“How Many Minutes Should We Spend on the iPad?”

There are some questions that students and teachers ask that we really need to stop asking.  No, that’s not quite right – we need to start asking them differently.

When I was in the classroom, my students always, in the course of receiving an assignment from me, would ask “How long does this need to be?”  I understood the question, but my response was always “As long as it needs to be.”  We’d then review the criteria of the assignment, and I’d ask the question back: “How long do you think this needs to be?” I’d ask.  And learning would ensue.

As we are rolling along with our iPad 1:1 in the Learning Technology Plan, there’s a new question that I hear from parents and administrators that is worthy of a similar response.  The question’s in the title, but here it is again:

“How many minutes should we spend on the iPad?”

Each stakeholder group tacks a contextual reference on the end of the question.  For teachers, it’s “each day in class?”  For administrators, it’s phrased more like “How many minutes a day should I expect the teachers to use or direct their students to use the iPads?”  For parents, the question morphs into a question about health and wellbeing and general screen time. But whatever way a group is asking, the answer is very similar, I find, to the pushback I gave students who asked about assignment length.

The answer is, of course, a definitive “It depends.  How long do you think they/you should spend on the iPad?”  Sometimes, it’s like this: “Well, that depends on what you’re wanting to actually do.”

If your goal is to replace a physical task with a digital task, then it should be about the same as the old task.  Or faster because, you know, digital.  If your goal is to have students make something awesome, say a movie or a text or an info graphic or a piece of code, well, then the answer is that they should take as long as it takes to make something good.

But the answer should almost never be “thirty minutes three times a week,” or anything like that. We don’t argue for specific amounts of time for pencils or pens or little pocket notebooks. Let’s stop doing so for the machines.

Computers aren’t Bowflexes. And shouldn’t ever be.

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Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom

Screen Shot 2014 03 15 at 5 40 11 PMRecently, a project I spent some time on last spring and summer came to life. Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom is now available for free download as a PDF or a 99 cent eBook via the Amazon Kindle store.  I’m biased, but I think you should take a peek.

The goal of the project was to put a face of specific examples from real classrooms on the Connected Learning principles.  Again, I’m biased, but I think if you read the text, and follow the links to the projects from Digital Is we focused on, I think you’ll get a sense that real, live teachers and students are engaging in some very dynamic work in classrooms right now.  They’re not waiting for someone to show the way.  I was particularly pleased to see so many examples of “teacher” and “student” shown in the text.  We all take turns with both of these roles.  That’s important to remember.  Gail, Mike, Adam, and Jenny, the teachers who wrote the examples I showcase in the chapter I worked on, were all my teachers on this project and I’m grateful for their contributions to my learning and this text. You will be, too.  So take a look already.

But other teachers, as well as plenty of non-teachers who make big pronouncements about schools and schooling, would benefit, too, from a glimpse of the work we reference. So share this with them, would you?

Last week, several of the other project editors visited for a webinar at Educator Innovator. That webinar is below.  Give it a listen.

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On Coaching and Choice

We’re reading Unmistakable Impact by Jim Knight together as a large team at work.  This is the third post in my series on that reading and reflection.

This month’s chapter is on coaching, both the role of the coach and the practices and habits an instructional coach can use to make a difference in his or her work.   As someone who’s often in a coaching role, I found the broad strokes of the chapter useful, both as reminder and as a bit of a challenge for thinking through.  

What are instructional coaches, according to Knight?  Well, they’re folks who “partner with teachers to help them incorporate research-based practices into their teaching.” Also, the “partner with teachers to help them incorporate instructional practices into their teaching.” (Kindle location 1837)

The thread of choice was woven through the chapter for me, too.  Here’re some choice1 quotes: 

If a coach and teacher come together as equal partners, the teacher must have choices.  Partners don’t do the choosing for each other.  In coaching, this means, most fundamentally, that teachers have a choice about whether or not they want to work with a coach. . . . choice does not mean that teachers can choose to not participate in professional meaning.  No professional can choose to be unprofessional. (1872)

When professionals are told what to do and when and how to do it, with no room for their individual thoughts, that is a spiritual death experience.(1900)

