Dr. Paula Kluth - Supporting Inclusion in Challenging Times & Creating Schools for All
Below is a summary of my notes and thoughts based on Dr. Kluth's keynote message on inclusion.
First of all, I immediately liked the live speech-to-text (real-time captions) on the screen. It was a perfect example of inclusion, as well as UDL (universal design learning), as all people could partake in the presentation despite any sound issues.
Right away, Dr. Kluth showed us a video of a younger musician, Feng E, and told us to remember this one thing if nothing else: remember the chorus (of teaching); after all, kids will remember the human interaction, not necessarily the technology and all the little details. Belonging and inclusion are the key. Connection and community--that’s what kids will remember in these challenging times.
In fact, we did a brief but insightful activity where the teacher participants wrote what they remembered most from their high school days. Invariably it wasn't primarily academics, like math and chemistry; instead it was the good times together with friends, lunchtimes, PE, band, clubs, and the like. (Right now I'm listening to Feng E on YouTube and he's older and even more talented. Amazing!)
Five Big Ideas:
1. Keep “doing inclusion” - We are all doing it already, so keep it up. For example, a teacher named Sarah Brady started a virtual lunch table with a few of her students twice a week on Zoom, a form of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). Communication devices, systems, strategies and tools that replace or support natural speech are known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
2. Focus on inclusion as a process
Figure out how to include all students: Over, under, around or through. Find a way, make a way.
Essentially, what the speaker was saying was do not quit until you've tried every possible avenue, and then try something else. It may take a long time to figure out the specific needs because every child is unique and different. I love when she said that often teachers will say that "it" didn't work. Dr. Kluth would reply, "What is your 'it'?" In other words, you need to keep going until you find that "it" for that particular learner.
She also gave an example of a student who she thought was her match. But then she realized that maybe we can't solve the problem, but we can get to a better problem. In other words, something closer to the finish line, an incremental improvement. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, and some of your most challenging students are like gladiators, battling with you day in and day out. But eventually, there will be cracks in the armor and you will find a way to work alongside instead of head-to-head.
Keep in mind some of these ideas:
Learners need need supports, not just a space (like the classroom). Teachers and support staff need to try all supports, not just some, including ones that don't even exist! Technology, peer support are some ideas. Also, keep in mind that inclusion means different things for different learners, so keeping that student in the classroom but not being an active participant might be defeating the purpose. If you're stuck, brainstorm with other educators a 20 ways list. Remember, kids aren't elastic so structures need to be.
3. Provide access to academics
Dr. Kluth showed a poignant example of a student as an adult and asked how we would have done things differently had we known her future. A woman named Kailey with Down's syndrome was currently working in the government. We need to presume confidence in learners and then help find it. Kids are very complex or competent, so they deserve rich and meaningful learning opportunities. Let's encourage joyful learning and give lots of entry points for our learners, making adaptations where and when necessary. What's really fascinating is that inclusion seems to improve overall class results.
“Sometimes being realistic isn’t being realistic.” Norman Kunc
WHAT IS POSSIBLE? Don't limit yourself.
4. Focus on all
UDL helps one student but also all. Currently social-emotional learning is bieng used for all students, though previously it was for students with autism. UDL helps bring success on multiple pathways for learners.
5. Let them lead
A rising tide lifts all ships. When we give learners agency, self-determination, self-direction, and self-advocacy, choices, then that is when we will truly see success. Let kids lead!
Here is a brief summary or highlights from the book, Boy Smarts.
Guideline 1: Gender exists along a continuum from extremely feminine and extremely masculine at each end. There is more variance within a gender than between genders. Takeaway: Provide a range of activities to meet varied needs--from rambunctious, physical play to quieter activities, such as chess and reading.
Guideline 2: Boys need movement. "Movement is central to multi-sensory stimulation and mimics real-world interactions." It also helps stimulate their brains, to process information and make sense of stressful situations. Boredom is stressful for boys. Takeaway: Provide movement activity breaks, centres or group rotations, and allow fidgeting and doodling whenever possible.
