Ecology of Education » Jason Flom http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite exploring the landscapes of learning, one voice at a time Mon, 06 Apr 2015 17:40:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.19 Break the Speed Limits, Mind the Stop Signs http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/break-speed-limits-mind-stop-signs/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/break-speed-limits-mind-stop-signs/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 21:13:25 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4901

When working with teachers, a colleague of mine often asks, “Why do people speed?”

The inevitable list of reasons include but are not limited to:

  • time
  • lack of awareness
  • everyone else is doing it
  • just going with the flow
  • no-one else is around
  • etc, etc, etc.

Her response is always, “Hmmmm. No-one mentioned it was to annoy the police?” At which point everyone realizes her analogy. The question, “Why do students act out?” often leaves us educators feeling that it is to annoy us, but more often than not, they aren’t doing whatever they are doing because of us — its more about them, their developmental age, and school culture’s unexamined rules of the road.

Then she asks, “Why do people stop at read lights and stop signs?”

The reason is fairly predictable:

  • Safety

The stop sign/red light have a clear purpose and reason for existing. We follow that rule (usually) because the consequences of not following it could be dire.

What are the elements of your room, your school that are the red lights and stop signs and which are the speed limits? The rules that (most) students follow for one reason or another and the ones that students routinely bend?

I wonder these things because it seems differentiating “discipline” is important in teaching the whole child. Perhaps students break the “speeding” rules because they don’t see the point, or it is easiest and safest to “go with the flow,” or because they aren’t even aware of them.

Or perhaps they inhibit the kind of learning that drives students.

Do I issue “tickets” (consequences) for rules that may lack relevance to the students or do I focus on the red lights and stop signs that align with student safety — emotional, physical, social?

As I evolve as an administrator, it seems that when it comes to speeding, my focus should be on the culture of the school and helping cultivate an atmosphere where autonomous individuals can discern the nuance of when is the right time to press the gas and the right time to ease off.

When it comes to the stop signs and red lights, these are the rules of the road that allow us to take the kinds of risks learners need to in order to have transformative learning experiences. These are the rules that need to be understood and agreed to.

For now, I think I’ll let the (reasonable) speeders slide and will focus instead on building understanding about the stop signs that make the school a better place for us all.

Photo Credit: Braden Gunem via Compfight cc

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Flip the (Teacher Tenure) Question http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/flip-question/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/flip-question/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 20:17:00 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4859

Frank Bruni’s recent piece, “The Trouble with Tenure,” is yet another example of an uninformed and un-nuanced op-ed on education reform in the New York Times. This one even has the audacity of claiming to add a positive note to the ongoing discourse.

Unfortunately, it only further muddles the debate rather than shed enlightenment. After spending 400 or so words on the need to get rid of bad teachers, Mr. Bruni ends with this:

(Mike) Johnston frames it well.

“Our focus is not on teachers because they are the problem,” he said. “Our focus is on teachers because they are the solution.”

Hardly an inspirational, solution oriented piece. Johnston — a TFA alum and former principal, now a state senator — has sponsored and helped to pass legislation eroding tenure in Colorado. Presumably, “Because teachers are the solution.”

However, it seems to me that the whole tenure question is a red herring in transforming student learning. Instead of focusing on conditions under which students thrive and that promote vigorous learning, we are focused on using test scores to fire teachers.  In short, we are asking the wrong questions and the net result? We are finding the wrong answers.

It’s time to flip the question. Rather than, “How can we get rid of bad teachers?” let’s ask, “How can we attract and keep the best teachers?”

The fact is, over 50% of teachers leave the profession in the first five years. They leave for complex and myriad reasons, many of which boil down to just one: Job Conditions.

Low pay. Long hours. High stress. Increased pressure. Higher and higher expectations with fewer and fewer resources. Greater focus on testing and test scores. Low morale made all the worse by a steady stream of pieces such as Mr. Bruni’s. It is no wonder teachers leave in droves.

With baby boomers beginning to retire we are on a collision course with a serious teacher shortage. And, because teaching conditions can be so demoralizing, the shortage may be exacerbated by a trend toward teachers spending less and less time in the classroom. (TFA cadres, for example.)

