyone will like your product. What has changed is your access to the market. In the past if you lived in a village of 1000 people and only 1% liked your product you would end up poor. But today, the global world provides a fantastic opportunity. If only 1% of the globalized world knows and likes your product you have a chance of making a very good living.

Yong Zhao suggests that we have to capitalize on human uniqueness and build on our ability to create and recreate.  The key is entrepreneurship. In the past we just prepared people to find a job doing what other people wanted. He says that to educate children to succeed in present society we need to allow children to create the future. If we accept this then why not have them create their curriculum because when we create curriculum – it is for now/ past based on what we know not what students want or need to know. We have to re-imagine jobs and look towards mass entrepreneurship. This will mean developing a start- up mindset for all students so they understand business, social, combination of business and social and interpersonal entrepreneurship. As Apple recently stated, “if you want to be managed you are not employable.” The new requirement of the labour market is that we should be preparing students with a mindset that identifies opportunities, sees problems as opportunities and has creative skills that find new solutions through tiny variations. This mentality is all around us today, Uber being one excellent example. You just need one idea and then the resilience, social intelligence and social capital to make it work.

Yong Zhao stressed that schools should be focused on developing qualities and skills such as confidence, passion and creativity, alertness to opportunity, global competence, uniqueness, empathy, risk-taking, resilience and interpersonal skills. The pedagogy of school should encourage growth of entrepreneurs and it should be the schools responsibility today to create the changes. We should not allow our students to be bound by our own prison, we do not have to change everything and by starting small we can change enough to make a difference.

Yong Zhao's recommendations for a Creative, Entrepreneurial, and Global 21st Century Education are:

       Stop prescribing and imposing on children a narrow set of content through common curriculum standards and testing
       Start personalizing education to support the development of unique, creative, and entrepreneurial talents
       Stop fixing solely the teaching force by selecting, training, and retaining better teacher candidates. It takes too long and we cannot wait
       Start empowering the children by liberating their potentials, capitalizing on their passion, and supporting their pursuits. Start giving the ownership of learning to the children
       Stop constraining children to learning opportunities present in their immediate physical environments by assigning them to classes and teachers
       Start engaging them in learning opportunities that exist in the global community, beyond their class and school walls
       Stop forcing children to learn what adults think they may need and testing them to what degree they have mastered the required content
       Start allowing children the opportunity to engage in creating authentic products and learn what they are interested in, just in time, not just in case
       Stop bench marking to measures of excellence in the past, such as international test scores
       Start inventing the excellence of the future. You cannot fix the horse wagon to get to the moon. We have to work on rocket science.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Food for Thought:Innovation for Better Learning, Simon Breakspear



Simon Breakspear is the Fonder & CEO of LearnLabs and he posed the question how can established educational institutions and systems develop culture of innovation and get on the road to transforming learning? What can education leaders learn from the most innovative companies around the world that could aid them in this task? He pointed out that economic globalization, demographic changes, environmental challenges and new technologies are all exerting pressure on our 20th century models of education. Discussions show there is broad consensus among educators globally that we need to rethink, reimagine and redesign education institutions and systems. He feels frustrated that we have spent the first decade of the 21th century talking about 21th century learning rather than creating it. Many schools seem stuck while the world continues to speed up. 

Simon Breaksprear argued it is time for educational leaders to be bold, think big and create the future of learning today. He believes it is time for educators to learn about the art and science of innovation and apply it to the task of redesigning learning. Innovation for better learning draws on global research lessons from the most innovative leaders and organizations, both inside and outside of education, to teach the mindsets, processes and cultures needed to transform learning in schools. I found Simon Breakspear to be very optimistic about the future for education, as you can tell from this short video about his ideas

Simon Breaksprear argued it is time for educational leaders to be bold, think big and create the future of learning today. He believes it is time for educators to learn about the art and science of innovation and apply it to the task of redesigning learning. Innovation for better learning draws on global research lessons from the most innovative leaders and organizations, both inside and outside of education, to teach the mindsets, processes and cultures needed to transform learning in schools.

He started by saying that educational leaders have to change their default setting from Yes but, to Yes and.  He reflected on the Douglas Adam quote, ‘Education is inherently a future based industry’  and pointed out that schools spend too much time talking about the past and that is why they aren’t changing fast enough.

The need is for agile leadership for learning with a mindset that is based around the concept that we can get better all the time and that accepting the status quo, dictated by the past, is no longer enough. He pointed out that the best always look to get better and that we should always be looking forward not backwards. It is time to dispense with the traditional deficit model of education and look towards a model that humor’s the past whilst designing the future.

Schools have evolved and we should not be throwing everything away but rather building on the parts that are good and appropriate for today. We should not be employing disruptive innovation but rather radical incrementalism.  He pointed out that relationships are the essential part of learning and that educators need to work together to produce sustainable changes to our rationalized patterns of practice. We should be looking to transform, ‘old theory to new practice.’

He stressed that it is important to create a vision for learning that is concrete and not conceptual. That people can visualize. He pointed out that educational leaders cannot lead others into a future they cannot see.  He suggested that schools would be better to focus on less but better and go for high leverage changes that will move schools forward. There needs to be a mobilization of change by teachers learning in and through practice. He said, “you cannot mandate greatness it must be unleashed.”

His strategy for innovation was to sue evidence based ideas, to start small and learn fast whilst also learning to fail well. He was clear that educational leaders shouldn’t expect to get buy in from everyone but that doesn’t matter. Support those on the inside and build from there. He was clear that research in innovative business models shows that leaders who want to change everything always start with the smallest part and go from there. This system for change he called Minimal Viable Learning Design (MVLD). In this model  you use feedback from rapid feedback loops and learn to fail well.  He used the example of the Dyson vacuum cleaner that revolutionized the no bag household cleaner. He explained that there were 5,127 versions of this cleaner before they were happy with the end product. They experimented, got feedback, failed well by listening and learning

His final stage for helping schools innovate successfully for learning was to take the change beyond small pockets to everyone in the community. He explained that it is up to the school leader to create positive contagion by sharing the new practices and demonstrating that they are reliable and effective for learning. He emphasized the point that change is a social process and that it is important to build trust to increase social learning across the community and that it takes a community to sustain a change over time.  Change shouldn’t be seen as technical but rather cultural. He summed this up by saying that, “schools must become the greatest learning organizations in the world if they are to successfully serve this and future generations of students.”

Wagner, Murgatroyd and Breakspear were all very clear that it is very important for education to redefine what really matters. In their talks it was clear that they were aligned in feeling that technology is only useful when it helps students address a problem and that as a standalone it is useless. It was suggested that there has been too much emphasis on technology for its own sake and not for the competencies that it should develop in students at each Grade level.

Throughout their talks they stressed that schools should prescribe less, teach less and that by doing so students will learn more. They believe that the ownership of learning has shifted and today with the right guidance, support and competencies students can teach themselves by asking the right questions and creating their own lines of inquiry. They saw this model as human shaped learning that was technology enabled. But they stressed that what really counts are passionate teachers.

These three keynotes all stressed that teachers need to be modeling the learning they expect from their students by learning alongside their students. They felt that learning should be about problem solving and that identifying key problems that lead to deeper learning is an advanced skill that many teachers do not have. Hence they felt that if teachers are to model innovative questioning they need to be keeping journals of questions as they think about them and sharing them in planning meetings. Only through collaboration and intense discussion can good inquiry be developed.  The term student centered learning was seen as narcissitic because the teacher should today be a coach / designer of activities that empower students.  If this is transformation is to be successful they stressed that everyone needs time to read, explore, reflect contemplate and apply to their own practice.