Guideline 3: Testosterone must be channelled, as high levels account for increased irritability and impulsiveness, as well as rambunctiousness. However, if testosterone dips too low, they may become grumpy, nervous or bad-tempered. Takeaway: Boys need activities to channel their boisterousness, instead of being reprimanded or medicated.
Guideline 4: "Men consistently outperform women on spatial tasks, including mental rotation, which is the ability to identify how a 3-D object would appear if rotated in space. A new study shows a connection between this ability and the structure of the parietal lobe." (Brain and Cognition, Nov. 5, 2008). Takeaway: Design activities that involved opportunities for spatial and abstract reasoning, such as measurement, pre-algebra and graphing in math. Also, building models, mind-mapping and using graphic organizers are great tools to analyze information.
Source: Boy Smarts, Barry McDonald, 2005
Too often in math class, mathematically interested students are shut down in class, often by well-meaning teachers who either don't know the underlying mathematical concept, feel publicly challenged, see math as a set of rules and formulas, or perhaps are on a tight schedule to "cover" the curriculum.
Most mathematicians feel mathematics is not so much being obedient to a set of fixed rules and regulations, but rather using creativity and risk taking to solve elegant problems. Paul Lockhart, mathematician, says, "Math is not about following directions, it's about making new directions." They are most intrigued and challenged by unsolved or open problems. This requires taking risks, something you might not attribute to learning/teaching math. Mathematician James Tanton says, "Math is being able to engage in joyful intellectual play--and being willing to flail (even fail!)."
Zager talks about the joy children experience when discovering or realizing new mathematical understanding in their everyday lives. It doesn't matter to them if a mathematical law or property already exists in some math textbook.
In a grade two class, Zager observes a math lesson and notices several things. First, the teacher uses wait time, wanting deep thinking and thoughtfulness, not simple ideas and speed. Also, she keeps students focussed on mathematical thinking, not unrelated matters. The teacher makes sure they are using specific and clear mathematical language. Finally, she teaches students to challenge themselves and take risks.
PROMOTING OBEDIENCE VS. ENCOURAGING RISK
Obedience: Memorizing algorithms is necessary. "What's the rule about adding fractions?"
Risk: Different ways to solve problems exist; try to figure out which work best. "That's an interesting approach. Will it work all the time? Show your work in a way people can follow."
Obedience: Smart and easy are common words. Speed is key. "Wow, that was fast! You must be smart!"
Risk: Challenge and try are common words. "This problem is really interesting. Nice job, you really tried hard! I have a challenge for you today."
Obedience: Students speak up when they know the answer.
Risk: Students speak when they have a question, notice something, have an idea, build on a student's thinking, agree or disagree, or have an answer.
Obedience: Students are passive and do what they're supposed to.
Risk: Students are encouraged to takes risks and expect them to come up with novel ideas. "You might be inspired by Alvin's example. Is there a volunteer to try? We will help."
Source: Zager, Tracy Johnston, Becoming the math teacher you wish you'd had, 2017
Teachers nowadays are being asked to differentiate learning by meeting students’ individual learning styles, differing cognitive abilities and multiple intelligences. Is this possible? And how effective is it? Willingham, a cognitive scientist, turns that notion on its head. He states that children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.
COGNITIVE STYLES VS. ABILITIES
First, let’s differentiate between cognitive styles and cognitive abilities. Cognitive ability is the capacity for success in certain types of thought; for example, mathematical concepts. Abilities are how we deal with content and how well we think. Cognitive styles are biases or tendencies to think in a certain way, such as thinking sequentially or holistically. Styles are how we prefer to think and learn. Of course, more ability is better than less, but one style is not better than another.