Interestingly, the New York Times published an insightful millennials piece in the Sunday Styles section by Sam Tanenhaus, titled, “Generation Nice.” Using data and findings from a Pew report on millennials (“Confident. Connected. Open to Change.“) Mr. Tanenhaus reported on millennials’ collective  trend toward doing good rather than doing (financially) well. He writes,

Taken together, these habits and tastes look less like narcissism than communalism. And its highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.

It is time, in my opinion, for us to reconsider where we as a society put our education reform focus. Rather than ponder how to fire teachers, we need to ponder how to engage and sustain the brightest minds in the classroom. What classroom conditions make for engaged learners (teachers and students alike)? What do classrooms that are designed to leverage the good will of millennials run like? Feel like?

We need to think about the teaching conditions that can leverage and take advantage of what millennials might bring to the job — their connectedness, their drive to do right by the world, and their creativity. What would it take to make teaching an attractive career before and after entering the field?

What does learning and schooling look like when it is inspiring to both teacher and student? It is time we flipped the question and start pondering conditions in which learning happens best. And less on how to hand out pink slips.

Image: Roland O’Daniel, under CC License.  

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Paradox of Students’ “Deficits” As Society’s Strengths http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/paradox-students-deficits-societys-strengths/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/paradox-students-deficits-societys-strengths/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:54:21 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4834

This post by Jason Flom was originally published at All Kinds of Minds.  

The Economist article, “In praise of misfits,” lays out the business-related benefits of what the author  calls “creatives,” “anti-social geeks,” “oddball quants,” and “rule-breaking entrepreneurs.” While the entire article is well worth the read, we have pulled out a few quotes to help frame the idea that we should work tirelessly to help our school system to support these “misfits.”

Rather than treat their uniquenesses as deficits, we would do well to build on their actionable strengths and affinities — qualities that are proving to shape our present, and will surely impact our future.

From the article:

Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues.

Additionally,

Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital.

The article goes on,

Entrepreneurs also display a striking number of mental oddities. Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10% of the population as a whole and 1% of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple).

All that said, however, there must be balance between the “creatives” and what the article refers to as, “The Organisation Man,” or the “‘well-rounded’ executives.” The writer goes on to explain,

Where does that leave the old-fashioned organisation man? He will do just fine. The more companies hire brilliant mavericks, the more they need sensible managers to keep the company grounded. Someone has to ensure that dull but necessary tasks are done. Someone has to charm customers (and perhaps lawmakers). This task is best done by those who don’t give the impression that they think normal people are stupid.

All of this hints at the need for the real career-ready skill of knowing simply how to get along — to not just tolerate differences, but to appreciate and leverage these differences as opportunities to innovate and become more than the sum of our parts. Our learning communities can be (and already are) incubators of the social relationships that, in part, define a student’s path beyond graduations, for better or for worse.

What if we were so bold as to decide that each student is a learner, learning changes lives,  learning happens in different ways, and learning empowers, and therefore we need to ensure that each student feels the work of schooling matters to them and that their strengths and affinities are not only valued, but embraced and employed as essential to the success of the community?

Do we need to wait until these “misfits” graduate and enter the workforce to change the following?

Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties.

Because, after all,

. . . these days no serious organisation can prosper without them. As Kiran Malhotra, a Silicon Valley networker, puts it: “It’s actually cool to be a geek.”

We, as educators and advocates of all students, have the power to change this trend. There is no need for students to wait until adulthood to find that their strengths matter, and no research suggests this is in the best interest of students, especially those “creatives, oddballs, and/or square pegs among us.

Photo Credit: BrittneyBush via Compfight cc
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The Paradox of Students’ “Deficits” as Society’s Strengths http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/the-paradox-of-students-deficits-as-societys-strengths/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/the-paradox-of-students-deficits-as-societys-strengths/#comments Wed, 24 Apr 2013 10:49:25 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4681

The Economist article, “In praise of misfits,” lays out the business-related benefits of what the author  calls “creatives,” “anti-social geeks,” “oddball quants,” and “rule-breaking entrepreneurs.” While the entire article is well worth the read, we have pulled out a few quotes to help frame the idea that we should work tirelessly to help our school system to support these “misfits.”

