You’re Sharing The Data, Right?

We held a processing session for several of our DLC teacher researchers today. One of them, an early elementary teacher, said this in mid-presentation as she was discussing the impact of helping her students to monitor their own reading process:

So many times, we give assessments but we don’t take the time to give (our students) the data. Giving them the data gives them control over changing it.”

Yes. It does. Think quantified self. And I’m wondering just when it is that we give students the information that we take from them.

In an ideal situation, we wouldn’t ever not return some information whenever we require an assessment of our students. And it’s probably not that hard to ensure that the information gets back to students.

And yet. When I asked an executive at a major assessment company if he was working to give students access to the information that they collect about them, he looked at me like I’d just asked him if squirrels could talk.

So there’s work to do.

I hope you’re sharing the information that you’re collecting about students with the students you’re working with. And I hope you’re asking vendors how they’re doing that, too.


Make/Hack/Play Session at the 2012 K12Online Conference

I’ve been a big fan of the K12Online Conference since it began in 2006 and have had the good fortune to be involved in some way with most years’ event.  This year’s conference is chock full of interesting sessions, and I’m pleased to share with you that I’ve got a session in this year’s conference.  The session is an introduction to some of the Make/Hack/Play work.  Head on over to the conference to watch the short presentation.

While you’re there, I’d also encourage you to check out Karen Fasimpaur’s keynote on resources and rethinking curriculum.  Some interesting ideas in there.


#Educon 2.4: Talking Teacher Research

Later today, I’m honored to be joining my friends and colleagues Jon Becker and Meredith Stewart as we facilitate a session at Educon 2.4 on teacher research and professional development. Specifically, on how we can be critical, in a good way, in our choice and craft of professional development. Here’s the session description:


Many of the educators who participate(d) in the events listed above and others like them report that the events are/were perfectly wonderful; amazing even. Apparently, this social media-aided PD is more powerful than any PD they’ve ever done; better than any grad school course they’ve taken. And, it may very well be.

But, many of the folks who take part in events like these have been at it for a couple/few years now. And, we’ve become pretty good at sharing what they’re learning and even doing. Theres value in talking about and sharing ideas and actions, but that only gets us so far. Furthermore, many knowledge claims are made about how awesome these ideas are. Students are learning more! Students are so much more engaged! etc.

So, then, what are the warrants for these knowledge claims? What evidence is there that all of these new forms of professional learning are making a difference for kids?

Think of it this way: imagine parents of a student in your classroom wants to know if the new stuff you’ve tried with their kid this year worked. How would you respond? What evidence would you offer? Imagine a principal considering awarding you professional development credits for participation in these events. How would you convince the principal that these professional learning experiences are legitimate?

My favorite part is that we’ll be talking about what a teacher research study designed by the participants of the Educon session might look like. If you’re around at 11:00am Mountain/1pm Eastern, we’d love to have you join us for the conversation. Here’s the session information on the Educon website. A stream should be available from that page.

Join us.


#DMLBadges for Teachers: We Missed Here, Too

Justin Reich and I recently submitted a proposal to the DML Teacher Mastery and Feedback Badges Competition.  And, like my recent submission to the DML Conference, it wasn’t accepted.

But that’s cool.  I was curious about the process and I learned a bunch about the problems and opportunities of badges and badging.  In case you were curious, below is the full text of the application.  You can read the winning Stage 1 proposals on the DML Competition Website.

Teacher inquiry has long been recognized as a valuable way for teachers and students to critically examine their learning and pedagogy. We define teacher inquiry, sometimes called teacher action research, as a process by which teachers identify a problem of practice, gather data about that problem, systematically analyze that data, prepare a public presentation (lecture, workshop, published article) about their findings, and then adopt a series of action steps to improve instruction. In countries with very successful national curricula, such as Japan and Singapore, systematic teacher inquiry practices such as lesson study are central to efforts to improve educational systems and help individual teachers develop as practitioners.