COGNITIVE STYLES (a sample list)
Three characteristics of cognitive styles: 1) stable within an individual during different situations and times; 2) consequential: has implications for future actions; 3) not an ability measure
There are people who have very good visual or auditory memories. However, Willingham explains why teaching different modalities to learners with a prefered style is ineffective. He gives the example of a visual learner and an auditory learner learning vocabulary words. In theory, showing the words with pictures to the visual learner while playing a tape with words for the auditory learner should be most helpful. Yet studies show this is not the case. Why not? Because it is not the auditory or visual information that is being tested--it is the meaning of the words. Generally in schools, students need to remember what things mean, not what they look or sound like. So, if this theory is wrong, why do 90% of teachers (and students) believe it to be true? Willingham chalks it up to several reasons, the first being accepted wisdom: it must be right because everyone believes it. Another reason is because a similar fact is true: kids are different in their visual and auditory memories. Learners may have good visual and auditory memories, but this not being a “visual or auditory learner.” Lastly, the psychological phenomenon known as confirmation bias comes into play here. Once people believe something to be true, then all future ambiguous events are seen through that viewpoint. For example, people believe crazier things happen during a full moon, and, in fact, crime and births increase during a full moon. However, when there’s an uptick in crime and babies on non-full moon nights, no one bats an eyelash. In conclusion, Willingham says that all cognitive styles, not just visual-auditory-kinesthetic, suffer from the same issues; at best, the evidence is mixed.
ABILITIES AND MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES
Over the years, studies and experiments have shown that some kids are good at math, some are musical, others athletic, but not necessarily the same kids. This must indicate there are different mental processes at work here. In the mid-1980s, Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor, proposed his theory of multiple intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, naturalist, and spatial. At the time, many psychologists felt contention to Gardner’s theory. However, educators were (and are) interested in the three claims of his theory: 1) they are intelligences, not abilities or talents; 2) all eight intelligences should be taught in school; 3) many or all of these intelligences should be used to teach, matching the different intelligences of students. Gardner made the first claim, while the other two were made by others, although Gardner disagrees with them. Gardner argues that some abilities, in particular logical-mathematical and linguistic, have greater status in education than say, musical ability. He questioned why one was called “intelligence” while the other was a “talent.” Claim 2 is made on the basis of equity and fairness, that all intelligences should be acknowledged and celebrated. However, Gardner feels that curricular decisions should be made by the values of community, and his theory should only be a guide. Cognitive scientists believe Gardner has simply relabelled talents as intelligences, rather than “discovering” musical or spatial intelligence. The third claim is to use multiple intelligence modalities to introduce new knowledge. For example, when learning how to use commas, students could write a song about commas (musical), search the woods for things that look like commas (naturalist), and create sentences with their bodies (bodily-kinesthetic). So, in theory, students would come to an understanding of commas easier if taught with a particular intelligence in mind. Gardner wholeheartedly disagrees with this notion. The different abilities are not interchangeable; mathematical concepts need to be learned mathematically, and skill in music will not help. Writing a poem about your bat swing will not make you a better batter. These abilities are separate enough that one strong skill can’t compensate for a weaker one.
CONTENT VS. STUDENTS
Since catering to cognitive styles have been shown to be essentially ineffective, think in terms of curricular content. For example, in socials, a country’s geography should be seen, an anthem should be heard, and a traditional meal should be made and eaten.
CHANGE PROMOTES ATTENTION
Variety is the spice of life and the surge in energy during lessons. Switch between talking and listening to something visual; go from deductive thinking to free associative thinking; quick brainstorming could lead into thoughtful, reflective responses. Give all students practice in these different mental processes.
VALUE IN EVERY CHILD
Every child is unique and valuable, regardless of their intelligence. Trying to be equitable and egalitarian and have everyone possess “multiple intelligences” may be misleading. Also, determining who is “smart” depends on which intelligences you consider and at what level; is it top 10 percent or top 50 percent? In reality, there will be many students who are not especially gifted in any of the intelligences. Telling a child they are smart or have a skill in an area they don’t rarely works. In fact, telling a child they are smart actually backfires in reality.
Source: Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School? (2009)
Most of us have heard the analogy that our brain is a thinking machine. But, according to Willingham, our brains are not really designed for thinking, because it is slow and unreliable, and requires much effort. In fact, your brain uses most of its processing power to see things and to move around physically. Nonetheless, the good news is that people are curious, as long as the problem is not too easy or too difficult--the Goldilocks special.