And this, though not directly about choice, seems particularly relevant to my thinking about coaching and the choices that coaches should make:

When coaches focus on capacity building, there are tasks they do not do.  Usually coaches do not sub when teachers are away, do administrivia, or work directly with students except in the service of the larger goal of promoting teacher growth.  Certainly, there are occasions when these general guidelines are ignored.  Just as a principal may be forced to sub if there in no other alternative, so might a coach.  However, this should occur very rarely. (1978)

A little later in the chapter, Knight points to some data that suggests that the coaches he has studied often report that they spend only between 10 and 25 percent of their time as “coaches” instead of the fill in tasks he describes above.  That’s troubling to me because either instructional coaches are making pretty terrible choices about how to spend their time, or (and I think this is much more likely) they are not in the place to choose how to spend that time to begin with.  While they should be advocates for choice for the teachers they work with, their own choices are quite limited.  

That leads me to my larger reflection on this chapter, which is that I find that the role of an instructional coach and the role of a classroom teacher are really quite similar, or should be.  The job of a teacher shouldn’t be to force change on a student, nor a coach to force change on a teacher.  It’s a partnership.  The whole endeavor of learning, as I see it, should be the development of agency in the individual.  And perhaps the problem of instructional leaders choosing to put their coaches in places of fill in is one of a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a teacher/coach.  And that fundamental misunderstanding isn’t simply a misunderstanding in the mind of the leader – it’s a deeply cultural mess that we’re in because what we think “teaching” looks like isn’t really what good teaching looks like.

When a teacher is “teaching,”2 what is happening?  Does “teaching” mean the teacher is speaking?  I bet for most of us, that’s the first thought that pops into our heads.  But it shouldn’t be.  What about when a teacher is “listening?” Or “pausing?”  Or waiting patiently while monitoring a classroom writing assignment3?  I think much of what we consider “best practice” in teaching and what we think of when we think of a teacher “teaching” just don’t line up in our heads and hearts as they should.  

And so sometimes we make serious errors in judgment about what a teacher is or isn’t doing.  

I think about all of my friends and colleagues who are wicked nervous about new evaluations in Colorado and other places, and I understand some of their dilemma.  Whenever a principal came into my room to observe, I wanted to be doing something awesome so that they “saw me teaching.”   The problem is, no one learns much in a room when I’m doing all the talking.  The real learning happens when I turn students loose on a concept or problem or task.  But me monitoring a roomful of excited and engaged students isn’t what I wanted my principal to see – because it wasn’t “awesome teaching.”  Except that it was. 

Other teachers I know reschedule their thoughtfully planned lessons and timelines around evaluations so that the principal sees them “in action.”  That’s a problem, because the thoughtful planning and scheduling was done intentionally, for good reason.  And the change is for a crummy, “observing a thing changes it” sort of reason.  

This is a ramble, and only a little bit about coaching now, but that said, let me return to my role as an instructional coach for a second.  Sometimes, the best way I can be helpful to a teacher is to say nothing.  To do nothing.  To sit very quietly and let the words that just were spoken roll back over the speaker. Choosing to respond is a choice.  It’s often what “good teaching” looks like.  But choosing not to respond is also a choice, and should be honored more often.  

Because that’s better teaching, and better coaching, too. 

 

 

  1. Ahem. []
  2. Or a coach “coaching.” I’ll be using these terms interchangeably for the rest of this post. []
  3. Better still would be writing alongside the writing students. []
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Reports from Cyberspace at #NCTE2011

I had the pleasure of once again joining with friends and colleagues Troy Hicks and Sara Kajder on Sunday to share the 2011 edition of Reports from Cyberspace at the 2011 NCTE Annual Convention.  The wrinkle, for me, this time around, was that I actually was present via cyberspace, as I was co-presenting from my basement office.

The archive of the session is available for viewing if you’re interested.

One oddity for me – as my video link into the room was from the webcam of a laptop on the podium, I had zero sense of the physical audience in the room and relied on the tweets and texts from those in attendance as my only sense of the audience.  That’s always one tricky element of presenting from afar – the sense of the room.

