Sunday, February 27, 2011
I learn so much from those folks in my PLN. This morning as I reviewed my Twitter feed I came across a link to Chirpstory. I was curious enough to take a look. It seemed like a great tool for gathering tweets to create a story.
I attended the Dublin Literacy Conference this weekend. Several colleagues tweeted throughout the conference so I thought Chirpstory might be a way to capture some of responses to the presenters at the conference. So many smart thoughts were captured in those tweets.
So I created a Chirpstory titled Dublin Literacy Conference. It was a fun new tool that I am sure I will use again sometime. Maybe you will have some fun creating a Chirpstory.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I am particularly worried about the current educational landscape. I worry that we are losing our children in many ways and hope that we can turn things around. So my presentation is called "Where are the Children". I have embedded here if you are interested in hearing what I have to say. I would love your comments as well. presentations. It is an interesting and challenging format: 20 slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds. The presenter narrates the presentation along with the slides.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
There are many of us out there talking about educational reform. I agree with the sense of urgency and I support many of the actions suggested by the most thoughtful educators across the world. Visit the Cooperative Catalyst blog to read some of the most thought provoking posts on school reform and the actions that will move us forward to more meaningful learning. My list of actions include four reminders to be thoughtful and purposeful about the days I spend with children and teachers.
Never Forget the Learner:
I don't want to appear simplistic but, for me, the most compelling reminder is to never forget the learner. Some days it's like fighting through a snow storm when you can barely see a few feet in front of you. You try to clear your vision to get where you are going, but it's tough. Or it's like working your way through a crowded highway of traffic. You are sure about where you want to go but so many starts and stops get in the way. Or it's that long "to do" list that keeps you from doing the meaningful work you know you should be doing like spending time with children.
The distractions we face today are enormous. I don't need to list them here because we all sense the pull of the meaningless diversions we experience each day. These take us away from deeply thinking about learning, teaching, leadership and our children's future. So my next reminder-to-self is to slow down and prioritze the thinking and learning I do each day. I need to make time to dig deeply beyond the surface of my thoughts and actions.
I worry about the disconnect children feel about school and learning. At our school, they come smiling through the front door each morning but I am not sure they are engaged and involved in their own learning. They are great kids, but I wonder if they have learned to play the game of school. They are good at figuring out what WE want and complying. But where is the curiosity and the passion? I wonder if our students think about the ways they learn, what they care about, and a desire to connect with the world.
Someone suggested we choose one single word that drives us throughout the new year. My word is INSPIRE. I need to take some time for my own inspiration. The pace and intensity of the day often diverts me away from engaging my brain and my heart long enough to experience the inspiration that comes from spending time with children and teachers. I hope to inspire others throughout the coming year. That will mean helping them to find what matters, to think deeply and to take action.
So I have etched out a plan for the coming year. I will need many reminders along the way. I know that the educators I connect with each day will help me stay focused on what counts - our children.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
There are so many people who seem to focus on school reform these days. Some of us are growing weary of those who take a deficit view of the situation and make major non-educated assumptions about what learning and teaching is or should be. Many of those who are speaking the loudest have very little direct contact with the day-to-day lives of teachers and students in schools. And yet, people are listening and believing that the state of student learning is hopeless and that education in our country needs a complete makeover with intricate ways of monitoring and measuring.
I worry that there are reformers out there that set their sights right over the tops of the our students’ heads. One might wonder if children actually live and learn in our current school communities. Too much focus is placed on scores, data, and deficit thinking. Imagine gazing across a beautiful ocean and never thinking about what wonders lie beneath. What could we discover just below the surface and what wonders would we find if our gaze had the depth to look beyond the surface? We need to put our students back into our line of vision and take the time to know and respond to them as unique learners. There are many teachers and schools who value the learning lives of students. But for others our children seem to be lost in the crowd. They seemed to be swallowed up by the negative perspectives of those who think they know what our schools need.
We only need to walk through the halls of our schools to know that children need to know someone cares about them, that there are people who believe in their potential and that learning is about inquiry, discovery and passion. Teachers are engaging students in thoughtful inquiry and giving them opportunities to develop knowledge as well as the behaviors, skills and attitudes they will need for the future. However, these are not easily measured so many are blinded by the data produced when we only measure those things that can easily be measured. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Let’s think about what we value. Stamina, curiosity, persistence, choice, collaboration and passion are all important to me. I don’t really care about measuring them. I care about making sure we are giving students opportunities to learn them successfully. Let’s prepare them to be independent, passion-driven learners. Let’s create learning environments where all students can learn.
