HuffPost Interview Caused Some Introspection

On a lark, I recently participated in a Huffington Post online interview on the state of American education as compared to a global perspective.  I got some good ideas into the conversation and rambled a bit (what do you expect for midnight conversations?).

But, more important to note that I felt bad about some of my comments after re-watching this.  I’m afraid I lost a bit of my optimism in this piece.  I was a bit critical in places and may have overestimated the number of international teachers that “escape” their domestic systems.  It’s possible I’m fairly accurate, as confirmed by my esteemed colleague in Japan.  But, nonetheless, troubling is the way I suggested it as a reflection on these domestic systems that are trying to understand education and come up with a plan for refreshing and retooling them.  As noted by each of us, there are pockets of excellence.  The challenge is still about finding a methodology that is transferable and sustainable while at the same time not becoming more factory assembly line than it already is.  What do you think?

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Are We Learning From Evaluations? – Leadership 360 – Education Week

In a recent article from Jill Berkowicz and Ann Meyers,

Are We Learning From Evaluations? – Leadership 360 – Education Week.

they make a case for fallacies that stand behind new evaluation systems that use scoring mechanisms for reporting “what isn’t being done well enough.”

I applaud them for their insight into this nutty problem of evaluation that has haunted us for decades.  I grew up in administration in Washington State where new evaluation systems continue to be debated while an instrument first crafted in the 1970’s is in continued use.  Changing educational practice is never easy!

But, Jill and Ann make the case that we should treat teacher evaluation on the same standard as student feedback, which is cornerstone to our current understanding of achievement and motivation.  Hattie (2008) has generally confirmed this precept.  As I read their treatise, I must admit that I experienced some tension over devaluing a professional appraisal process to the equivalent of providing effective feedback to a 6th grade writer.  Don’t misunderstand, I agree that giving a 6th grader a single grade on a written paper is unlikely to motivate them and does little in helping them learn how to become better writers.  I believe that the authors are making this argument quite effectively.

But, the evaluation system of teacher serves two purposes.  At it’s core, it does serve the purpose of informing improved practice.  The author’s quote here is quite profound:

In 1975 a Handbook for Faculty Development was published for the Council for the Advancement of Small Colleges.  In it they list 13 characteristics that certainly apply.  Feedback needs to be descriptive rather than evaluative. Sound familiar?  In the new teacher and principal evaluation systems, the requirement to provide ‘evidence’ is exactly that.  No interpretation, no value judgment, simply what was seen. Included in the 13 is also that feedback be specific, can be responded to, is well timed, is the right amount (too much can’t be addressed at once), includes information sharing rather than telling, is solicited (or welcomed as helpful) and plays a role in the development of trust, honesty, and a genuine concern.

I do find that our use of a framework of standards (Danielson, 2011) allows us to gather evidence and then align it to a set of descriptors that turns the evidence into feedback.  This feedback includes a score — and rightfully so!  Rubrics were written with the expressed purpose of quantifying the feedback and setting targets for performance in the form of exemplars associated with higher rubric scores.

This is where the authors fall short.  They forget that, without goals, exemplars, and appropriate targets, they are missing the true goal of effective feedback, to accomplish greater achievement – whether for students or as a professional.  To that end, we have to consider how the evidence we collect is utilized to provide for accountability.  Evaluators have to be able, through the noted relationships that must be in place, to have both facilitative and instructional conversations that drive improved practice and the development of expertise.  Somebody in that conversation has to make a value judgement for that process to be something more than just spinning wheels on the slippery slope of mediocrity.

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Great Start to a New Year!!

2013-2014 Opening Ceremony from AAS Moscow on Vimeo.

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ECIS Conference Presentation 2013

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Technology Integration in Schools

At a session at International School of Prague as part of the Spring CEESA Conference.  Discussion about the integration of technology and pushing the boundaries of our thinking on the topic.  The SAMR model helps us to see the context of integration and the transformational aspects that we are all seeking:

SAMR-Puentedura1

 

 

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TEDxAAS – My first one…

The students in charge of this did a fabulous job!!

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Chris Waddell Visits AAS

AAS Guest: Chris Waddell from AAS Moscow on Vimeo.

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ECIS Panel Discussion – April, 2012

Initial thoughts:

 

The initial question posited to the conference panel that I’ve been asked to address:

Information Technology in school – Does it improve  learning?

Gathered some resources to begin to address this question and related topics:

https://www.evernote.com/pub/chinazurfluh/technologyitems

The key issue associated with answering the question revolves first around how you define improving learning.  The learning targets that are currently accepted often revolve around norm referenced test scores because of our reliance on these measures to show growth or performance against a larger data set.  There is some validity to this because of the large data set available after decades of using these measures and the large body of experience with these measures.

