University of Maine offers: SAR 540 – Students At Risk
I will be instructing the course, and it will be held during the week of June24th-June28th at The REAL School on Mackworth Island in Falmouth! See below for details… (Download the link from my Dropbox account)… If you have trouble opening it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send the information to you!
Activity, exercise, and new experiences all trigger production of a protein-based hormone, BDNF, that causes NEUROGENESIS! It’s like Miracle Grow for your brain!
“Challenge by choice” activities, that require us to step outside of our comfort zones create the ideal conditions for learning… Click the underlined link to see how The REAL School uses therapeutic adventure…
Happiness and your Brain
The underlined link above connects to another recent presentation … This one offers a framework for understanding the ongoing “battle” between the brain’s cognitive and emotional centers and strategies for actually increasing affective well-being (happiness)! School culture is shaped by individual behaviors, attitudes, affects, and interactions. Brain plasticity (the super cool phenomenon wherein our brain structure/archetecture changes in response to experience) is responsive to everything we see, hear, do, and think! Teachers and school administrators (or anyone else, for that matter) can use strategies in this presentation to increase both personal well-being and ORGANIZATIONAL well-being, enhancing the educational experience for everyone in the school!
Here is a link to one of my recent presentations – It addresses (basic) adolescent brain development, the impacts of trauma/poverty on development, and the importance of a relational approach. It also provides several tips for improving outcomes for students at high risk. Hope you find it helpful!
Resilient, effective people have strong, internal locus of control. They accurately understand the connections between their actions/decisions/words and the resulting circumstances. They recognize when they are wrong, acknowledge and repair any harm done, and make a plan for avoiding the same mistake in the future. There is a certain power inherent in the ability to take appropriate, personal responsibility – a confidence that comes from the knowledge that mistakes will sometimes happen when we take productive risks, that almost anything can be fixed, that a heartfelt apology can build a bridge, and that all challenges bring unexpected gifts.
Punitive disciplinary practices in schools tend to build inaccurate connections for kids. They learn to associate their behavioral mistakes with adult hostility instead of with their own need to learn/grow/improve themselves; they learn to avoid being caught, or to lie, or to externalize the blame … Precious emotional and cognitive energy ends up wasted on cover-up efforts, deflection, finger-pointing, and denial… And worst of all, precious opportunities for growth and learning (that are the inherent gifts hidden within mistakes), are lost in the process.
An apology can be very empowering, when you think about it. It is an act of heroic optimism and unshakable confidence – Yes, I messed up, but I will fix the damage and learn to be better. The fact is, though, that most children hate to apologize; they have been socialized into believing that mistakes are shameful, and that fessing up is somehow a sign of weakness.
At our school, we use a 4-step Restorative Learning Process to help students: 1) take personal responsibility for their actions; 2) acknowledge the impact of their behavior on others; 3) come up with a way to repair any harm that was done; and 4) develop a plan for getting their needs met in a more adaptive and successful way in the future. This practice (in lieu of suspensions, expulsions, or even time-wasting detention practices) keeps students in school – moving forward in their educational processes, and breaking the ineffective cycle of punitive discipline.
One student explained it recently like this: “If we punch a hole in the wall, they give us drywall tape, Spakle, sandpaper, and paint so we can fix it back to as good as it was before – or better. If we punch a hole in the community – through put-downs or disruptions – we have to come up with a plan to repair that and to give something positive back to help the group become stronger.”
Since it is difficult for us to measure what is truly valuable, do we have to value that which is easier to measure?
We need to be very careful about our priorities when it comes to “high stakes” testing. With national and international pressure to weigh in with a norm-referenced score to prove where our schools fall on the big sliding scale of standardized test scores, it is quite possible that many smart, ethical, passionate educators are forced to place too much value on students’ acquisition of the skills and knowledge bytes that make for successful test-taking. While some of these tools for achievement are important to have and to hone, others are becoming archaic while the ink dries on the new test bubble sheets … and even the most important and relevant items are still really just tools. It is much easier to assess that a mechanic does, indeed, have a wrench in his hand than it is to determine whether or not he can fix your engine properly. We can’t necessarily judge the seaworthiness of a boat based on the fact that it appears to have a rudder and a fog horn, and we wouldn’t recommend a brain surgeon just because she owns a scalpel and can define several neurological terms.
When schools and teachers are publicly judged (and compensated/penalized) based largely on their ability to get students to demonstrate skills and information outside of authentic contexts, we are giving priority to the wrong things. When teachers are busy preparing students for standardized tests, they have little time left over to provide the sort of instruction that fosters necessary 21st Century capabilities.
