The Motivation Equation

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 2.11.26 PMThe upcoming new ibook by Kathleen Cushman, “The Motivation Equation,” stands to expand on her pioneering work in leveraging students’ voices in shaping learning environments, pedagogical practices, and transforming how we talk about learning. And thank goodness.

Often missing from our education discourse is, ironically, the most important element of our education system: the learners.

In this newest endeavor (you can read an early release of the book for a limited time here), Kathleen seeks to provide information on “designing lessons that set minds free.” QED’s Chief Education Officer, Kim Carter, had this to say after reading the book:

Motivation is the holy grail of learning. Who doesn’t believe if learners are motivated, they have a much greater likelihood of successful learning?  From the Introduction’s explanation that “motivation is not something you have at the start” to its Appendices packed with additional resources, The Motivation Equation is brilliant on so many levels.  Let me name four:

  1. Kathleen’s synthesis of the essential mind, brain and education science related to motivation into 8 steps or conditions is mind-bogglingly clear.
  2. More importantly, the 8 steps are readily accessible and practical.
  3. The Motivation Equation is rich with student voices – offering a “unique ‘trialogue’ among students, teachers, and learning scientists” – which anchor the steps and the research in familiar realities.
  4. The Motivation Equation is the best (ever) use of the e-book medium that I have seen to date. Unerring integration of sound and video clips, call-out boxes for brief bios and research notes, links to additional resources, survey templates, and protocols for engaging learners in exploring their own motivation represent a treasure trove of value-added resources.

Still need convincing to check it out? Visit WKCD‘s new website, How Youth Learn, for research highlights and videos of student voices.

Narrowing in on the Learner

Do you want to ….

  1. Boost your students’ self esteem?
  2. Keep them engaged?
  3. Have an alternative to testing your students to death?
  4. More specifically support their needs?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions read the infographic below which is all about competency based learning.

Competency-Education-Infographic
Source: Digital Learning Now 

Racing to the Top and Leaving the Impoverished at the Bottom

dollar eyePoverty cripples societal advancement. When prevalent in the richest nation in the world, it becomes mindboggling. Why are so many individuals struggling under the weight of poverty in America? Why is nearly 1 in every 4 children considered impoverished in this land of Race to the Top? Are we racing to the top of the wrong metric?

 My hat goes off to the many families who are pushing their children to aim higher than the constraints of their impoverished surroundings. As members in a society, we share their challenges too, even if we turn a blind eye.

During an interview with CNN, actor Jeff Bridges and “Share our Strength” founder Bill Shore, express why poverty, child poverty specifically, is our responsibility; “If we’re not taking care of our kids, we’re not taking care of our country. If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d be at war.”

relative-child-povertyIn a post titled, “Map: How 35 Countries Compare on Child Poverty,” the Washington Post reports, “A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty. More than one in five American children fall below a relative poverty line.” Out of the 35 countries examined, America ranked 34th.

Mind you, In this study, UNICEF is using its own “poverty line.” Internationally, poverty is defined as families living on less than $1.25 or $2.00 per day, and as much as we grumble about how little we are paid, no gainfully and legally employed American is limited to these lowly amounts. (But in the shadows? That’s another story.) In America, poverty is defined as families living on less than about $22,000 per year.

Because of such huge gaps between developed countries’ internal economies, UNICEF instead measures how much poorer children are from their country’s national average.

“The UNICEF report looks at something it calls the ‘child poverty gap,’ which measures how far the average poor child falls below the relative poverty line. It does this by measuring the gap between the relative poverty line and the average income of poor families.”

Again, from the Post, “The picture (in the U.S.) looks even worse when you examine just how far below the relative poverty line these children tend to fall.”

What are we doing, America? And what should we be doing more of?

Eric Jensons, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” provides insight into the weight of these children’s challenges. He highlights four major risk factors that, because of economic hardship, burden the developing child and hamper student achievement.

E = Emotional and Social Challenges

A = Acute and Chronic Stress

C = Cognitive Lags

H = Health and Safety Issues

This may explain why many of our students coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience difficulties performing in their classrooms. Unfortunately the direction educational policy is headed (as well meaning as it may be) is unjust, unequal, and unapologetic for learners outside of more affluent communities. If a student doesn’t make the mark, they are tracked to remediation or retention in attempts to correct their academic deficits rather than build on their strengths!

Show me a dropout who complained about not getting tested enough, and I’ll show a dropout that never dropped out. The truth is, how often do we hear about students dropping out because they felt the system spent too little time focused on their deficits? How many were exasperated with the focus on their strengths? Is this “leave no deficits behind” approach really attending to their needs and cultivating their interests? Clearly not.

However, while schools, school systems, and educational policy makers can play a role in transforming practices to meet the needs of these learners, we as a larger society have a role to play as well. We, the people, need to stand up to demand that the promissory note that MLK, Jr. referred to way back in ‘63 be delivered upon, because it is clear that we are, as a nation, are still defaulting on that promise.