However, these kinds of measures are ill prepared to measure 21st century skills.  They effectively measure math, reading, writing, and core knowledge competency, but they do little to measure attitudes, intellectual processing skills, and skills revolving around independence, collaboration, and innovation.  We have scores of examples of students who are truly gifted as leaders and complex thinkers that routinely scored below average on the accepted measures.

So, if you are asking me whether information technology improves learning, I would have to answer “No”.

There is no clear empirical evidence that information technology as an independent variable has a correlation to improved student learning as a dependent variable in the traditional, measured definition of the term.

I would suggest that addressing this question from a quantitative point of view is faulty at the outset.  This is the same logic that has led to American ignorance of the impact of poverty on education and learning.  We’ve spent more than a decade comparing our results to international measures only to ignore how poverty has impacted our bottom line.  A recent AASA blog entry highlights the fallacy of the standards movement to address educational reform while ignoring this poverty gap between the countries (e.g. Finland with 4% in poverty vs. U.S. at 21%).  Quantitative measures are insufficient in addressing complex issues.

Logic confirms that If we want to address what technology enables, we need different goals for education.  In the truest tradition of backward design, it begins with this question:

What world are we preparing kids to live in?

Addressing that question and looking at essential skills for a 21st century world is where we truly should be focused.  In regards to this question, the next logical qualified questions is:

Does the use of information technology in schools prepare kids for a technology rich world we can scarcely describe in the current moment?

Then the answer would be a resounding and passionate — YES!!  Now let’s design and build measures for addressing skills that emerge from this backward design and use measures that are meant to really test whether students are developing 21st century skills.  Let’s get beyond the issue of technology as an entity and look at how we create technology rich environments that eminently prepare students for the world of their future.

 

Hattie research:

and one recently reported danger from CNET:

 

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Christmas Letter 2011

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The Holiday Season Begins @ AAS

AAS 5th Grade from Jon Zurfluh on Vimeo.

Erin and her classmates entertain parents at recent gathering.

BTW – All video done with iPhone and edited with iMovie on the iPhone. Amazing…

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Wow…

Hard to find words to describe this…  Wonderful!!!

What a great capture of what goes on at AAS every day.

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Becoming a Lighthouse…

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The Future…

I know this is just a gadget on one hand, but for those with a science fiction come reality sort of mind, what are the implications of this?  Are we preparing kids for a world with stuff like this?  I mean really – Do the classrooms of today bear any resemblance to the technology they will live with after graduation?  Really???!?!?!?

This changes everything…

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Common Sense Thinking

These guys get it…

Look especially at 25:40 for the key question on individualizing… Powerful – listen for the shoe story.

 

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Musical Farewell to Mount Cross Lutheran

Mount Cross Lutheran – www.mountcrosslutheran.org

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Candidates popping up in Russia – similar to U.S.

An article in the New York Times this week named the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets as a potential candidate for Russian president, but his actual run is far from formal announcement until his party tests their merit in upcoming parliamentary elections in December.  It’s interesting that this Billionaire Bachelor is a potential candidate in Russia while he would be unlikely for consideration in the current conservative atmosphere.  His tendency to frequent the clubs with Russian models is well known and he does little to hide this reputation.  Seems interesting that his party of record is name “Right Cause” and is clearly opposed to Putin’s party, United Russia.  He seeks a multi-party system where none currently exists and this may be a tough challenge.

So the question emerges — Can leadership that seems out of touch with the moderation of character and values survive in this kind of environment? In this environment of a young and developing democracy, is any leadership better than no leadership?

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Michael McFaul possibly named new U. S. Ambassador to Russia

It was recently announced with little fanfare that Michael McFaul will take the post as new Ambassador to Russia from the United States, pending Senate confirmation.  Nice to know that a highly qualified and thoughtful individual will be entering the Russian environment on my heels and I look forward to greeting his family at the Anglo-American School.

I’ve been reading a bit of his most recent book (Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can) and looking to potentially incorporate some of his leadership thoughts in my own dissertation work.  He has presented a well thought out case for instituting change in a complex global context.

Recent pundits have suggested that foreign policy centered on elections is shortsighted by ignoring the other institutions necessary to give sustainability to those election results.  Namely, a sufficiently mature legal system and a methodology for assuring basic rights and establishments that resist be undermined by leaders who are ultimately elected.  Ground rules or rules of engagement are critical to the success of democracy and is ultimately based on the premise of shared leadership.

In that sense, Dr. McFaul stands poised to answer some of the tough questions about how we increase both individual freedoms and responsible governing beyond U. S. borders.  In that sense I value what he brings to the table that is distinctly different from the more typical career diplomat that is often appointed.

President Obama has made a good choice here and, again, has demonstrated a deep understanding of the complex relationships that must be addressed in foreign policy.  The criticisms that come with more simplistic attitudes serve only to undermine U.S. credibility and push back peaceful coexistence with each unrelenting barrage.  Time to leave our president alone and let his intelligence and leadership drive the agenda like no other president in recent memory has been able to do.