In the decentralized education ecosystem of the United States, teacher action research has been adopted less systematically, but it remains a promising and powerful approach. For instance, the DataWise program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has had tremendous success in helping schools and teachers adopt a structured cycle of inquiry in order to use assessment data to improve instructional practice. We propose the development of a badge recognition system for teacher recognition activities. Such a system would both encourage teachers to engage in these effective professional learning practices and to provide teachers and districts with a map through the complex landscape of teacher action research.

Several structural factors in American schools limit the degree to which teacher have opportunities to practice teacher inquiry and teacher action research. In particular, most districts structure professional learning time around a series of “early release” or professional development days. Often, these days are filled with lecture-based teacher professional development which teachers often find to be both useless and boring (teacher professional development is one of the truly shameful elements of our national education system). Teachers are rewarded for their seat time in these professional learning opportunities with Professional Development Points or Continuing Education Units, which are required for recertification, tenure, salary steps, or other rewards in the system. These structures and schedules are not well suited for nurturing teacher action research, which requires a more flexible allocation of time and energy. Generating questions, data collection, data analysis, preparing reflections, and adopting refined practices cannot be broken up into arbitrary chunks of time throughout the year, as these activities need to be tied in with the classroom lessons, projects, and activities that a teacher is trying to improve.

In an attempt to change this dynamic, the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado created the Digital Learning Collaborative in the Fall of 2009. The DLC introduces intentional institutional subversion through a model that re-centers teachers as both learners and researchers and incorporates a two-year approach. Attachment 1 gives more background on the DLC. Through a partnership with the Colorado State University Writing Project, and informed by the teacher inquiry work of the National Writing Project, these teacher researchers in the DLC are emerging as experts in residence in their schools, not as outsiders, but as insiders invested in the schools and students they serve. The DLC by design allows for the research of its members to spread throughout the district and, through the use of the Web, beyond.

As these teacher researchers, and others like them, move from novice to more experienced roles, they have value to add to their communities as practitioner researchers who are well equipped to ask difficult questions and seek out answers from the communities they serve. But how do teacher researchers develop the skills that they need to possess to engage in thoughtful inquiry? And, how do others know that these teacher researchers are well equipped to serve in that role within organizations they might join later?

Badges, we believe, can help.

We envision that open badges might have two specific roles to play within the teacher researcher community, both outlined below.

1. Teacher Researcher Badges as Instructional Pathfinders

The role of teacher researcher is not too terribly different from the role of a teacher. Like researchers, teachers are expected to make good use of the data around them in order to better understand a situation, in this case, a studentʼs learning. A teacher researcher has a more formal and specific role to play with regards to how he or she interacts with the data to dig for deeper understanding. Badges can help to identify the skills involved in conducting teacher research and provide an instructional path for prospective teacher researchers to follow as they begin to explore and apply the ideas of teacher research. For prospective teacher researchers, a badge or series of badges might function much in the same way as Pac-Man uses power pellets, or Sonic uses rings, or Mario gold coins. The badge serves not just as a carrot or a prize, but as a map.

We propose that within teacher research there are at least five specific skills that might benefit from badging:

1. Asking thoughtful questions

2. Intentional Data Collection

3. Systematic Data Analysis

4. Publishing Findings

5. Improving Instructional Practice

By providing teachers with a structure for exploring teacher action research with badging, we provide teacher-researchers with a map for using teacher inquiry to improve practice. Since professional development structures in schools are not designed to support teacher action research, we believe that a badging system could help teachers use their own more flexible prep periods or team and department to make progress towards these goals. In total, the five badges would represent a sixth badged identity – that of teacher researcher.

Several organizations seem likely candidates to participate in the infrastructure to award these kinds of badges. Districts like St. Vrain could be responsible for awarding badges to their own faculty who participate in projects like the DLC professional development program. Consultants or other professional development organizations, such as those providing training on the DataWise method, would also likely be willing to serve as distribution nodes in a badge network.

2. Teacher Researcher Badges as Signals to Organizations

All learning organizations need more thoughtful, reflective practitioners who carefully study their own practice. Teacher Research Badges can serve to signal to organizations the presence of these teacher researchers in the organization or within the larger community granular detail about the kinds of professional learning that teachers have explored, and are much better suited to helping teachers spotlight their teacher action research.