I am grateful to Jeff Golub for starting this collection of smart folks three years ago – I’ve sure learned lots.  Hope it’s been useful to NCTE.

If you were “there” for the session, either via Adobe Connect or in the room, I’d love to know your impressions of the time – did it work that I was not physically there, or was that more distraction than helpful?

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September 12th, 2001. A Wednesday.

September 12th.  That’s the day everything changed.1

A few weeks previously, I had begun my teaching career as a graduate student teaching freshman composition in room 110 of the Natural Resources Building at Colorado State University.  I remember room 110 very well because it was where, six years previously, I took my first English class as an undergraduate at the school.  Introduction to Literature. 2

As an undergraduate, it was my job, I thought, to unpack the secrets of the stories and novels and plays that we read together.  And I wrote.  Lots.  Every week, I produced two typed pages of thinking and reflection and wondering about what I was reading and why it mattered.  This was college.  It was important.

And back in room 110, with my class of college freshfolk, I was in charge of helping them to unlock the mysteries of the College Essay, the texts that they were expected to produce early and often in their college careers.  These 18 and 19 year olds were looking to me, a 23 year old grad student, to provide them with the keys to college literacy.  Or, they had to take the class, and I was in their way.  Either way, there we were, from 10:00 to 10:50 every MWF.

September 11th was a Tuesday.  I remember because that made September 12th a Wednesday.  At 10:00am, I was supposed to “teach.” And no one said otherwise.

I made one of the most important discoveries of my teaching career that day3, when I decided that class would be optional.  It made sense to go.  People, I thought, were counting on me to make sense of this.  And that couldn’t be done.

But there was something I could do.

I emailed the class that no one had to be there, but that I would be there.  Attendance, for a change, would not be taken.

I didn’t expect anyone to show up.  But they came.  Not all, but most.

And I started class.  Sitting on a table in the front of the room, I reminded folks that no one had to stay that morning.  I would not advance the syllabus.  Instead, we were together, and something monumental had happened.  What, I wondered, did folks want to talk about?

And I don’t actually remember the specifics.  I remember that there was lots of misinformation and rumor in the air that morning, and that mostly, as someone who had read several articles, watched some CNN, and had spent the previous afternoon in the newsroom of the student paper, where I had worked as an undergraduate, and would work again that Spring, and pulled everything I could off the AP wire as it was released, I was likely the “expert” in the room.

Like that makes any sense.

But I dispelled rumor where I could, suggested sources for folks to explore if they wanted to know more.  I mentioned the school’s counseling program for students.  And it was quiet.  Not silent, but much quieter than a usual day of argument and conversation.  We were together, but we weren’t really talking all that much.

I guess it was just normal, or whatever on September 12th could approximate normalcy in the wake of the events of the day before, and normal, on September 12th, 2001, felt pretty good.  It was enough.

On Friday, September 14th, we resumed talk of what makes good summary, and how to use others’ ideas in the services of our own, and all the things that you talk about in a college writing class.

We kept going.

And now, as we look back and consider all that’s happened in the world in the last ten years, and how that day changed this country, and me, and most other folks I know in some way, I get the feeling that keeping going is a pretty good way to honor that day.

By all means, take a deep breath and a look back.  Think about what happened and what that changed or what that didn’t change.  Reach out if you need or want an ear.  Look after yourself.  Consider what’s worth doing and what’s worth remembering and what’s worth working to restore.  But then, one last deep breath.

There’s much to do.

Let’s keep going.