Recent research on brain development and learning practically insists that we engage students in complex, loosely-defined challenges and activities that require them to struggle through ambiguity, ask questions, and work together to find innovative solutions. Project Based Learning, Service Learning, and Design Thinking all help to support development of synaptic connections for improved learning. This type of instructional practice also fosters important executive functioning skills – the ability to plan, prioritize, delay gratification, predict consequences and outcomes, engage in abstract thinking, and interact in positive, productive ways with others.
It is possible to measure student achievement through authentic assessments. Rubrics, portfolios, and actual performance tasks can all contribute to a system that gauges truly important outcomes like critical thinking and collaborative skills, interpersonal communication, creative innovation, entrepreneurial risk taking, flexibility and adaptability under conditions that fluctuate, and other necessary competencies for success in the fast-changing present and future world. The Authentic Assessment Toolbox offers excellent rationale for authentic, performance based assessment AND practical ideas and strategies for implementing these assessments.
Since there is national interest in revisiting the NCLB rules these days, it might be the perfect time to reconsider what it is we really want for our students, figure out how to measure that, and make sure that classroom time and energy are devoted what is truly important.
Here are some thoughts on the interactions between teachers and students .. Most of us can remember how we felt at some point when a teacher either ignited a fire inside of us or made us feel inept.
Adults in the classroom never have the luxury of being neutral. Everything you say or do is either building a bridge or building a wall. Seems like a lot of pressure, I know – but teachers (by which I mean all adults in a classroom, since the kids are learning from all of the adults) are the most powerful people in the room.
Sometimes teachers can feel powerless when faced with apathy, disrespect, and other assorted expressions of negativity in the classroom – but it is really important to remember that you hold at least 2 types of power at all times: “official power”, because you ultimately have the final say on what happens in the classroom (how rules are enforced, who sits where, who gets to talk, what lessons and activities will happen, etc) and “perceived” power, because most of the students are under the general assumption that you are in charge here (if you don’t believe this – watch their eyes when something goes wrong – they all will look to you to see how you react and to find out if everything will be OK). You can also develop “social” power when the students see you as the person who makes sure that everyone feels respected, safe, and cared about.
All this rambling about power is just a reminder that – even on the toughest day – you have what it takes to make or break a student’s experience at school. They watch your face and your body language, they hear every twinge in your voice, and they look to you to provide an example of how a smart, capable adult handles stress and surprise and joy and etc….
Here are some strategies (habits of heart and mind) to help build bridges:
1. Speak to students as though their parents are in the room with you.
2. Notice something great about an angry disaffected student and bring it to his or her attention in a meaningful way.
3. “Creative Visualization” to help create compassion when you can’t feel it in the moment: Picture a big, angry student as the 3-year-old he once was … picture him “playing school”, watching the school bus go by, and getting excited about someday going to big-kid school. Then picture him in Kindergarten – running open-heartedly into the classroom, only to learn very quickly that he didn’t fit in there (his “walking feet” were “running feet”, for instance, and his “listening ears” didn’t work well; his circles were not round and didn’t sit well on the line).
4. Learn the secret language of the disaffected learner: “This is stupid” means “I don’t understand this”. “I don’t care what you say” means “I still have to figure out if you’re for real or not”. “I can’t do this” means “I feel like I can’t do anything, so why bother trying and looking stupid again?” “No” means “Not until I get some need met”. “You can’t make me!” means “I need to feel in control of something because I feel powerless.”
5. Remember that when students exhibit challenging behaviors, they are usually trying to mask their fear of rejection or of looking / feeling inept.
What do we really want for our kids? What do they really need? According to some arguably brilliant people (Tony Wagner, for instance, or Yong Zhao … just to name a couple), our students need to become autonomous, imaginative, confident, articulate, creative, passionate, collaborative, innovative, critical-thinking, problem-solving individuals who participate fully as effective, productive, happy, fulfilled, global citizens.
Sure, our students need to learn the hard skills of Literacy and Mathematics, and they need to understand certain Social and Scientific concepts - these are often prerequisites to all of the above. But to get at the OUTCOMES we really want, ask why a student needs to “learn and be able to do” any of the standards (either Maine Learning Results OR Common Core Standards)… Seriously – choose a standard … any one of them – in any content area … and then ask WHY the students need to know or be able to do this. The answer is going to lead you directly to the ultimate outcomes we’re hoping to achieve – that our students will become responsible, involved citizens; effective communicators; creative problem-solvers; critical thinkers; collaborative, compelling, curious, innovative folks who care for others and who receive care in return. (These are not frivolous, soft aspirations for our students, by the way – these are necessary capacities for competing successfully in a global and swiftly-changing economy).