Moreover, Teacher Researcher Badges could be used to build bridges across districts and demonstrate a national or international “teacher researcher community,” one where teacher researchers could discover and support one another.

The democratization of education reform requires that teachers and students are engaged and informed voices for the practices, habits, and mindsets that are essential to an informed citizenry. Teacher research is a powerful force for institutional subversion that can lead to a better learning environment and experiences for all. Badges that help to cultivate and mentor the next generations of institutional subverters can lead to thoughtful and inquiry-grounded innovation that can be nurtured through an organization and shared beyond.


#dml2012: (Not Accepted.)^3 But I Still Like It.

Last night, I got word that my proposal for the 2012 Digital Media and Learning Conference was not accepted. While I am a bit disappointed that the session wasn’t accepted, I know I’m in good company – according to my rejection notice1, they have a 30% acceptance rate, so lots of good stuff got left behind. I suspect what made it in will be pretty interesting. But I liked the language of the proposal, and thought it might be of interest to others, so I’m posting it below exactly as I submitted it.

Practitioner Inquiry in the Digital Learning Collaborative: Teacher Research for Reform from Within

Educational reform efforts are often conducted on schools and teachers, rather than with and through them. Teachers are asked to conduct scripted lessons nested within scripted curriculum. Too often, genuine inquiry, an essential skill and mindset for students and teachers, is given lipservice rather than real attention and focus in the classroom.

In at attempt to change this dynamic while also creating a new way of thinking about teaching with technology, the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado created the Digital Learning Collaborative in the Fall of 2009. The DLC is an attempt to introduce intentional institutional subversion through a model that recenters teachers as both learners and researchers. With their students as partners, teachers in the DLC engage in a two-year professional development program. In year one, teachers are encouraged to explore, in small teams, technologies that they are curious about in an attempt to better understand them. In year two, they bring those technologies into their classrooms and use a teacher research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, _Inquiry as Stance_, 2009) model to explore the impact of that technology on student achievement. With students as partners in this inquiry, teachers in the DLC have explored the effects of computerized assessment, the use of iPods as visual vocabulary tools, and online networking and writing environments, among others. Through a partnership with the Colorado State University Writing Project, and informed by the teacher inquiry work of the National Writing Project, these teacher researchers in the DLC are emerging as experts in residence in their schools, not as outsiders, but as insiders invested in the schools and students they serve. The DLC by design allows for the research of its members to spread throughout the district and, through the use of the Web, beyond.

In this workshop, we will explore the DLC model, as well as engage participants in an exploration of the inquiry produced in projects like these. We will also explore the opportunities and challenges that such a model for professional development presents and consider the impact practitioner inquiry, and also intentional institutional subversion can have on an organization. Participants will leave with a better understanding of how teacher research, and teacher researchers, have much to offer conversations on education reform while they are working to improve their practice. Participants will also consider the implications of teacher research on a school through some scenario explorations, and explore how teachers in the DLC can become colleagues from a distance as the power of the Internet can bring us into each others’ inquiry work as partners and responders.

The democratization of education reform requires that teachers and students are engaged and informed voices for the practices, habits, and mindsets that are essential to an informed citizenry. Teacher research is a powerful force for institutional subversion that can lead to a better learning environment and experiences for all. Through the DLC, and groups like it, thoughtful and inquiry-grounded innovation can be nurtured through an organization and shared beyond.

  1. Which I got three times, I’m guessing due to a glitch somewhere. That stung a bit. []

Ruminations on Implications: Notes from the Thesis

I’m taking a break from writing up the implications portion of my thesis by coming over here to write some more.  I’m beginning to get to the place in my research that I have some definite things to say about what I found out.  But I’m having some trouble saying them.  Not because I know what they are – but, I think, because of what I’m using to write.  Word is not where I go to think.  It’s where I go to comply.  When I need to think about something, I come here, to a WordPress window in my browser1.

So maybe I’ll just try to do a little bit of freewriting here and see how it goes.  Here’s what I think I know right now as it relates to my research.