Again, from the Post: “The poor U.S. showing in this data may reflect growing income inequality. According to one metric of inequality, a statistical measurement called the gini coefficient, the U.S. economy is one of the most unequal in the developed world.”

(What would MLK have to say about that, I wonder?)

Until such time that we fully, tactically and strategically engage in the war on poverty, we must focus where we can — on the students, children, and learners in our charge. Their voice, their dreams, their empowerment must be our first and foremost goal.  But how?

The 2007 Dispelling the Myth Award winners, Osmond A. Church P.S./M.S. 124 K-8 School, have done a remarkable job in breaking down those barriers.  Recognized for significantly raising students academic achievement, their dedication to these young minds is reflected in their success. With an enrollment total of about 1,227 students; 97% are low-income, 33% African American, 44% Asian and 21% are Hispanic, educators were able to provoke a lasting change. What once had dismissed this school, because of their high achievers awarded them much acclaim. Perhaps this school’s mission is responsible for their turnaround; “to inculcate all members of the school community with an understanding and acceptance of diversity, fostering individuality and creativity, where high expectations are the norm for all students.”

Yet we know a well crafted mission isn’t enough. Without the leadership and vision to pursue it relentlessly, such a mission is an empty platitude rather than a way out of poverty. If we want to actualize the talking point that education is a pathway out of poverty we must focus on four things:

1. Leadership.

2. Equity.

3. Cradle to college rap-around services.

4. Sustaining educator engagement.

And even these offer no guarantees without a larger effort to break the status quo of inequality. And judging by where we fall in a comparison of developed nations, our leaders seem abysmally disinterested in racing to the top of that metric.

So, for now, education offers our best hope for affecting change and breaking the predictive cycle of race, class, and gender on educational outcomes. So, bring along your copy of Jenson’s work and lets get to work.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc
Graph: WashingtonPost

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 9: Seeing the Learning

missionhill

“How do we know what students are learning?” So opens the narration of chapter 9, “Seeing the Learning.”

Rather than simply reply on summative test scores to communicate whether or not students have “achieved,” the educators at Mission Hill create exhibitions in which students must present and defend their learning to a committee of teachers and peers. The complexity of learning necessary to pull of such a feat is no small matter. But more importantly, look at the students as they go through this process — they have worked hard, they know it, and you can practically savor the satisfaction they will feel on the other side of the experience.

This is assessment AS learning, a process that is immensely valuable to the most important person in education — the student. Check it out. You’ll be moved.

5 Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching

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Maryellen Weimer (whose bio includes: Penn State Professor Emeritus of Teaching and Learning and Editor-in-chief of Teaching Professor) addresses the wide spread use of the term “learner-centered” in her post, “Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching” on The Teaching Professor Blog at Faculty Focus. At the heart of her concern is this: “With widespread use comes a certain definitional looseness.”

To help tighten up the definition, she offers five clarifying characteristics, quoted below with a single descriptor pulled from her explanations. For more fully fleshed out descriptions, visit her original post, or better yet, check out her book, “Learner-Centered Teaching.”

1. Learner-centered teaching engages students in the hard, messy work of learning.

On any given day, in most classes teachers are working much harder than students.

2. Learner-centered teaching includes explicit skill instruction.

Learner-centered teachers teach students how to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, generate hypotheses—all those learning skills essential to mastering material in the discipline.

3. Learner-centered teaching encourages students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it. 

They challenge student assumptions about learning and encourage them to accept responsibility for decisions they make about learning; like how they study for exams, when they do assigned reading, whether they revise their writing or check their answers.

4. Learner-centered teaching motivates students by giving them some control over learning processes.

Learner-centered teachers search out ethically responsible ways to share power with students.

5. Learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration.

Learner-centered teachers work to develop structures that promote shared commitments to learning.

It is pretty easy to see how these core characteristics can apply to any age learner — be they kindergarteners or faculty in a school system. If we want our educators to be learning models for students, we would do well to employ some of these characteristics at all levels of learning.

Photo Credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 7: Behind the Scenes

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Chapter 7 of this fantastic series delves into the fuel that keeps the fire going — questioning everything in relation to the whole child:

  • Asking for help.
  • Inquiry to inspire students’ voice.
  • Shared inquiry about students.

Building a community of curiosity, which changes teachers’ perspectives on teaching, learning, and their own empowerment as educators, empowerment they then pass on to students.

Such a paradigm shift or “mindset switch” is vitally important to sustaining transformational learning.

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To Break the Mold, Is Competency Learning the Key?

This piece was first published at Mindshift KQED and was written by Katrina Schwartz. It is reposted here with permission of Mindshift.  