Rather than treat their uniquenesses as deficits, we would do well to build on their actionable strengths and affinities — qualities that are proving to shape our present, and will surely impact our future.

From the article:

Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues.

Additionally,

Similar traits are common in the upper reaches of finance. The quants have taken over from the preppies. The hero of Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short”, Michael Burry, a hedge-fund manager, is a loner who wrote a stockmarket blog as a hobby while he was studying to be a doctor. He attracted so much attention from money managers that he quit medicine to start his own hedge fund, Scion Capital.

The article goes on,

Entrepreneurs also display a striking number of mental oddities. Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35% of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10% of the population as a whole and 1% of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple).

All that said, however, there must be balance between the “creatives” and what the article refers to as, “The Organisation Man,” or the “‘well-rounded’ executives.” The writer goes on to explain,

Where does that leave the old-fashioned organisation man? He will do just fine. The more companies hire brilliant mavericks, the more they need sensible managers to keep the company grounded. Someone has to ensure that dull but necessary tasks are done. Someone has to charm customers (and perhaps lawmakers). This task is best done by those who don’t give the impression that they think normal people are stupid.

All of this hints at the need for the real career-ready skill of knowing simply how to get along — to not just tolerate differences, but to appreciate and leverage these differences as opportunities to innovate and become more than the sum of our parts. Our learning communities can be (and already are) incubators of the social relationships that, in part, define a student’s path beyond graduations, for better or for worse.

What if we were so bold as to decide that each student is a learner, learning changes lives,  learning happens in different ways, and learning empowers, and therefore we need to ensure that each student feels the work of schooling matters to them and that their strengths and affinities are not only valued, but embraced and employed as essential to the success of the community?

Do we need to wait until these “misfits” graduate and enter the workforce to change the following?

Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties.

Because, after all,

. . . these days no serious organisation can prosper without them. As Kiran Malhotra, a Silicon Valley networker, puts it: “It’s actually cool to be a geek.”

We, as educators and advocates of all students, have the power to change this trend. There is no need for students to wait until adulthood to find that their strengths matter, and no research suggests this is in the best interest of students, especially those “creatives, oddballs, and/or square pegs among us.

Photo Credit: BrittneyBush via Compfight cc

This post was originally published on the All Kinds of Minds blog

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@NYTimes’s Journalistic “Issue” vs. Journalistic “Integrity” http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/nytimess-journalistic-issue-vs-journalistic-integrity/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/nytimess-journalistic-issue-vs-journalistic-integrity/#comments Thu, 04 Apr 2013 03:28:22 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4657

The NYTimes recently published a piece on teacher evaluation. I submitted the following comment (which they did not post) to the online forum:

I searched through NYTimes’ archive of medical / law / finance / congressional / military reform articles looking for pieces that fail to quote a doctor / lawyer / banker / policy-maker / enlisted soldier, and I found zero. Yet, here is an article — printed above the fold on the front page of the Sunday Times — about teachers, teacher evaluation, and education reform that quotes not a single teacher.

While this has been par for the course in policy circles and lesser publications, the perpetuation of this trend in a publication of the Times’ gravitas has become routinely disappointing.

One of the first rules of managing change is to enlist, engage, and involve vested parties, especially those for whom the change impacts the most. A shared vision and buy-in are key to implementation that lasts. However, before either of those can be realized, we must ensure that teachers are actually a part of the visioning and, at a minimum, a part of the conversation.

The Times can be a part of this solution by simply doing what they typically do well: quality journalism. When you write about K-12 education, quote a K-12 educator, just as you do when it comes to other professions.

Upon realizing that the Times was not going to publish my response among the 600+ others, I wrote to the Public Editor expressing my concerns as follows:

The quote was never published and I wonder why. I was not malicious or untruthful. As a long time reader of the Times, I feel I offered a legitimate concern that should be a (however minuscule) part of the conversation.