To start with, here are my research questions:

  • What does reading and writing for school-related purposes look like in school-sponsored online writing spaces?
  • Who is doing the writing in these spaces? The reading?
  • Are the new tools and affordances of online digital writing, tools like hyperlinks, and affordances like immediate publication and world-wide audience, a factor in these spaces?  If so, how?

While it’s certainly not a definitive collection of all the writing that’s happening in my school district, I’m going to take a guess and say that the three weeks of blog posts from the beginning of this school year that I’ve looked at in the course of my study are a good-sized sample of the public writing happening in my school district.

And, to start with, there’s just not enough of it.  In three weeks, I can count on both hands the number of classrooms doing public writing in this space.  And that leaves me with three fingers left to count other things.

Are students and teachers blogging or writing online2 in other spaces?  Certainly.  One of the limitations of my study, one that I knew would be a problem for some of what I was wondering about, was that I am limited to public stuff.  If I wanted a fuller picture of what the writing that’s happening online in my school district looks like, I need to interrogate our district’s Moodle.  I need to peer into our district implementation of Google Docs.  On Thursday, a teacher in our district started sharing a Google Docs collection with me from one of his classes.  He was excited about the number of texts they were producing together.  I’ve not yet opened the folder – but I’ve watched a hundred or so documents enter into my document list.  Sometimes in real time, I’ve seen them drop into place.

Writing is happening. But why not here?3

Here’s what I know about the writiing that I am seeing:

  • Students and teachers aren’t talking to each other, for the most part, via the blog engine.  I suspect they are talking in class, but they’re not writing back and forth in these spaces.  Three quarters of the posts I saw during the period of the study contained no comments.  Of the ones that held comments, only another large handful could be considered any sort of conversation – back and forth between the author of the post and the commenter(s).  If these students are writing because they expect an audience, well, then they’re still waiting.
  • Because no one’s responding, there’s a sense that no one’s reading.  Multiple times, I saw little snippets of text, clearly put up as tests, or left behind as mistakes, that weren’t taken down or adjusted.  Why bother, if no one’s looking – or it doesn’t seem like anyone is?
  • The kind of writing that’s being asked of students in these spaces?  Well, it’s interesting – I can break it down into three types – daily summaries, written collectively by elementary school classes; reflective essays about various topics; and responses to teacher questions.  Lots of it is writing that doesn’t require a blog.  And it’s writing that involves very, very, very little source material.  Very few quotes.  Very few links.  And the links, when they’re present, are not  embedded in the text.  They lie naked and open in the text.  And that seems problematic to me4
  • The writing that staff are doing is a little bit better5 – like students, they’re writing reflective essays, and sharing lots of newslettery information.  But I can’t be sure, from this data set, if the folks they want to reach are being reached through this vehicle.
In short, the blog engine seems to me, in this data set, at least, an utter failure underutilized tool.
And perhaps that’s an okay place to stop for right this moment.
  1. And, yeah, I suppose that means that I’ve a significant bias about blogs and the power of blogging that, if I haven’t yet, I need to be sure to disclose somewhere in the thesis. []
  2. Oddly, in my world, and perhaps in yours, the word “blogging” has come to mean anything written in a Web browser that isn’t an email, no matter where it ends up.  Isn’t that interesting?  I might be a blog snob, but that bugs me.  And it probably shouldn’t.  It’s less of a problem for me than it used to be – I don’t correct people now when they say that.  I used to. []
  3. That’s not one of my research questions.  So what? []
  4. But, again, I may well be a blog snob.  But if the potential of the “writing of the 21st Century” is that it happens online and organically and is connected to other texts and blah blah blah – suppose it’s not.  Is that *bad* or *problematic* or just unfortunate?  Or is it just so?  As I’m in the middle of arguing that we need to make sure students have the tools to do this sort of work, a body of data that suggests, nah, it’s not so important,” is a little bit problematic. []
  5. Oops – judgement again.  Might need a better word than, ahem, “better.” []

What Counts

On Thursday night, I was helping to introduce the concept of teacher research to a group of teachers in my school district.  And it happened.  The thing that often happens when you introduce qualitative methodology.

