Words Upon the Wall: A Gift of Song

For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.

Peace (with words on the wall),

DLMOOC: Academic Mindsets and Open Connections

I’m working to get back into the mix of the Deeper Learning MOOC, after having a slight detour away from it, and the topic has shifted to Academic Mindsets. The chart above from DLMOOC shows a bit of the thinking in relation to what the term means around how we view ourselves and our work within the academic sphere.

I’m all for stepping back and thinking of how we teach and what and where we teach through these lens although (and here I will use the old teacher complaint) the reality is that most of us struggle with the time to actually do that and see this kind of inquiry as a luxury at odds with the typical day. With lesson planning, communicating with parents, navigating shifting curriculum standards, enrichment/intervention, interactions with administration, and more, taking a breath to think through academic mindsets often feels like something easily put to the side in the “now” of the teaching moment that require immediate attention. I appreciate the DLMOOC has not quite forced me, but given me an opportunity, to mull the concept of academic mindsets over. I’m not done thinking yet, either. Consider this post just a marker for now.

The DLMOOC Tweet of the Week asked us to share a thought about this and to give an example in our own professional lives of this concept. Here’s what I wrote:

I have also begun to watch some of the archived discussions on a tool called Zaption, which creates a “tour” of longer videos (so, curated video segments). I like the tool but wish I could add my own thoughts and comments, and felt like I was not part of the conversation. It’s funny how much I now expect that — that I can be part of the conversation. That’s part of my own mindset, I suppose, as a learner myself and as a teacher. I anticipate entry points and get disappointed when they are not available.

The video I have been watching is about Academic Mindsets and the Common Core, (with Camille Farrington, Eduardo Briceño, Carissa Romero, and Rob Riordan) and where those ideas might mesh (or not). The main element of the discussions was about assessment and competencies of students over time. The majority of the speakers here seem strongly supportive of the Common Core in connections to nurturing mindsets of students. I don’t know. I see some openings for deeper learning but wonder about how the standards are being integrated and how the standardized testing will assess it. We can talk again after PARCC and Smarter Balance have been rolled out and we see what’s in there.

I appreciate the discussions around writing, however, and the theme of “purpose” of learning for the individual student and away from the purpose of standardized testing data points. The last speaker in the video provided some realistic balance, for me, about how to frame learning in the Common Core era, as we move from the hypothetical learning space to the real classrooms.

What this discussion around Academic Mindsets comes down to for me is … does the place where I teach my sixth graders every day still enrich my academic mindset and is the environment such that it continues to challenge me as a professional? Are there structures and supports in place for that kind of growth? For the most part, I give a qualified “yes” on that question, but I also realize how much I turn to outside elements (the National Writing Project, online spaces, etc.) for those kinds of opportunities. I suspect that if I did not have those places to turn, I might think differently, and might view my teaching career differently, too.

Peace (in the set of mind),


DLMOOC: On Vocational Education, Portuguese Music and Minecraft

DLMOOC Experiences

The theme this week over at the Deeper Learning MOOC has been about mentors, apprenticeships, internships and learning in the real world as a part of the learning experience. The DLMOOC Tweet of the Week asked us to remember a time when we were mentored, and two experiences have come to mind. Actually, three.

<start rant> The first idea is not about me but about the school where my wife has taught and is now an administrator. It’s a vocational-agricultural high school, and I don’t know about how it is where you live, but vocational high schools still get a bad rap. Instead of celebrating the hands-on experiential learning, and the internships/co-ops that the students have with local businesses, vocational schools continue to get viewed through the prism of “You can’t make it in the traditional high school so why not go to Voke.” Vocational education is not valued nearly as high as it should be. Take a look at standardized testing. Where are the sections for how to repair your car engine? Or how to clean out the pipes in the bathroom? Or how to install a closet door? When we talk about deeper learning and experiential learning, vocational schools have been paving the way for decades, but are rarely turned to as a model for education. <end rant>

When I saw the tweet from DLMOOC, the first thing that came to to mind for myself was an experience I had a young teenager. I play the saxophone, and music was my main identity during high school. A friend of mine, who was a few years older, was a drummer, and we jammed a lot. He got a job in a Portuguese wedding band, and they were looking for a horn player. I got hired, even though at age 15 I had no idea about playing Portuguese music, had little experience with any wedding music, and … to be frank, I was completely out of league. I could read music fine and I could noodle around on solos a bit. But I was not a “wedding band” musician. Still, the singer wanted me to succeed (the guitar and bass players did not want me there) and he began my quick immersion into Portuguese culture and music, keeping an eye on me and encouraging me when I needed and pulling me aside for private conversations when required (a lot, unfortunately). I lasted four gigs (and made about $100) and then I was asked to leave. I didn’t regret it, nor was I too sad about it. I never got the feel for Portuguese wedding music (the food rocked, though). But the uncomfortable nature of the experience and the guidance of the singer has stuck with me over the decades.