Some wonderful standardized test-takers have gone on to become fairly ineffective citizens once they were unleashed upon the world. And some of the most astounding innovations, the most profound acts of kindness, the most heroic sacrifices, the sweetest victories, the best music, the finest art, and so many other superlative feats have been accomplished by unremarkable standardized test-takers.
We might want to rethink a system wherein schools are forced to squander considerable fiscal resources, time, and energy on standardized testing (and on teaching to those tests).
What matters most cannot always be quantified.
Think about the child you love most in your life – what do you want for that kid? How should this be measured?
To be more competitive globally – in an authentic way – our public education system must abandon the illusion of competitiveness based on academic comparisons among students and their peers. Competition in schools is great when it comes to the debate team, the spelling bee, the soccer field, the jazz band finals … Athletes and mathletes alike should enjoy activities and venues for demonstrating their exceptional skills (and for receiving recognition for their specific superiority).
When it comes to the classroom, however, our goal is to help all students to meet state and national (or even international) standards in academic content and skills. And to do that, we have to let go of our desire to rank, sort, classify, and line students up from best to worst, using peers as benchmarks.
True standards-based education in a competitive, capitalist society is a very uncomfortable concept, when you think about it: A hockey dad learns that his daughter (the center on the school team) meets a standard in Geometry. By how much did she meet it? Who met that standard a little bit less than she did? Would that be considered an “A+”? Or would it be a “D-” because she dragged her achievement across that line between not meeting the standard (an “F”?) and barely making it (a “D”?)??? What do you mean someone else “exceeded” that standard? By how much?? Who gets to be on the Honor Roll? How do we find the Valedictorian? Who will salute her?
We crave that bell curve – a nice normal statistical distribution that lets the world know that some people are great, most are average, and some just don’t measure up. A mother might reasonably feel that her son’s “A” in English Literature only means something because other kids earned B’s and C’s – or lower. Cognitively, we want everyone to achieve the standards – but viscerally, we want to know who’s the best.
Even after decades of school reform aimed at embracing a standards-based approach, many educators and administrators (and MOST community stakeholders, families, parents…) are unable to relinquish that white-knuckled grip on the idea of measuring students against each other rather than against the learning standards. Most schools go so far as to explore and experiment with changes to curriculum and instruction to support standards-based learning (usually taking a diluted form involving “standards-referenced” practices), and then abandon ship entirely when it comes to exploring standards-based assessment and reporting.
“Standardized testing” is an insidious term that creates abundant confusion here – the root word, “standard”, does not refer to “learning standards” at all. The “standard” in “standardized” simply means that the assessment is implemented in a consistent way (same or similar questions, same format, same testing conditions, same time limits, etc). There is no reason to standardize an assessment if the goal is to measure student achievement of the learning standards! Certainly, many “standardized” tests are also criterion-based (meaning that the tests measure the degree to which a student demonstrated knowledge/skill in specific learning standards); however, the only conceivable reason for “standardizing” a test at all is to ensure a norm-referenced comparison among test takers (in order to score student against student, in accordance with The Curve, the results of which guarantee that comfortable illusion of some high achievers, some low achievers, and a whole lot of mediocrity in between).
The entire distribution curve itself is, of course, completely relative. When nobody “meets the standards” on an assessment, the curve simply slides down until there are excellent scorers who don’t meet the standards and average scorers who are well below the standards. And if everyone meets the standards … well … that would squish the bell flat. There would be no hierarchy, no Top Ten, no Honor Roll… Imagine.
People do not demonstrate their knowledge, skills, expertise in standardized ways in this world. We synthesize, modify, extend and express ourselves uniquely; we move at varying paces with inconsistent enthusiasm and aptitude under the very non-standard, organic, fluid conditions of “real life”. True standards-based assessments will take into account the multiple pathways through which students can gain knowledge and skills, and the multiple formats by which they can demonstrate their achievement.
Our purpose is not served in the ranking and sorting of students; we are less competent (and less competitive) when we placate ourselves with the comfortable, familiar bell curve illusion. All of our students need to meet the content-based and skills-based standards we’re serving up in our public schools – and this requires us to knock it off with the competition already when it comes to learning, because everyone has to win.