Monday, April 28, 2014

A Beautiful Noise

It's a beautiful noise
And it's a sound that I love
And it makes me feel good

Neil Diamond

            I’ve been working a lot lately with educators in developing curricular units of study and talking about the learning skills necessary for students to experience success. As an aside, I’ve deliberately not used the label “21st Century” in front of “learning skills” as I think we all understand in 2014 that we are in the 21st century. It’s lost its cache or novelty. I don’t recall having a constant reference to 20th century learning skills when I was a student. I know that the learning skills necessary for students today are certainly different and, as a result, the teaching practices to support those skills, also need to be different.
It’s fair to say that we need to deepen the critical thinking skills of our students. It’s also important that we shift to conceptual understanding and away from understanding by an algorithm or rule. Both of these shifts will require more student “talk” time. As an offshoot of the advances in technology, it’s been suggested that kids today communicate more. While that may be true, I think it’s equally true to claim they actually talk less (see the recent cartoon below). They can spend an hour with a peer the previous night on their devices, but barely muster a hello the next day at school when they pass each other in the hallway.
Asking students to explain their solutions (not just the why but also the how) may be foreign to some. They might be used to simply providing a response as a regurgitation of a fact or a basic manipulation of information – a level 1 or 2 response on Webb’s depth of knowledge. Critical thinking will require levels 3 and 4 on Webb’s or the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Ultimately this will mean less teacher talk time (think of five minutes as your maximum before turning it over to your students) and more collaboration between students. It will mean more of the “beautiful noise” that is evidenced in classrooms where students are highly engaged and deeply involved in their learning. Educators know the difference between disruptive, non-productive noise and this beautiful noise. I know I’m enjoying the visits to the learning environments where there is that highly productive hum. It really is a sound that I love.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Inspires You?

My wife and I took some time recently to go hiking in Sedona. It was an excellent few days of activity and relaxation. She took the photo above and asked me what inspired me. I gave the perfect husband answer and said, "You do"! I really wasn't trying to be flippant or cheesy as she really does inspire me to go beyond what I thought was possible and to be a better person than I might have been had I walked this journey called life, solo. Her question also got me thinking about other sources of inspiration in my life.

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I enjoy running. This activity also inspires me and creates great thinking time. I love heading out in a new town with an idea I heard or a challenge that arose. The combination of exercise and an issue to kick around leads to some great thinking (at least I think it’s great!). My transition from a defined role in a school district, to a travelling consultant and author has allowed me the opportunity to connect with so many inspirational educators. I get to speak from my experience and context, which is familiar ground but hearing about their experiences and contexts is very motivating. Thanks to all who have filled my notebooks and memo pads with things to consider. It really does push me during the writing phase. Which, by the way, is another source of inspiration. Doing the research for the books I’ve crafted gets me into the thought processes of a lot of smart people. Working with co-authors stretches my thinking and inspires me to push further to refine my craft. The part I miss the most on the travels is the opportunity to interact with students. When I get the chance, I ask if it’s possible to have some time with students as they inspire me with how they process many of the changes that I think would have overwhelmed me when I was their age.

So, what inspires you? I’d love to hear your stories and have them added to the comments section below where I know they’ll inspire me, and I’m certain, any other readers of this post. Thanks for sharing!