So how do we manage to get through life if we don't think well? Essentially, we rely on our memories. Once we've figured out how to do something once (or twice), then we rely on our memory system to recall that piece of information, so that our brains don't have to work hard and figure it out again. For example, when driving a car, you don't have to relearn how to press the accelerator, apply the right amount of pressure on the brakes for stopping, shifting gears, checking for cars on the side, and much more. All those discrete steps are memorized and now recalled perfectly and efficiently. That explains why travelling to a country with a different language and culture is so tiring: you have to relearn all of the simple rules and customs of that particular place.
How does thinking work in basic terms? There are four factors: information from the environment, facts in long-term memory, procedures in long-term memory, and the amount of space in working memory. If any of these is lacking, then thinking will likely fail.
Therefore, one of the reasons why students don't like school is because the tasks and problems they face are either too easy or too difficult, or the thinking required to solve them breaks down in one of the four key areas. So what can be done to alleviate this conundrum?
Have solvable problems: Make sure students have a variety of cognitive work during the day that pose moderate challenge. Are there cognitive breaks? Consider their suitability.
Respect Students' Cognitive Limits: Do students have the necessary background information to solve the mental challenge? If not, prepare them accordingly. Also, don't overload their working memory. Slow the pace and use memory aids, such as writing on the board.
Clarify the Problems: It's difficult for any problem to be "relevant" to an entire group of diverse learners with unique interests. When planning a lesson, start with the information you want students to learn. Then prepare key questions at the right level of difficulty to engage your students and respect their cognitive limitations.
When to Puzzle Students: Do we start with a thought-provoking question, or conduct an interesting demonstration or present a fact? Which is more effective? Sometimes a startling experiment can capture students' attention, but without the proper background information, the temporary thrill will be akin to a magic trick.
Student variance and differentiation: Because students come to class with varying levels of preparedness, understanding, motivation, it is best to assign work that best suits their current level of readiness.
Change the Pace: If you feel you're losing the attention or interest of the learners, then switch gears, change topics, start a new activity or find out what they are having difficulty with, or if it is too easy.
Keep a Diary: As a teacher to improve professionally, it's important to keep track to successes and failures, in order to build up a library of best practices. What worked best for the students? What failed miserably?
Source: Why don't Students like school? Daniel T. Willingham, 2009
Long gone are the days where students sat in rows and learned the same thing at the same time, usually from the authority standing in the front of the classroom. Now, fast-forward in time, and Kallick and Zmuda describe the four key attributes to personalized learning--the clear contrast to learning of the past.
Voice: Students participate in the creation of the learning, because it’s really their learning. Most people do not like to be told what to do, at least not all the time. Instead of being passive passengers heading in one direction, they are often in the driver’s seat, determining their own journey and pathway and destination.
Co-Creation: Students work with the teacher to develop the entire learning plan, from start to finish: what do they want to learn?; how will it be assessed?; how will they learn it?
Social Construction: The notion that “no man is an island” (John Donne) aptly describes student learning in the classroom; it is an social affair and construction of knowledge, according to Vygotsky. Finally, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (Aristotle), as collaboration and cooperation amongst fellow peers can lead to much greater triumphs and accomplishments.
Self-Discovery: Creating self-aware and self-directed learners is the ultimate goal for teachers. If students can figure out their strengths and weaknesses, and determine how to improve and grow, then they will be set for life.
Differences Between Individualization, Differentiation and Personalized Learning
Students are assigned the learning tasks, and they use technology to accomplish those tasks. Khan Academy would be one such example. In blended learning environments, there may be some co-creation and social construction, but learners still have little say in the work they do.
Today’s classroom houses learners varying in skills, readiness and interest. Students can select topics (content), how to learn (process) and create the final form of learning (product). However, the teacher is still leading the design and management of the learning experience.
Kallick and Costa encourage the use of the 16 Habits of Mind, in conjunction with personalized learning, in order to fully understand their learning, and engage in higher level thinking and performing.
16 Habits of Mind:
What I notice about these habits of mind are the similarities to the core competencies of the BC curriculum: communication, critical and creative thinking, positive personal and cultural identity, personal awareness and responsibility, and social responsibility.
Source: Students at the Center, Bena Kallick & Allison Zmuda, 2017
The July 22 issue of the Economist covered the wide-ranging and fascinating issue of edtech and machine learning. This revolution is spurred on by advances in artificial intelligence (AI), as well as cognitive science. I will attempt to summarize and highlight the salient points.
