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Lead from the Start: February 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What does 21CL mean in an at-risk preschool setting?

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by It was a great chance to talk about 21CL (that is century learning) and teaching at-risk preschoolers. Here is a brief excerpt:

What does that term "21st Century Learning" mean within the context of your work?

In the context of my work as a preschool teacher, 21st century learning has a lot less to do with technology and a lot more to do with people and relationships. Exposure to the potential of the internet and technology are the foundation to preparing my students, many of whom do not have computers at home. In my classroom I use streaming video, digital music, digital recording, blogs and search engines to show kids how technology can help us access information outside of our immediate surroundings. When one of my students became homebound because of leukemia I used technology to build our classroom community.

As I was sitting with the child’s mother at her home discussing the family’s access to technology, her mother mentioned how her oldest daughter was upstairs using her laptop online, it came to me what I needed to do. Her daughter needed her own blog. I knew she would feel more connected to the life of our class if she could see and talk to us each day. Her mother is tech savvy enough to do the posts at home. She named the blog, “Missing School.” Each morning now we check to see what our friend has to say. We have posted video of our class singing our favorite songs, posted some wishes from the class, and she has told us what she is learning at home.

Preparing students for the future means developing the modes of thought that enable students to engage with their world proactively.

Innovation and Post-modernism - the why of schooling

On a new online community David asked, "How would the standards movement fit into a post modernist (POMO) analysis?" I responded there but wanted to bring in some more details here.

David I think that the difference in the two perspectives has more to do with the why of schooling than the how.

I believe a liberal education is important but in its most narrow view (Hirsch) it does not allow for discovering what students need to learn. In some ways I think modernism and post-positivism (the baby and the bath water) are still very much alive and exerting influence on public policy. They are able to do this because of innate need for certainty in public policy decisions. However, the perspective's focus on finding the truth as opposed to discovering the truth or making meaning makes education more narrow than is healthy for American schooling.

If standards were based less on content and more on process I think that both perspectives become better represented. I think that much of the national science standards are constructed well. They support the understanding of important scientific concepts as well as how to think scientifically.

However, when rich national standards are translated into state and local policy their power is diffused by a focus on specific skills and concepts as opposed to habits of mind and heart.

I suggest that we don't know what we will need to know in the future. But we can prepare students by helping them develop "ways of knowing" that will help them to be successful in the 21 century. Perhaps this is where we should invest ourselves as educators and a country. Students who can create, think, analyze, and empathize will be better prepared.

According to the recent American Association of School Administrators conference innovation is where we should start. Perhaps we need some standards for innovation. Is that even possible?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Questioning our Questions

The question seems to be the building block for education in this accountability driven era. However, why and how questions are asked can differ from one social setting to another.

I just read an ethnographic study conducted from 1970 - 1975 by S.B. Heath. This study is a seminal work that was published in a book titled Ways with Words in 1983.

In this classic the researcher conducted her research in response to requests by African-American parents in her community and white teachers of the community school to help them find out why students where not succeeding academically and where turned off to school. The study talks about how the the changes resulting from the educational reforms of Brown v. Board and the E.S.E.A of 1965 (now known as NCLB) brought black students into schools with white teachers.

What struck me was that the research that was conducted then is still applicable today and it could still be affecting how well students from different backgrounds succeed in school.

The study examines reasons for questions in homes of working class Blacks, in the public school, and in the homes of the white teachers of the school.

The reasons for questions in the teachers homes and in the school were often questions the teacher already knew the answer to, sometimes questions the adult didn't know the answer to, or veiled "directives or condemnations" of children's behaviors. Often these white adults asked their children and their students to give information out of context. They might ask, "What color is that?" The questions the adults didn't know the answer to were questions mostly about a child's preference, "What do you want?" and the third type of question asked, "Why can't things be simpler than they are?" was clearly rhetorical and considered the "polite" way to chastise a child.

In contrast, in the students homes, they were not asked questions that took objects and events out of context. Instead of three types of questions there where five types of questions in children's homes.
1) Questions in children's homes might ask a child to relate an object or event to another that they and the questioner both understood. (What's that like?)
2) They could serve as a "story starter" (Did you see Maggie's dog yesterday?)
3) An accusatory question (What's that all over your face?) When asked a "condemnation" question students could either, bow their head and say nothing or tell a story or joke that would cause the questioner to "forget" why they asked the question.
4) A question of preference "What do you want?"
5) Or, a question that the questioner and the child both new the answer to. (What's your name?) In this last situation the student is expected to give the the questioner the nickname that the questioner calls him or her and it is meant to affirm their relationship.

Needless to say, I thought a lot about the questions I asked my preschoolers today. I tried to be more balanced about the types of questions I asked but, I know I am part of a system. I asked kids to read words, tell me numbers, and describe the relative weights of objects. I also tried to ask, "What did you have for dinner last night? What word does that sound like? and Where were you when the police called about your sister?

I have seen all of the behaviors described by Heath to greater or lesser degree in my classroom. The best part of the study was Heath's refusal in her description or her reporting to condemn the students or their parents way of using language. Her ideas about a "two-way path" for language understanding in schools and communities ties democratic ideals to academic research and education.