That the Times seems to lean in favor of reformers is neither here nor there for me (we all have values we communicate, even when we strive for objectiveness), but when there is neglect to even include the voice of a teacher who is subject to the evaluation, I think there may be an editorial bias that may have negative consequences on students, in the spirit of trickle down disenfranchisement. And, as a former classroom teacher, when I think about teachers feeling disempowered and potentially translating that to their students, I feel the need to speak up.

Would the Times ever publish a piece about the evaluation of doctors without quoting a doctor? The evaluation of lawyers without a quote from a lawyer? Finance without a quote from a banker? It would be raked over the coals if it did.

The assistant to the public editor, Meg Gourley, responded as such:

Thank you for writing. Including quotes from teachers would have helped broaden this story, but this is a journalistic issue, not an issue of journalistic integrity. We appreciate the feedback and will continue to keep an eye on this coverage.

It is on this point that I continue to take issue, as I did in my initial response. How do we distinguish between “journalistic issue” and “journalistic integrity”? The matter remains, teachers are the subject of the article, yet their voice is unrepresented. How is that not an issue of integrity?

If we want to change the outcomes for students who are marginalized by our education system, the answer lies in the intentional engagement of educators, rather than in the journalistic exclusion of teachers. It is time for media outlets to see educators as necessary and integral to this national conversation about education, not optional inputs. In my humble opinion.

Photo Credit: Spreading Wings Photography via Compfight cc
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Matt Damon’s Save Our Schools Speech http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/matt-damons-save-our-schools-speech/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/matt-damons-save-our-schools-speech/#comments Fri, 22 Mar 2013 16:12:33 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4642

Below is the speech Matt Damon gave at the Save Our Schools March on July 30, 2012 in Washington, DC.

I had incredible teachers. And as I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all of these things came from how I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.

I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was not based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.

You can see the youtube of that speech here.

Image: HuffintonPost
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At the Intersection of Youth and the Future http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/at-the-intersection-of-youth-and-the-future/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/at-the-intersection-of-youth-and-the-future/#comments Fri, 22 Mar 2013 15:26:25 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4620

Painting a picture that was both harrowing and hopeful, Van Jones titillated the gathering of educators on the final morning of ASCD’s 2013 Annual Conference with both the peril and promise of tomorrow. In short, despite the copious challenges we find ourselves in today, we can look to the generation currently in our schools to lead the way to a brighter future – if we capitalize on their potential.

He opened with three fallacies (or unsustainable practices) that shape our economic present and near future:

Fallacy 1: Focus on consumption, not production. We need malls, not factories.

Fallacy 2: Build through credit, not savings (buy a flatscreen tv to cover up the holes in your life). By and large our consumption patterns are financed on credit – not savings like our grandparents.

Fallacy 3: We can have endless ecological destruction without ecological restoration. We are living as if we have a couple other planets somewhere. But we don’t. We live on this little green salt bubble in space.

It would have been easy to spend the next 45 minutes focused on a central theme: WE ARE ALL DOOMED! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! Instead, he focused on the emerging trends at the intersection of technology and youth that, if we navigate them right, portend prosperity. (The below quotes are as near verbatim as my stenography allowed.)

The generation we are teaching are going to be and already are very aware of these fallacies. This generation in your classroom, don’t count them out. There’s a reason you are struggling with them and they are struggling with you. They know stuff we don’t know. And they know that we don’t know. And they know that we don’t know that we don’t know.

He went on to theorize,

The challenge is the dichotomy between learning that matters and learning for testing. Much of our current system is built on questions and ideas that the students can google. But students are failing b/c the tests we are giving them are failing them. What if, instead, we asked them questions they can’t google and stimulate with them a dialogue around ideas, challenges, and solutions? As the most “tech sophisticated generation ever,” the trick is to figure out how to help them utilize and leverage the skills, talents, ideas, and behavioral norms that shape their generation. They are “more self aware, socially inclusive, and ecologically conscious” than today’s leaders.