What’s interesting is that “adaptive learning” software has been around since the 1970s, but it hasn’t come to a level of usefulness until now with the advancements in computing power. Momentum has built and now there are many schools, software, systems and people all over the world trying to use edtech to improve teaching, learning and schools.
Are teachers about to be replaced by edtech? At the moment, no. Teachers, students and schools are all being augmented by this new wave of technology. As well, there are limitations to edtech: improving the argument in a history essay or finding humour in drama class is still a challenge for machines. And as the 2015 study shows, teachers still play the most critical role in student learning. Having said that, as technology becomes more pervasive, cheaper and especially intelligent (AI), it is probably only a matter of time until teachers may need to consider a career change or early retirement.
Norma Rose Point is a beautifully designed school on the UBC campus, but it’s much more than a pretty face. It exudes innovation, collaboration, engagement and powerful learning. There are three distinctive elements that allows this unique public school to function in such a special way. All three are essential and work seamlessly together. They are the physical learning space, the overarching school philosophy, and teacher and student relationships.
PHYSICAL LEARNING SPACE
The physical space of different “communities” with rooms like the Da Vinci room and outdoor garden space, kitchen space, open spaces, hallways and much more. All spaces are communal in nature. What was interesting was the notion of instructional space at the school; everything, even little crooks and crannies, can be instructional or learning space. Rooms are as flexible as the learning, with folding tables that allow rooms to turn from a science room into a physical exercise space in a matter of minutes.
Most of the philosophy comes from the Innovative Learning Environments Project by the OECD (Centre of Educational Research and Innovation). Learning nowadays is considered socio-constructivist, meaning that in any given context, learning is actively constructed and socially negotiated. The ultimate goal is adaptive expertise--being able to use knowledge and skills in new situations. Adaptive expertise is developed through guided (teacher-led), action (student-led) and experimental (play) learning. This leads into lifelong learning. Learning is also determined by emotion and motivation, so students need to feel positive and confident yet realistic in their learning goals.
The 7 principles of learning are the following:
The building blocks for innovative learning environments are cooperative learning, service learning, technology, home-school partnerships, formative assessment and inquiry-based approaches (project, problem, design).
The school’s motto is “Learners at the Centre” and I think that pretty much sums up what happens in the school. So, anything that doesn’t contribute to learning (books or materials that sit in cardboard boxes) must be taken home. Even the shelves are considered “sacred,” so they must be essential for the teacher. The mission statement goes on to add: To meet learner needs we differentiate instruction, focus on Learner strengths, infuse technology in meaningful ways and collaborate with each other to be the best we can be.
With such a clear and powerful mission statement, and with strong buy-in by teachers, there seems to be a sense of pride, ownership, and joy in striving for success of all students.
TEACHER AND STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS
The professional office space allows for constant collaboration, beyond actual set times, and a weekly timetable helps organize that collaboration into overall teaching goals and plans. Teachers spend only about a third of their time in one learning space, and will often work with a variety of students, depending on the learning that’s happening. Students are often ability grouped, so individualized student learning is targeted.
Inquiry learning is also a key concept at this school. Inquiry learning is student-dependent, and each inquiry is different for each student. This is closely connected with Genius Hour and passion-based learning, as well. I liked how they thought of engaging ideas, such as “Ted Talks,” “Kickstarter,” “Star Wars University,” and “CSI.”
Learning is visible in more ways than one. In the most basic sense, the openness of the learning spaces--classrooms with lots of clear glass and moving doors--allows clear lines of sight of all students. Beyond that, of course, is the notion of taking what students are thinking in their brains and then showing it in a tangible way; for example, electronic and physical portfolios. Also, learning celebrations held every few months are the culmination of that learning. They sound like student-led interviews, but on a much grander and festive scale.
Another interesting relationship was even between students and classroom supervisors. These supervisors are considered staff and treated with respect. Even more so, they help give additional collaborative time to teachers, by leading learning activities like the Daily 5 in classrooms.