  1. Sure.  September 11th.  I woke to the phone ringing and was told to turn on the news.  I’d been married for all of three months and what I saw on TV didn’t make sense.  Still doesn’t sometimes. []
  2. I sat next to What’s Her Name, who took good notes and who, three years later, I would date.  Once.  And screw that up royally by inviting a friend over to watch television with us.  As I drove her home, I backed into a car in the street behind my apartment.  It did not go well.  A second date was dodged.  By her. Repeatedly.  I didn’t understand what happened there, either, until much later. []
  3. The discovery, for me, was in two parts – first, that the world doesn’t stop when you start your class.  Be of the world and in the world as often as you’re about and/or removed from the world. The second part is about modeling and how teachers, in some sense, are always on.  We are always being seen as teachers.  So might was well act like one, even if, at 23 then, and 33 now, I don’t always have a clue as to what that means or should look like.  “What would a teacher do?” is a question I approach as I prepare for any class or learning experience.  And it’s one I’ll always struggle with.  But in this case, a teacher would dig in.  Check facts.  Explore sources.  A teacher would seek to be sure his students were okay.  A teacher would pause and reflect.  So that’s what we did. []
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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. []
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A Year of Learning

Tonight, we kicked off the first team leader meeting of the year for the new cohort of the Digital Learning Collaborative.

The DLC, if you didn’t know, is a two-year professional development program we’re in our third year of developing.  Year one is a year for personal and professional learning.  Year two, which we’ll kickoff later this month for a different cohort, is a year of teacher inquiry into what happens for students when we use technology in the classroom.

Last night, we attempted, with our teacher team leaders, to set the culture for what it means to learn as teachers in community.  We reviewed some of our habits – making sure we have a plan for all of our monthly team meetings, how we use Google Docs to share those plans and to share notes we take when and as we meet, and making sure that we’re separating time for learning1 from time for collaboration and sharing.   And, yes, that’s messy.  Messy is okay.

But we spent the bulk of our time last night reading and thinking and talking to each other about a couple of pieces, written by Will Richardson, that explore connected and passion-based learning not just for students, but for teachers, too.

That led to some good conversation.  I heard Kelly, a first grade teacher, when she asked about how we help connect students to passions that they might not realize they have, and how we can encourage students to explore areas of themselves and the world when they might not have any knowledge about, well, much of anything.  I heard Rebekah, a high school math teacher, when she said that somewhere, students have learned that it’s cool to not like math.

I hope that folks heard me when I invoked Mr. Rogers, and his definition of teaching, the idea that what teachers do is that they love something, and they love it in front of their students.  Passion, indeed.

I heard Mollie when she said that it was important for teachers and students to follow their passions, and that, in a time of scripts and pacing, we’d do well to make sure that we’re injecting student interests and differences into our work.

I heard others, too.  It was a fine culture setting conversation.

We also talked about the power of reflective writing, and took some time to write together, as we will do during all of our meetings.  While I cannot share their writing with you just now, know that we’ll be hearing more from these teacher leaders and their teams as they begin to dig into their learning this year.

It was a fine start.

  1. Sometimes, this is training.  Other times, it’s time for reading and conversation.  There are other things this learning might look like, too.  Learning is complicated. []
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You Write with Students. Right?

I find myself asking, more and more, in the work I do with teachers and students in my neck of the woods and around the country, a simple question:

When and where are you writing with your students?

I say this is a simple question, because, well, it is. You should have an answer to this question, and I hope that the answer is something like “Often. And Everywhere.”

But too often, the answer is more like “I really should, but we’re just so busy.” Or, worse, the answer devolves into an explanation of how the answerer isn’t a writing teacher, but teaches math, or science, or something else.

That’s just not good.

Writing is the gateway to understanding. In fact, it’s in the composition of ideas or responses or summary that we really begin to own the learning that we’re doing.

I try to anticipate the “but I’m not a writer” answer, too. I have a slide that’s found its way into many of the talks and workshops that I give. It looks like this:

I hope that folks understand that I am less interested in that they are spending time with words than they are with the tools of composition and making things. School is too often too passive – a study of only what other people have made, rather than a study of making things of one’s own.

So, when I ask teachers about when and how often they’re writing with students, I’m trying to presume that such making is occurring in our classrooms. But it’s not. Or, at least, people are keeping their making secret1.

I thought it would make sense to attack a few of the answers that I hear for why writing isn’t happening on a regular basis. Others’ statements are in bold. My responses to them are not.

I’m not a writing teacher.