Essentially, Van is arguing for a strengths based approach at a broader, more systemic altitude. What kind of projects, activities and experiences will both engage this generation’s unique qualities and take advantage of their tendencies while simultaneously preparing them to be the social and ecological entrepreneurs of tomorrow?

It is in shaping his vision that he became most animated and passionate. One could almost get the sense that the possibilities were so inevitable that they were there for the taking, or even so far as to be ours to squander. Which is not case.

If we want to realize this future – one in which our budding entrepreneurs engineer a better future more in keeping with the limited resources of our planet – we have some to-do’s.

Our learning environments need to model and provide opportunities for doing three things, which may seem contradictory at first, but reveal the need for balance in our production, consumption, and application of ideas toward today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

  1. Production:  Students need to create and bring their ideas to reality. As an example, 3d printers can help turn students into entrepreneurs. We want 3d printers so students can get out in the front. Consumption can be a good thing if balance with a production ethos.
  2. Conservation thrift: Young adults today are sharing more than ever, and creating niche economies in the process. Their cars, homes,  and what they know, all the while using technology to solve problems. Combined with being more ecologically aware, they can lead the way in rethinking our use of resources.
  3. Economy of creativity: Today’s self starters are getting creative with how they bring about their vision. Kickstarter is a prime example. We need to continue to encourage such innovative problem solving.

In many ways, it comes down to this: “You want your bored kids to be involved? Offer them courses that matter to them!” This is a central tenet of any effort to disrupt the predictive characteristics of race, gender, socio-economic status, and cognitive profile: When there is a disconnect between the student and the environment, we need to change the environment.

It is at this point that some visionaries fail the legitimacy test. Educators weary of the near constant stream of “you should be doing this” wonder, “Do you have the creds to make such programmatic suggestions, or are you just another arm chair theorist with sweeping ideas and a bone to pick with teachers who don’t actualize them?”

While Van was never a teacher, his mother taught and his father was a principal at what today would be labeled a turn around school. Throughout his career, he has championed the needs of the under-served. He is clearly empathetic with the trials, tribulations, and realities of the classroom “trenches.”

He peppered his talk with a series of well placed jabs against the larger forces negatively impacting educators, and more importantly, students’ experiences in classrooms.

Policy makers, legislators, pundits want to grind you down. Don’t let them.

They have money for Haliburton, big banks, homeland security, but no money for homeroom security.

There are people throwing marbles on the stairs and bananas on the sidewalks to dismantle public education.

Every other nation is investing MORE in education. Yet US students graduate with more and more debt.

Our grandparents taxed themselves to build universities for the next generation. And they respected teachers.

How do we expect students to respect teachers when our leaders don’t?

Students want to be doing something, using their creativity, not taking tests. That’s why they’re dropping out.

We know that students are more successful when they feel their strengths are valued, supported, and enriched. We know that systems focused on vision, goals, and shared objectives enjoy greater success. And we know that leaders who can see and adapt to the changing dynamics of markets, demographics, and opportunities are the ones who shape tomorrow.

As we think about the architects of the next economy — the generation currently weaving their way through schools — it is clear we need to seize the chance to build them up with a strengths based model, not tear them down with a deficit model. Surviving and thriving during and after change events is more likely when they feel confident, able, and valued, not tested, disconnected, and irrelevant.

I left Van Jone’s session and ASCD13 wondering,

  • What are the strengths of the people in our education system now — from students to parents to teachers to leaders — and how can they be leveraged to cultivate learning that matters?
  • What might it look like when learning is meaningful to all students, regardless of their race, gender, socio-economic status, and/or cognitive profile?
  • And, how can we move to actualize a vision that inspires students?
Photo Credit: kay la la via Compfight cc
Van Jones Photo: Van Jones.net
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From “Deficits” to “Neurodiversity” — the Time is Now http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/from-deficits-to-neurodiversity-the-time-is-now/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/from-deficits-to-neurodiversity-the-time-is-now/#comments Tue, 12 Feb 2013 02:13:57 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4576

In a recent commentary piece at Education Week, author, speaker and educator Dr. Thomas Armstrong argues for tipping from a deficit model to a more inclusive (and enlightened) model that values students’ strengths, regardless of their learning profiles. He writes,

I believe it’s time for a paradigm shift in the field of special education. Fortunately, a new concept has emerged on the horizon that promises to establish a more positive foundation upon which to build new strength-based assessments, programs, curricula, and environments for these kids.