We read a sample teacher research study that Michelle and I are fond of.  I like the study, a short piece on a teacher wondering about the value of a pullout literacy program in her school, because it emphasizes three things I think are essential to consider, and often re-consider, when ot comes to teacher inquiry specifically and qualitative research generally:

  1. Teacher research is an opportunity to dig into the “I wonders” and the “what ifs” that come up from time to time in your classroom.  But it’s not the same as “what good teachers do every day.”  It’s more intentional and purposeful than that.  And that’s a good thing.
  2. Teacher research is contextual.  It comes from you, the researcher.  The classroom you teach in, the students you know, the wonderings you have.  That works two ways – both the questions and your answers to them are contextual.
  3. Teacher research involves “data” that doesn’t show up in a quantitive study.  Stuff that doesn’t count because it can’t be counted.  Or, at least, not as easily.  And what matters, or at least what should, when it comes to measurement and paying attention is not either/or but yes and.  Qualitative and quantitative measures are friends.  Honest1 .

And it’s the third point that usually involves controversy.  Things get heated.  And that troubles me.

Folks make statements, when we start to fiddle with traditional notions of “data,”2 about their stats professors, or n values, or other things that suggest that Math Is THE Way of Knowing The Universe.

While I find lots to like in science and math, it’s not the only way to go after what’s right and good and true in the world.

Teachers, of all people, should have a good and always developing sense of this: they should know and understand what it means to measure, and how measurement affects the thing you’re measuring, and how there are ways other than percentages and standard deviations to explore vital areas of life and living and learning.

If you think that’s wrong, and that cold, hard numbers are the only way to Know Something, well, consider this –

How do you know you love your spouse?  Your best friend?  Your children?  Your parents?

Prove it.

But you only get numbers.  I’ll wait here.  Take your time.

  1. As I write this, I’m in the middle of a mixed-methods study.  The two go nicely together. []
  2. And the air quotes make appearances usually at this point in the conversation. []

Digging In

If you’ve been following along on what I’ve been up to lately, you know that I’ve been facilitating, along with Michelle and some colleagues from the , some teacher research projects in my school district.  It’s good and important work, and I’m trying, as we facilitate, to be engaged in my own teacher research along with the group.  It’s one thing to say that a practice is important.  It’s a better thing to model its importance by doing it.

Earlier in the year, I wrote about my proposed research topic, and about how I thought I might proceed.  Tomorrow, I’m digging into the work in earnest.

I’m curious about how we, in our school district, are actually using our blogging engine, a WordPress installation that’s coming up on three years old.  I read what gets posted there, but I’ve never taken a real hard and descriptive look to see what’s there.  So tomorrow, I’m going to sit down and take a close look at a three week window of the blogging engine from this year, and I’m going to try to read, annotate, and classify every posting that appears there.  Then, based on what I see, I’d like to follow up with some of the authors, both teachers and students, and see if I can learn more about what they’re blogging about and why they’re blogging at all.

Why am I looking ? Well, in large part because I want to see what’s happening in the space, and to go after promising practices that are present.  And, to be brutally honest, I’m looking because I expect that what I’ll see is a great deal of using blogs, rather than blogging, and that’s worth knowing and quantifying.

So I’m digging in.  I suspect it’ll be an interesting look.  And, as with most teacher research, I suspect my questions will change a bit as I get into the data and see what there is to see.

Wish me luck.


I'm Wondering: Starting Some Inquiry

As part of our work this year in the Digital Learning Collaborative, we are going to be engaging in some teacher research. The was to start thinking through possible questions. Michelle and I are eating our own dog food – we’ll be trying to conduct our own studies.

Back in May, I wrote some about my possible questions:

I wonder about how these spaces change classroom practice. I think about how writing, and more generally, composition, becomes an extension for learning, particularly when there is a public audience for the work. Who is using these spaces? To what ends? How do the use of blogs and online courseware change the experience of teaching and learning in my school district? (Does anything change?) How are teachers using spaces like these? Is the learning day extended? What kinds of writing are happening in these spaces? To what effect?