Finally, there was emphasis on students being able to self-regulate, using ideas of restorative justice and zones of regulation. If students are struggling with their emotions or conflict with others, then learning will suffer, so they need the tools and skills to be able to bring themselves back to the proper state of well-being.
It occurs to me that the layout and design and sharing of materials and tools are reminiscent of kindergarten and early primary. Individuality and personal space, which is keenly represented by a student's desk, does not exist. Instead, tables, floors and the outdoors now represents where learning happens--which is everywhere. What's equally interesting in my mind is that if you look at the most creative, innovative, in particular high-tech companies, you will find a similar layout and design: open space concept, communal living and working, bright lighting, and all-inclusive campus look and feel. In other words, it feels like home, not a place of work (even though you are working hard, in most cases!) Of course, individuality and a sense of uniqueness clearly exists, with their portfolio systems, differentiated learning, ability groups, and more.
Technology is a big part of the school, with a ratio of about 3:1 iPads currently, and probably lower if you include devices from home. They have short-throw projectors, a media room with some desktops and a green screen room. The Learning Resource Centre has a 3-D printer and some computers. What's most interesting is that technology was never really discussed in the two-hour tour session with principal Rosa Fazio. Maybe because it had become second nature or because it was naturally integrated into the entire learning system. It was simply another tool used for research, presentations, expression and creativity, but it never superseded other types of tools. I think the belief that "learners are at the centre" is the key, and while they "infuse technology in meaningful ways" according to their mission statement, their mindset is that learning comes from all areas of life, not simply technology.
Schools have changed over the years, but in many ways, things have stayed the same. Yet, there's a school that's been around for more than 40 years that's really still considered radical to this day. It's the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, created by Daniel Greenberg, a former professor in physics and history at Columbia University, back in 1968. It is founded on the principles of democracy, to the fullest extent.
The educational philosphy is that each person is responsible for his or her own education. The students govern and learn themselves. They are able to do what they want, where they want, when they want--within safety guidelines. There is no curriculum, no tests, or any other evaluation. The only "evaluation" comes when they need to use expensive or dangerous equipment, and when they want a diploma, they must prepare and defend a thesis.
So, instead of structured classes of students learning a single subject matter, such as math or English, you will instead see students engaging in a variety of activities: playing, talking, hanging out, eating lunch, climbing trees, riding bikes, cooking, playing card, programming, playing instruments, discussing a movie or novel, reading a book, painting, and much more.
The biggest question on people's minds is probably this: What can they do after they "graduate"? Perhaps surprisingly, those who wanted to go to post-secondary had little difficulty getting in and doing well. Some went to prestigious universities, and most went on to successful occupations in all fields, including business, arts, science, medicine, among others.
Despite not taking structured classes, they succeed in a more structured learning environment. The benefits of their schooling fell into four categories:
1) They were responsible and self-directed. They learned to use their time wisely and had to solve problems democratically.
2) They were highly motivated. They participated in activities they wanted to do, so learning was fun and interesting to them. Their future careers were often a natural progression of what they found enjoyable at an earlier age.
3) They had specific skills and knowledge. Because they were interested in certain areas and topics, they became "experts" in those fields, and gained deep understanding that would help them in their future careers.
4) They lacked fear of authority figures. Because of the democratic environment they grew up in, where peers and teachers were on an even level, the graduates were not intimidated with their professors, and would establish good working relationships with them.
How is this all possible? Is natural, self-directed learning a reality? Perhaps it lies in the environment of a hunter-gatherer band. Here are some features of such a group.
1) Time and Space to Play and Explore: Self-education requires much free and unscheduled time. It gives a wide berth of physical space and time to explore, find passions, be curious, discover new things, learn from one's mistakes.
2) Multi-age learning: Younger children learned skills and knowledge from older ones, while the older ones learned to be leaders and teachers and guardians.
3) Access to Adult Knowledge: The teachers and staff were all caring and knowledgeable, and would help whenever the kids needed help. They were more like aunts and uncles than authority figures.
4) Access to Equipment and Freedom to Play with it: The students could use a variety of equipment, including computers, woodworking, art, sporting, books, and more.
5) Free Exchange of Ideas: They could talk, read, listen, discuss on any range of issues that interested them.