The concept is neurodiversity. The term, which was coined by Australian autism-activist Judy Singer and American journalist Harvey Blume in the late 1990s, suggests that what we’ve called in the past “disabilities” ought to be described instead as “differences” or “diversities.” Proponents of neurodiversity encourage us to apply the same attitudes that we have about biodiversity and cultural diversity to an understanding of how different brains are wired.

 

It would be absurd to say that a calla lily has “petal-deficit disorder,” or that a person from Holland suffers from “altitude-deprivation syndrome.” The fact is, we appreciate the flower for its intrinsic beauty and value citizens of the Netherlands for their unique landscape. So, too, we should celebrate the differences in students who have been labeled “learning disabled,” “autistic,” “ADD/ADHD,” “intellectually disabled,” “emotionally and behaviorally disordered,” or who have been given other neurologically based diagnoses. We ought to appreciate these kids for who they really are and not dwell upon who they have failed to become.

I could not agree with him more. It is why I work for an organization built around 5 principles:

  1. Inspire optimism in the face of learning challenges
  2. Discover and treasure learning profiles
  3. Eliminate humiliation, blaming, and labeling of students
  4. Leverage strengths and affinities
  5. Empower students to find success

To read his full and compelling article, click here. For more about our work at All Kinds of Minds, click here.

This post was originally published on All Kinds of Minds blog

Image: Da Capo Press 
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Social Emotional Learning Core Competencies http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/social-emotional-learning-core-competencies/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/social-emotional-learning-core-competencies/#comments Tue, 12 Feb 2013 02:05:49 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4565

Seeing the forest despite the trees.

Our nation’s educational focus continues to zero in on “achievement” as defined by test scores in specific academic areas and the resulting gaps therein. This hyper focus exacerbates our nearly systematic blind eye related to learning for living and cultivating life long learners. As a result, policies that increase the stakes of standardized assessments necessitate schools increase the amount of time spent on basic skills — reading and math, primarily — to the exclusion of a broad range of other skills, experiences, and competencies. In effect, we see a couple of trees, but miss the forest, or big picture ecology, of learning.

However, research suggests there are programs that have the dual benefits of both raising achievement and increasing student well being. It is in this realm where we learn to think about education in terms of the forest, despite our hyper focus on the trees.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is such an example. CASEL (Collaborative For Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) is the leading organization working to build demand and capacity for SEL. Their work ranges from network building to conducting research to policy advocacy. Below is a graphic (source here) illustrating the what they define as the core competencies for SEL.

Core_Competencies_3_White_Back

Additionally, they published a meta-analysis of research titled, “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning” (download it here). The meta-analysis concluded:

The reviews indicate that SEL programs:

  • Are effective in both school and after-school settings and for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems.
  • Are effective for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings across the K-12 grade range.
  • Improve students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, and positive social behavior; and reduce conduct problems and emotional distress.
  • Improve students’ achievement test scores by 11 percentile points.

It all demonstrates that we must think more holistically about students, learning, and the ecology of education. Simply working to improve math and reading test achievement falls far short of ensuring that our students are healthy, safe, engaged, challenged, and supported in the ways that matter most to their long term personal “achievement.”

Special thanks to Jackie Gerstein, whose post “Video Games and Social Emotional Learning” first pointed us to this chart.

This is a part of an ongoing series exploring components of our Transformational Learning Model. This piece relates to Academic Access, Curriculum Frame, Curriculum Goals, and Student Support.