Those are the questions I’ll start with. As for data – well, we’ve got lots to look at. The blog engine itself is a public repository of the use of these tools. What are the ethical implications of studying, in public, a public space where learning is taking place? I plan to blog my research log, a tool that I’ll use to keep my reflections and observations about what I’m seeing and learning as I study these questions. In addition, I anticipate that I’ll conduct interviews with people using these tools in my quest to understand their impact. I intend to publish these recordings, as well, prior to my analysis of them.

One question – and it seems a silly one – but should I start a separate blog over in the district blogging engine to collect all this work, or should I separate it a bit by placing it over here, at my place? I’m leaning towards creating a space there. But I’m still thinking.

I’m still thinking about digital spaces1, but I thought I might write a bit more about why. As we’re asking the team leaders to think through the passions identified by the authors of our text, I need to first contextualize my thinking through those. I’m thinking that my questions involve two of the passion categories – a desire to explore the relationship between my beliefs and my classroom practice2 (.p 38-39) and a “focus on understanding the teaching and learning context.” (p.54-55)

And I guess, too, that I’m still thinking about how we use those tools – how their presence affects what happens in the classroom. If what happens is “well, the notes are on the blog,” that’s not a terribly big change – or is it. I’m going to explore some examples of interesting blogging practice and try to see what influence those have on the classrooms they came from. A few teachers come to mind for my inquiry – but I’m still wondering if I want to try to look at these questions as someone looking at the texts or at the practices that generate these texts. Or both.

I know from my own classroom experience that the potential exists in these publishing tools to extend the school experience beyond the walls of the school – and to bring the outside world in. Permeable walls are possible through publishing. But are they happening? Should they be?  Writing3 is powerful learning.  If we create more opportunities for writing and being thoughtful, might that make a positive difference for students?  Teachers?  Learning?

As of right this minute, that’s what I’m thinking about.  That said, as with all good inquiry, I suspect my questions will change over the next several weeks as I dig in further.

  1. Good grief. As we roll out Google Apps in our district, any student will be able to publish anywhere without the intervention of the teacher. We’re rolling in places to post and share. []
  2. Oddly, my “classroom” as an instructional technology coordinator is actually a virtual space – and, because of the areas of my interest right now, is the Internet. Which is pretty big. So I’m going to have to try to limit that somehow. []
  3. or composition []

I Think I’m Going to Like This Book

Gene Thompson-Grove’s foreward to the second edition of The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research begins with a fine definition of the dispositions of a teacher researcher:

All of this, of course, requires certain dispositions. It means we must, at times, slow down and be reflective. We must develop the intellectual side of ourselves — the place where we can open up to others with curiosity and interest, where we can consider options or ideas we hadn’t thought of before. We have to develop the capacity to identify and explicitly work on the questions that matter most to our students — the questions or aspect of our practice that perhaps make us most uncomfortable. When we engage in collaborative inquiry, we become students of teaching and learning for one another, so we have to learn to frame good questions and develop the habit of taking an inquiry stance toward all that we do. We must become comfortable being uncomfortable — and get used to being in the place of not knowing more often, with a greater capacity for ambiguity. In fact, as Dana and Yendol-Hoppey point out, one of the reasons we engage in teacher inquiry is that it honors the complexity inherent in all our teaching. Inquiry insists that we routinely unearth our assumptions — our assumptions about our students and their families, our assumptions about our colleagues and ourselves, our assumptions about achievement and what constitutes a meaningful education — and to examine these assumptions with others — because we believe that the most effective schools have adults in them who are the least satisfied with their practice. We must be willing to collect and make public the evidence from our practice — the data and the students work. We can’t be afraid of hard work, or of saying, “I was wrong.” And we must find courage in community, as we hold each other accountable for acting on what we learn. (page viii)

That’s a mouthful of a quote, but it’s spot on. Teacher research is hard work, work that we’re about to engage in here in my school district. But it’s worth doing. And I pledge, right here and now, again, mostly to myself, but to you, too, that I’ll do my best to honor these dispositions, and to ask nothing less from my colleagues here in St. Vrain who will be doing this work with us.

You come, too.