I have had a colleague tell me about her experience serving on a test review committee. When too many African-American boys got a question right on the test the question was deleted from the test. So my question is, are we asking the "right" questions?

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Presidential themed Carnival @ Sharp Brains

Sharp brains worked very hard to put together a lively carnival of education this week at Sharp Brains. GO read it and check out SharpBrains. Definitely an interesting blog.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Post-modern Educational Paintings (Stilbruch)

As some may know, I am in a doctoral cohort in ed leadership. I was in class Tuesday night and we were discussing logical positivism and post-modernism in educational research. I offered the perspective of post-modernism in literature to understand the viewpoint.

Then, in describing post-modernism in art, my teacher started talking about one of my paintings. It was surreal. She wasn't describing my painting but, the building my painting is of. The contrast of the highway and the 19th century architecture.

In looking at this painting and comparing it to educational research it is important to realize, as I try to communicate in this painting, that even though the highway and the train station contrast there is no value judgment about which is better. I appreciate the rythym and the lines of the highway, the structure of the train tracks and the design of the station. Every architecural voice makes a valid assertion about beauty and functionality. The German word for this is : Stilbruch

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's Good?

Recently on TLN the supremely awesome and totally radical Ellen (Blissed out in San Diego) asked us, "What's good in education? I am going to post my list below but the great thing was that the ever attuned John Norton smelled a TLN group article and published some of what each one of us said at Then, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, the tech Guru(ess?) at 21st Century Learning published her list. So, I thought, wouldn't it be nice to generate some positive Chi or Karma or whatever and challenge some other edbloggers to come up with a list.

Mr. Russo, Ms. Jacobs, Ms. Wonkette... consider this a challenge.

So, what's GOOD AND RIGHT in your educational world right now? No qualifiers, no buts, just a celebration and appreciation of what is wonderful.

My student who is fighting leukemia is in remission and will spend a month
at home communicating with our class using her blog and a webcam.

70% of my at-risk 4 year olds are reading at a Kindergarten early first
grade level.

My assistant doesn't hate me (she is new) and she came into work on a day
she was planning to be out because I was going to miss a half-day.

United Streaming.

Blogs let me have conversations with policywonks that wouldn't look me in
the eye in person.

My state level teacher leaders network (the Virginia forum) is back on its

In 2001 president Bush implemented a standardized test for preschool. It was
put into place to help defund Head Start. Since kids all over the country
did great on the test, because it was not a valid assessment, and because it
is stupid to test preschoolers, it has been dropped from the Head Start

No more administering national tests for preschoolers. YEAH!

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Yes We Can (Is anything real in polictics?)

As covered by my friend John Sarvay on Buttermilk and Molasses
the Obama video continues to spiral viral. An excellent article in the Washington Post discusses the making and breaking wave of the video. It also asks the important questions I mentioned in my earlier post this way:
The people behind the video say the Illinois Democrat's campaign had nothing to do with the video. "The intention," Dylan said yesterday, "was to make a really simple thing. . . . It was like, 'Super Tuesday's coming, let's try and get this up, maybe it can help a bit.' We weren't doing it for the campaign. We were doing it for what [Obama] said in the speech. . . . I believe the words he had to say."
So, I still question the authenticity of this effort by the cultural elite to support Obama. Is it me or the world we live in the makes me question everyone's motives? If it turns out that Obama's campaign had anything to do with the video or its' release it loses its' appeal for me. I'm not sure what would be sadder, being afraid that it isn't real and holding back my belief in it or believing it is and then finding out I've been duped. Again.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What does creativity mean to a flat world?

Much of the political discourse surrounding education these days is based on the economic perspective of the business world that believes we need to prepare world class employees. Most of the jobs that I hope my students will pursue have not been created yet. I see the effects of technology and a “flatter” world as increasing the need for people skills that enable communication. I also see teaching students to be creative in their approach to their lives as not only an economic benefit to America but also as a benefit to humanity. Teaching with and to both sides of the brain, as described by Daniel Pink, (2006) in A Whole New Mind, are the keys to preparing kids for the future.

Left Brain

Right Brain













Students who have explored and developed abilities using both sides of the brain will have the skills necessary to be successful in a future that is essentially unknown. In my classroom students design, tell stories, are empathetic, play and make meaning. They also problem solve, discuss, concentrate, use logic, and learn when to be serious. Creativity and collaboration is central to the skill sets students will need in the 21st century. I foster these in my classroom by developing activities that require collaboration and that have group products as outcomes.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Yes We Can

I try to avoid overt politics on this blog so, I offer this as a commentary. This is an example of what it takes to reach the youth vote. Pop culture icons lip syncing to a political speech. At least it isn't the other way around. Politicians lip-synching to pop culture icons. I guess we had that with the last Democrat elected president. (Don't stop thinking about tomorrow. Remember the saxophone?) Mr. Tilson, thanks for the heads-up. Who knew the guy who wrote DOn't Phunk with My Heart" and "My Humps" could write a politcal song. Well I guess Obama( 's speech writer) really wrote it.

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