This post was originally published on QED Foundation’s blog

Photo Credit: Today is a good day via Compfight cc

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Classrooms as Cages vs. Classrooms as Everywhere http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/classrooms-as-cages-vs-classrooms-as-everywhere/ http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/classrooms-as-cages-vs-classrooms-as-everywhere/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2013 16:35:51 +0000 http://ecologyofeducation.net/wsite/?p=4526

Scene: 1950s & 60s. UC Berkley. Laboratory of Dr. Mark Rosenzweig

Study: Environmental therapy and its effects on brain development and plasticity

Subjects: Rats

Environment: Mark Rosenzweig and his colleagues raised one group of rats in a sensory-limited environment. (Read as: Extreme deprivation. The human equivalent? Raising a child by leaving them under the stairwell.) Another group was raised in an “enriched environment.” (Read as: Caged with tunnels, ladders, wheels and other such “toys.” The human equivalent? Raising kids inside with stuff from the store.)

Findings: Rats in the “enriched environment” were more successful at navigating mazes than the rats in the “impoverished” environment. Essentially, they dominated at the rat equivalent of the IQ test.

Legacy: Because of his research, Dr. Rosenzweig is considered among the pioneers of modern neuroscience. More importantly though, he is considered practically a saint by people who want you to buy heaps of their products for your kids’ brains.

Importance of this groundbreaking research: Until then, innate intelligence was widely accepted. Aside from size, you were born with the brain you’ll have for your whole life. However, Dr. Rosenzweig’s replicable studies made the case for the environment in the nature vs. nurture debate. With this research as the foundation, it is now widely accepted that the brain remains “plastic” throughout our lives, constantly changing in response to our environment. When we understand this, in the work of Carol Dweck, we have a “growth mindset.”

Oversimplification of this groundbreaking research: The distilled (and misleading) conclusion: Stimulated brains are bigger and better than un-stimulated brains. Therefore, buy our battery-powered, wiz-bang products to stimulate your child’s brain and they’ll be brilliant.

Problem with reporting of this groundbreaking research: Dr. Rosenzweig also conducted research on rats raised in their “normal” conditions. (Read as: Outside, in the natural environment, dealing with the “real” world. The human equivalent? Outside, in the natural environment with rich, authentic, multi-sensory stimulation and activity.) These rats developed more extensive “cerebral cortal changes” than the others, according to Marian Cleeves Diamond, Johns Hopkins. However, these studies are much less bally-hewed. Interestingly, similar findings were earlier reported by Darwin, who found that animals raised in their natural habitats had brains 15-30% larger than their domestically-raised brethren. As Gabrielle Principe put it in her book “Your Brain on Childhood,” “The natural world wired the animals’ brains best.”

What might this mean for learning?

While neuroscientists caution us against making too many assumptions about what their research means in the “real” world (allegory of Baby Einstein, anyone?), we can at least consider some implications about the conditions that best support learning from Kurt Fischer’s, Christina Hinton’s, and Catherine Glennon’s publication, “Mind, Brain, and Education” from The Students at the Center’s Learning Theory Series.

  • The brain changes that underlie learning occur when experiences are active, not passive.
  • Environments that promote positive relationships and a sense of community promote learning.
  • Each student has a complex profile of strengths and limitations and learns best through experiences tailored to his or her needs and interests.

Between the rats whose brains developed fullest when raised outside the cage and the three ideas above, I can’t help but feel we are missing something in our effort to engineer academic achievement. As we race to embrace standardized stimulation in the form of new-fangled curricula and enhanced assessment batteries, we eliminate play, physical activity, the outdoors, collaboration, creativity and, effectively, communication.

The potential losers in this race to the cage: Brains that thrive when active in environments that personalize learning and cultivate relationships. Read as: students.

Our students need learning communities that challenge them with real problems that necessitate engaged collaborative learning in body and mind. As Judy Willis often says, “Our minds evolved as complex problem solvers seeking pleasure and patterns.” Perhaps it is time for us to step outside the cage and enable learning beyond the classroom, the textbook, and the test score.

Perhaps it is time we reconsider what we want our schools to be: Collections of classrooms that provide students with the latest “brain-based” curricula or learning communities that engage students as growth-minded co-creators in constructing understanding?

Me? I’m for giving the latter a try.

This piece was originally published at Smartblogs on Education

Image: Claire Brown
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