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

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

missionhill

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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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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A Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 2: Beginning the Year

Chapter 2 of A Year at Mission Hill takes us to the start of the year, or as many educators see it, the laying of the foundation. While educators recognize the importance of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, many see the first days of school as tone setters. In this, the educators at Mission Hill work to build community amongst themselves as learners before the students ever arrive.

By the time the students populate the walls and rooms, teachers are ready to engage the whole child and to work, first and foremost, toward the well-being of each and every student. They talk about providing opportunities for students’ voice to be an authentic and vital piece of the learning experience. They aim for transparency with the kids as an intentional pathway toward helping the students construct understanding.

Take a look at the second chapter below and see how they invest in students early to capture and employ student ownership.

Image: ScreenShot on StartEmpathy’s page from Sam Chaltain’s Prezi

A Year at Mission Hill Chapter 1

missionhillBelow is the first chapter of a remarkable video series: A Year at Mission Hill. The premise, as described on the project’s site, is simple:

Ten videos. One year. A public school trying to help children learn and grow. The national conversation we need to be having.

What goes into creating a powerful learning environment for children and adults? Meet the teachers, families and children of Mission Hill as they experience the highs and lows of a year of self-discovery, exploration, and frustration. And join us for a national conversation about the state of public education as it is – and as it ought to be.

Every couple of weeks until mid June, a new chapter will be released. The chapters are accompanied by additional resources and invite you to become a part of the story at Faces of Learning. It is our hope that through this sustained, in-depth look at what works in schools, we can have a sustained in-depth discussion, as a nation and as a people, about what we want for our schools, and more importantly, for our students.

Image: Year at Mission Hill and Education Revolution

 

Social Emotional Learning Core Competencies

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Seeing the forest despite the trees.

Our nation’s educational focus continues to zero in on “achievement” as defined by test scores in specific academic areas and the resulting gaps therein. This hyper focus exacerbates our nearly systematic blind eye related to learning for living and cultivating life long learners. As a result, policies that increase the stakes of standardized assessments necessitate schools increase the amount of time spent on basic skills — reading and math, primarily — to the exclusion of a broad range of other skills, experiences, and competencies. In effect, we see a couple of trees, but miss the forest, or big picture ecology, of learning.

However, research suggests there are programs that have the dual benefits of both raising achievement and increasing student well being. It is in this realm where we learn to think about education in terms of the forest, despite our hyper focus on the trees.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is such an example. CASEL (Collaborative For Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) is the leading organization working to build demand and capacity for SEL. Their work ranges from network building to conducting research to policy advocacy. Below is a graphic (source here) illustrating what they define as the core competencies for SEL.

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Additionally, they published a meta-analysis of research titled, “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning” (download it here). The meta-analysis concluded:

The reviews indicate that SEL programs:

  • Are effective in both school and after-school settings and for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems.
  • Are effective for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings across the K-12 grade range.
  • Improve students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, and positive social behavior; and reduce conduct problems and emotional distress.
  • Improve students’ achievement test scores by 11 percentile points.

It all demonstrates that we must think more holistically about students, learning, and the ecology of education. Simply working to improve math and reading test achievement falls far short of ensuring that our students are healthy, safe, engaged, challenged, and supported in the ways that matter most to their long term personal “achievement.”

Special thanks to Jackie Gerstein, whose post “Video Games and Social Emotional Learning” first pointed us to this chart.

This is a part of an ongoing series exploring components of our Transformational Learning Model. This piece relates to Academic Access, Curriculum Frame, Curriculum Goals, and Student Support.

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

12 Brain Rules

Below are the 12 Brain Rules developed by John Medina. Each link will take you to his site and to more information about each of the rules.

You can find the original list in his book “Brain Rules” and on his Brain Rules website.

Enjoy.

Exercise EXERCISE | Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
Evolution SURVIVAL | Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
wiring WIRING | Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
attention ATTENTION | Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
<img src="http://www.brainrules.net/images/icon_shortterm_m cheap viagra 100mg.gif” alt=”shortterm” /> SHORT-TERM MEMORY | Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
longterm LONG-TERM MEMORY | Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
sleep SLEEP | Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
stress STRESS | Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
multisensory SENSORY INTEGRATION | Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
vision VISION | Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
gender GENDER | Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
exploration EXPLORATION | Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

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