6) Freedom from Bullying: A crucial part where everyone feels safe from physical and emotional harm.
7) Democratic Community: A place where everyone vote and voice counts is a place where people feel they belong and have a say in what happens.
That's what happens at Sudbury Valley School. I. wonder how much of that happens in our schools? Time will tell if educational philosophies and practices shift into this direction. I think with the new curriculum, portfolio assessment, Genius Hour, Maker Space, differentiated learning, technology, and 21st-century learning, the educational thinking may be shifting into that direction as we speak.
(Source: Free to Learn, Peter Gray)
I was watching the Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll speak at a recent press conference, and it made me wonder what the similarities between a football team and a classroom might be. Here's what I found out:
Carroll spoke about Marshawn Lynch, and how his unique flair and style fit into the team mentality and program. In the classroom, there are so many unique individuals with interesting personalities and character traits, and it's about creating an environment where all of them can fit in, find a role, and be able to connect, learn and grow together. Will it be the perfect, happy community? Of course not. Even in a loving family with parents and siblings, you still have arguments, disagreements and even fights. The important matter is how you deal with this conflict, and bond even closer as a result.
He talked about the health of Jimmy Graham and others. Players missing a few days or even months. In the classroom, it's difficult to actually "field" a full squad of students. Some are sick, away for personal reasons, on vacation, or actually injured. The important part is trying to stay healthy on a consistent basis, which is probably why safety and health issues are so important. Catching up on missed time and lost work is a challenging process.
Carroll talked about how in-depth the evaluation of a player is before they are drafted. They have a long checklist of criteria. He said that Russell Wilson fit all of the check boxes, except probably the height issue. Of course, as they develop, the evaluation continues. Much in the same way, students are evaluated on a regular if not daily basis (formative, summative, metacognitive). Do they seem happy? Are they asking questions in class? What type of questions do they ask? Are they on task? Who are they playing with during DPAs? What activity are they doing? In small groups, how much are they contributing? In writing, do they express their ideas well? How creative are they during Wonder + IDEAS? How well do they do on their spelling and math quizzes? During formative assessment, do they have their thumbs up, sideways or down?
Every year the Seahawks believes they will win the Super Bowl. Of course, it helps when you've actually won it already. I believe it's the notion of having the end in mind from the start. Where do we see our students by the end of year? Do we have a curricular program in play that will guide them to achieve the learning goals they need to meet this year? Also, we need to remember that learning is a process: nothing happens overnight or in a vacuum. However, as teachers we need to have that hope that tomorrow will be a better day for both us and our students--especially on those really tough days!
Carroll talked about how he loved his group of receivers--Baldwin, Lockett, and Kearse--and how well they worked together, but still mentioned that there might be some competition from other players coming into the team. In the classroom, we generally try to make work cooperative and collaborative; nevertheless, at times, healthy, fun competition does bring out a certain fiery spirit in most of our students. In our class, we have Spelling, Math and Brain Question Battles whenever we have a few minutes to spare. It's never about points or winning, but there's still enough head-to-head battling that makes "winning" a certain accomplishment.
Carroll said that the team wants a balance offense, with both a running and passing game, and probably special teams and kicking, as well. He said that Wilson can throw 40 passes in a game when needed, but only if that's the best way to win that particular game. In the classroom, it's much the same: we want a balanced day that includes literacy and numeracy, DPA for physical activity, as well as content subjects like science, socials or art. Also, teacher talk vs. student talk balance is important, although the ratio should be much more for students. Speaking, listening, reading and writing should also be balanced.
Coaching in football requires a head coach, but there are many assistant coaches and other staff members. Just like in school, the teacher is the head coach, but there are other staff involved in the entire learning community (parents, LST, music, library, French, band, administration, custodial). Without them, it would be impossible to succeed in the classroom. Also, as much as the coach can teach, train and demonstrate, ultimately the players need to play the game and perform at their highest level in order to win the game. As the teacher, I try to prepare my students to achieve success, whether it's on a paragraph, reading, test, project, or presentation, it's still up to the students to prepare, study, learn, focus, work hard and then demonstrate their learning. When everyone is doing their part, everyone eventually wins.
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.