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More schools are starting to question whether traditional age-based classrooms are the best way to go, and to change the dynamic of teaching to the middle, they’re experimenting withcompetency-based learning, a system that moves kids along at different paces once they’ve shown they can grasp a key concept of a unit.

Kim Carter, executive director of QED Foundation, is a big supporter of competency-based learning.

“The choice is, do we want an education system that’s obsolete or do we want a system that is valued and creates value,” Carter said. The foundation offers training, coaching and consulting that focuses on student agency, as well as communities of collaboration both inside and outside school. Eventually, she says, that pace should be negotiated, with the student gradually taking over more responsibility for her learning.

Competency-based education is gaining momentum across the country. Already New Hampshire and Maine schools have transitioned to the model. Schools in Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, and many other states are following suit. The Common Core State Standards are also pointing in the direction of requiring competency rather than just a passing grade. Though Carter says the language of the Common Core favors performance-based assessments — students will have to show what they can do — she thinks it’s unfortunate that a test will measure the learning, because at best, a test approximates meaningful assessment, but does not demonstrate real-world application of knowledge.

“The standardized tests that allow us to compare across states tell us nothing about the individual,” Carter said. “They were not designed to tell us anything about the individual; they are designed to measure the effectiveness of programs. That’s a very different thing.”

If learning becomes more personalized, tests should too. “The whole idea of competency is the ability to apply, document, and defend your learning,” Carter said. She proposes that schools use a common rubric to assess “uncommon learning.” In other words, she proposes teachers need to be strict in their expectations and required criteria, but more flexible in terms of how a student gets there. Students don’t all have to read the same book or create the same project, but they do have to demonstrate that they understand and can use the core competencies.

If a student gets 50 percent in a class in a traditional school, she fails and has to repeat the course or grade level until she scores higher, even if the score means that she understood half the material. Forcing her to repeat everything is inefficient and puts the student at a disadvantage for the rest of her academic career. In competency-based classrooms, students relearn and demonstrate competencies in only the areas that challenge them before moving forward.

“‘Batch and queue’ is horribly inefficient and destroys kids’ concept of self,” Carter said. “It’s likemanufacturing, where you put everything through the same system and compare it to standards at the end. If it doesn’t match, put it through again.”

CHALLENGES TO IMPLEMENTATION

Shifting to a truly competency-based system means big changes for schools and would produce a ripple effect. “If you are truly going to go competency based and not just have a veneer of change, it will require retooling our systems,” said Carter.

Teacher training tailored to a competency-based education system is still one of the biggest hurdles. Many training courses have been the same for decades and don’t reflect some of the changing trends in education, Carter said. Successfully implementing a competency-based system is no easy feat — it means valuing what a child can demonstrate he knows, rather than assuming a correctly answered test question signifies he can apply that knowledge.

“Competency-based education is a huge shift, not just in terms of actual practices, or what we do in the classroom, or how we document what happens in the classroom, but a change in what we believe,” Carter said. And teachers need to act their way into believing, they can’t just be told to do it. She points to nursing or other higher education programs that ensure graduates have the basic skills and competencies before they can progress as good models to follow.

The other big barrier is teacher evaluations. Right now teachers are assessed by how well students do on a test. But understanding how well a student really knows the material should take more than that, just as teacher assessments should be based on more data points, Carter said. Teachers and students are trapped in the same system, one that is at odds with competency-based models.

“Our whole evaluation system is pretty young in the sense that we have only a few rudimentary means of assessing what students know,” Carter said.

Ultimately, teachers need to be trained and supported in the same way as students. And for both groups the standards have to mean something. Carter fears that if the education system continues as it has been, it will not only be obsolete, it will provide diplomas that have little validity.

Image: Mike 1952 via Flickr cc

Year At Mission Hill – Chapter 6: Like a Family

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The idea of living “like a family” is explored, like other topics within the school, as a community — among faculty, students, parents, and every combination thereof. Faculty see parents as partners, and talk about trust, cooperation, and communication as building blocks of that key relationship. The footage shows interactions between parents, teachers, and students — the kind of interactions that shape the culture of the school and ultimately shapes the experience students have day in and day out.

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 5: The Eye of the Dragon

missionhillSo much of the language that we know to be valuable in education comes alive at Mission Hill. Art. Empowerment. Choice. Voice. Inspiration. Creativity. Student experts. Student teachers. Community.

Every year they employ a school wide theme that aims for depth and breadth throughout the school. This year’s, “Long Ago and Far Away,” and the students share a seam of study (though not necessarily specific content) that everyone can relate to, no matter the age.

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 3 Making It Real

missionhillThis chapter opens with the question, “What makes a mind come alive?”

It is an apropos question that is all to often left out of discussions about education and education reform. At Mission Hill it is central to the development of educational experiences for students. Check out this chapter that explores the idea of creating opportunities for students to create, engage, involve, and explore in meaningful ways.

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