One doesn’t need to instruct students on writing in order to get writing to learn to happen in one’s classroom. While it’s never a bad idea to read or otherwise engage at least some of the writing that you ask students to do, it’s not necessary that the focus of taking time to write should be on assessing the writing, or correcting student errors. There’s a time and place for that. But it’s certainly okay to ask students to use writing as a tool for understanding, for memory, or for exploration.

Don’t grade it.  But make time for writing.

I’m not a highly-qualified writing teacher.

This is a variation of the previous – but is worthy of its own response. “Highly-qualified” is baggage language brought into the classroom from educational policy. Since the federal government has cheapened the value of the phrase, I’d say we should strongly reconsider it ourselves.

Of course you’re a highly-qualified writing teacher. You’ve used writing to successfully complete your instructional goals in the past. You write email to parents and to colleagues and administrators. Somewhere, you probably picked up how to create a resume, or construct a letter of interest that got you your current teaching job. You read. Lots.2 You are highly-qualified to be a thoughtful reader and writer of your students’ work.

You’re also highly-qualified to be a cheerleader, a coach, and an enthusiastic challenger of what your students produce and share.  But you can’t be any of those things if you’re not making anything or asking them to.

I teach math3, so my emphasis isn’t on writing.

Baloney4.  Your emphasis, be you a teacher of equations, or of the scientific method, or of how to ensure the proper fuel/air mixture in a V-6 engine, is on helping your students to explore and discover the world.  Writing, as a tool for exploration, or declaration, or narrative, or whatever you do with words and ideas, is a part of your work.  Show me a mathematician who doesn’t write.  Point me towards a scientist who isn’t taking good notes or publishing and sharing her work.  Name an engineer that you know that doesn’t sketch or draft or fiddle with a pencil from time to time?

You can’t.  So your students can’t not write, either.

There’s no time for writing.  We’ve got so much stuff to cover.

You aren’t in the coverage business.  You’re in the student learning business.  And if you want them to learn the thing that you’re teaching, then they’d better be doing that thing, and thinking about that thing, and modeling their understanding of that thing in some constructive and/or reflective way.  Period.  There’s no time to not write.  Learning’s too important to leave up to osmosis.

Those’re a few of the more common excuses I hear for why teachers aren’t taking time to write with their students.  What have I missed?  Let me know in the comments.

And – make time for writing.  Soon.  It’s important.

  1. That is another problem probably worthy of it’s own post – why keep that secret? []
  2. I desperately hope that you do. If you’re a teacher who isn’t still reading, well, that’s also worthy of its own post. []
  3. Or science, or history, or underwater basket weaving. []
  4. Or, if you prefer, bologna. []
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Enter #EduConText

Teachers should create. Coversations can lead to tremendous bursts of creation and excitement. Capturing creation through writing and returning to it later is how innovative ideas are refined.

Enter #EduConText.

Each day leading up to EduCon, Zac Chase and I will write about some of our thinking surrounding selected EduCon sessions.  We’ll also share some questions to prompt your own thinking and inquiry around the ideas we see that might arise in the session.  There are plenty of fine sessions at the conference.  We’ll pick a few of them.  You choose some others.

#EduConText is about moving into EduCon conversations with the same critical lenses we help our students refine each day. Because a rah rah chorus of excitement and enthusiasm isn’t really going to do much to make our schools better places.

And, of course, the Internet is a free place. For now.  So you should feel free to write along with us.  Prompt us.  Share your thinking.  Preflect on the conversations you’re planning on joining. Dig in.

During EduCon, we’ll be supplying some writing prompts to help attendees, both virtual and face to face, archive their written thinking around the conversations in which they take part.  Because your learning is worth remembering.

After EduCon, we’ll encourage folks to set writing goals for themselves that will allow them to reflect on how they incorporate new ideas into their practice and around documenting what they want to be sure to keep.

How can you participate?

Simply add the tag “#EduConText”1 to your blog, wiki, and twitter posts (or any other kind of post). From there, we’ll archive the tag and see what we build.  Mostly, we hope that #EduConText is a gentle reminder to write and write often about what you’re seeing, hearing and thinking.

Worth doing, right?

Let’s get to it.

  1. Or “educontext.”  Either way. []
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