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The Poetry of Change

Shift & Solitude

When seeking change,
The mind softens
And in solitude our thoughts pause.

Static becomes pliable;
We shape a perception,
And a new mold emerges from objectivity and innovation.

Embracing a new reality
Involves passionate argument,
Often with ourselves in equal measure to those around us.

We battle for our new beliefs.
But, we only win the war
When we live what we conceive.

— Jon P. Zurfluh

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Parents – Time to Select Your Child’s Hardware

Schools are increasingly struggling with decisions on how to support the growing trends in technology adoption in a fast paced and constantly changing technology rich world. The number of schools moving toward greater access to technology is growing with exponential magnitude. The challenge is the cost associated with these adoptions and further compounded by the increasing pace of obsolescence. Often, we are buying equipment that has a usable lifespan of far less than three years making traditional depreciation schedules useless.

But, first we need to begin with the rationale for including technology in the learning process. Even after two decades of study, there is limited empirical support for academic achievement through implementation of technology alone. There are benefits that emerge from the use of technology, but the tools we currently use to measure educational progress are unlikely to capture the nuances of how technology helps us to achieve those goals.

We have to start with a different perspective on the function of education to understand the “why technology?” question. In our look at curriculum and instruction, we often take time to ask another critical question — “What do children need to know and be able to do to be successful after schooling?” In the time of Sputnik we shifted our educational focus to include science and math in order to generate a work force that could challenge emerging Russian competence in the race to outer space. We have more recently shifted focus to develop skills in collaboration and communication because corporate leaders suggest that graduates join the workforce woefully unprepared for a fast-paced and competitive global environments that require teamwork and flexible ongoing skill development. We shift curriculum to include more phonics when basic reading scores show a decline and we return to a whole language approach when motivation, comprehension, and fluency lag. This tipping back and forth on agendas has often been described as a swinging pendulum and it serves as the primary source of teacher frustration.

With technology we confront a sustained trend that is more profound than these cyclical curricular iterations of the past. Can we legitimately argue that the concept of integrated technology is a fad? Can we continue to posit that a productive and intelligent life can emerge in an environment bereft of technological tools in the current age?

With each iteration of innovation, technology becomes increasingly embedded and ubiquitous in daily life. Along with that trend, the challenges of adequately preparing students to live in a technologically enhanced world increases at an ever quickened pace. More than any other curricular challenge of recent memory, this trend is poised to leave us with a growing split between those who can and those who cannot – a digital divide that will become the new yardstick of competence.

Schools have to recognize that there, in fact, technology is becoming embedded in schools despite their lack of responsiveness. Students bring technology to school in increasing numbers and this technology is a demonstration of how the trend has created a ubiquitousness without intervention. In light of this, it seems prudent that school consider a different approach to technology integration.

It’s time for schools to let go of control methodologies that are founding in outdated frameworks. Authoritarian control over choice is a throwback to an over-structured approach to teaching that has been proven ineffective. Instead, schools should welcome technology with open arms and — and this is important — students should bring it, not unlike the annual selection of the latest binder or pencil on the Fall supply lists. The recent BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) initiatives are an initial realization that schools can divest themselves of responsibility for user hardware and instead focus their energies on infrastructure and backbone to a technologically capable learning environment. The same should be expected of teachers and administrators.

I suggest that the time has passed where schools should expend capital on narrowing options for achievement with discussions of operating systems and minimum configurations. It’s time for schools to create an open and welcome environment enriched by cloud based applications that removes the need for Microsoft or Linux allegiances. Even the Horizon 2011 report finds this to be the most critical trend in the next few years and repeated again after first introduced in 2010.

The bottom line for parents – pick your child’s computer and then demand that schools allow that computer to accompany the child. By becoming an advocate for this paradigm, you support a move to a future-focused education that is more likely to prepare your child for the reality we all have to admit is on the near horizon.

The bottom line for teachers and administrators – build your own self-efficacy in regards to technology in order to assure your competence in guiding effective integration. If you don’t own and regularly update your personal technology, you should. If you don’t embrace the use of technology as a core skill for the future, you must.

Don’t delay! With the pace of change, we dare not pause and watch more ground lost for the sake of mindless caution and a stoic grip on entrenched and unenlightened attitudes.

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The Middle Grades: Zits, Braces, and Hormones

This piece from ASCD “The Whole Child” feed is worth a read:

The Whole Child Podcast « Whole Child Education.

The thing that impresses me the most is the attention to a key belief that I also hold.  They accurately reflect on the complexity of the education experience and how this is especially true for the middle grades where “young people are grappling to figure out who they are.”

Altogether an inspired look at a wholistic and viable approach.

UPDATE:
Here’s the policy brief that supports this work:

http://www.nmsa.org/portals/0/pdf/research/Research_from_the_Field/Policy_Brief_Balfanz.pdf

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