Maybe I’m expecting too much. Some folks seem to be deaf to the voices of our children. Positive school reform should begin with less talking and more listening, especially to the symphony of wisdom that comes from our students. Every child’s voice has power and wisdom. Let’s all be very quiet and listen to our children and then act on what they tell us about their learning. Let’s be positive and hopeful about our children’s future.
photo via Flicker by Pink Sherbert Photography
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
This article was first posted at Dangerously Irrelevant on September 21, 2010
The Current Landscape
These are challenging times in the current landscape of learning and teaching. The standards movement is pressing upon us and students and teachers are being measured in the narrowest of ways. I know that any and every measurement can tell me something about a child and I fear that focusing on any one measurement can be dangerous. The biggest mistake we can make is to be single-minded. Concentrating on a standardized score or focusing on only the standards that we are required to teach will not allow us the opportunity to create a variety of rich, interactive, collaborative and thoughtful experiences that enrich learning and teaching.
In the worst situations, it’s not the data that is problematic but how the data is interpreted, generalized, and misused to make educational decisions. I think that all measurements can be helpful in creating a clear and precise profile of a learner. I tend to lean toward more authentic measurements and what they tell me about students. However, every piece of data is a piece of the puzzle. What the results can do is help to clarify the most effective instruction and be responsive to each student’s needs. Some knowledge and skills are easily measured. Some are not. When it comes right down to it, a good teacher knows her students well and teaches in response to what she knows about the individual child.
I worry that we look at standards the way we narrow a Google map search on. We can narrow in on the smallest of detail. But knowing the big picture is also important. We can consider standards, measurements and data and completely lose sight of the bigger picture. Each educational measure we put in place is a part of the whole and we must not forget that. What does a standard or a test score tell us about a student’s persistence or level of self-efficacy? How can we support students by giving them the skills they need for more critical thinking, inquiry and thoughtful pursuits.
Whether or not we agree with standards and accountability, it is an immense part of the learning landscape. So we need to help others understand its place in the big picture.
The most important question we can ask when we are presented with any kind of measurement of progress is to ask “What next?” How will we formulate learning experiences that will move each child forward. What will we focus on? What are the strengths of the child and how can we teach from those strengths instead of looking at the deficits?
Causations for low and even high performance are being generalized. Some educators are guessing why students perform the way they do and linking to practices that may not have a positive impact on student learning. In some cases, we are instituting programs and practices that detour us from focusing on 21st century skills. If anything the standards and data-driven accountability fuel the need to speak out, to do what is right for kids, to broaden our perspective on what counts as learning.
· Stay the course and make decisions based on what’s right for kids
· Embrace 21st century learning
· Use measurement results to teach from a child’s strengths
· Be political. Let your thoughts be heard.
While it’s the most challenging time in education, it is also the most exciting. We are increasing the potential for our students to be active and participatory learners. We are encouraging them to build a learning community both locally and globally that will help them reach success. We cannot abandon our efforts to give our students what they will need to help them be successful in learning and life.
Karen Szymusiak is principal of Glacier Ridge Elementary in Dublin, Ohio. She can be found online at twitter.com/karenszymusiak. Karen has coauthored Beyond Leveled Books, Still Learning to Read, and Day to Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop. Her favorite moments are those spent with children. She says, "If we really listen to children, they tell us all there is to know about teaching wisely and well."
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Each December our students do chores for family and friends to earn money to donate to a charity. We ask parents to help out by taking pictures of their children doing the chores. They send the pictures in so we can make a slide show for our Celebration of Giving Assembly held on the last day before winter break. The assembly reminds us all that together we can do great things and that there are many reasons we help others who are less fortunate.
Our Student Leadership Team is in charge of choosing the charity each year. This year I am so impressed with their thinking. They have decided that instead of giving to one charity they want to choose a local, a national, and a global charity that needs our help. They are doing some research and will soon make a decision about the three organizations that we will support.
I am first impressed each year by the many ways our students open their hearts to give to others. This year I am so proud to be working with a group of children who understand the small as well as the big picture. They understand the importance of helping our local charity. But I am even more proud that they have chosen to consider a global charity.
These are the things that cannot be measured on any test. These are the things that make us hopeful that our students can impact their world - close to home and far away.