Finally, I want to relay an experience that turns the idea of mentorship on its head a bit. It has to do with Minecraft. Now, I know Minecraft is huge with my students, and it has been for years. Although I do an entire unit around video game design, I am still unable to wrap my head around Minecraft. I know it’s me. I have no idea why Minecraft is such a condundrum. Last year, I asked my students about Minecraft, and one student said, “I’ll show you.” He came in the next day, armed with a flash drive of some Minecraft modules that he had built just for me, and then proceeded to spend his entire recess (and the one after that) showing me how Minecraft works. Frankly, I was more interested in the role-reversal of the situation — my student teaching me — than understanding all that he was showing me (he also talked very fast and “showed” me rather than let me play, but ….). How often do we let our students be the experts and admit that we don’t know or understand something? It was a powerful experience for him and for me, and like playing in the Portuguese band, the experience has lingered.

Deeper learning requires guidance, and mentors, and experiences that move beyond the books and paper and classroom settings. It’s Vygostky and scaffolding in action in the real world. Most of the educational systems where most students spend their days does not build that in.  I know mine doesn’t, and it should.

Peace (in the learning),


Close Viewing of a Video

This is a video shared at the Deeper Learning MOOC about how to engage students in constructive critique. Here, Ron Berger talks with second graders about an art project. I popped the video into Vialogues so that I could do a close viewing of the work and add some thoughts. You can add your notes, too, at Vialogues.
Peace (in the butterfly),

Bringing Student Writing into Focus

Walk My World classroom pic2
(a panoramic image of my sixth grade classroom)
The theme this week at the Deeper Learning MOOC is examining student work through the lens of critique. This is always important, and as it turns out, last Friday, we spent an entire Professional Development Day looking at, discussing and talking about a recent cross-district writing assessment. (Our district is regional, so there are four elementary schools, and all of our sixth graders come together at the middle school/high school level).

Now, there are things I don’t like about our process — including the use of rubrics that we did ourselves design and a few other things — but the fact that our school administration gave us an entire day as a grade-level team (there were 10 of us who teach sixth grade in the room, and similar meetings were happening with other grades around the building) looking very closely at student writing samples, and then spending a long time discussing what we were seeing … that really was priceless. We looked at structure, at voice, at syntax and grammar, and the development of an idea. We argued (politely) about what we saw and didn’t see, and listened to our colleague’s views on what they saw. Although we did not have a specific protocol for the critique (as suggested by DLMOOC), we did have the rubric to guide us and for all 10 of us to be looking at the same pieces of writing and talking on the same page is incredibly important.

We did not use this, but I like this resource out forth by the DLMOOC folks:

It was so much better than if our district had hired some outside consultant to talk to us about rubrics or assessment. The process valued us teachers as professionals, with knowledge and experience, and yet, diving deep into student work as a group is a very different experience than diving into student work as an individual. When I assess my students writing, I can’t shake what I know about these writers as people and I often discover that I reach a ‘groove’ with a stack of stories or essays, and in doing so, begin to lose a focus.

Assessing student writing is difficult work. Working with colleagues is valuable, even if the process is still a little bumpy. We found examplars and anchor papers from our work on Friday. These were collectively agreed upon, after long deliberations. Our fear is that this process stalls at some point — like you, perhaps, we’ve been inundated with initiatives that seem to vanish over time before they are completed — yet my hope is that writing remains in the focus of our work as a staff.

Going deeper with critique begins with a conversation.

Peace (in the deep),



Dipping in and Diving Deep (DLMOOC)

This week, the Deep Learning MOOC began, and so I started in with the first week of possible activities. It’s an open, constructivist MOOC, so you do what you want when you want and how you want. I happen to like it when there are a few steps forward, so I took the suggestions from the facilitators to read a few pieces about Deep Learning principles to get a better handle on what the theme of this MOOC is going to be as it unfolds.

First, I read a few articles and even used Diigo’s annotation tool to make notes on this piece by Jal Mehta about Deep Learning and the Common Core, and how the two might fit even as reality intrudes on those possibilities.

Check out my notes on the article

Then, there was this video (which I have viewed before) about a student’s view of the educational system. I decided to put it into Vialogues and annotate it as I listened, and then opened it for others to add notes (I am going to work on opening up the Diigo to others, too).

Finally, we were asked to tweet out an experience of our own, as students, when we remember learning deep. I wrote about a time in high school when I collaborated with another student in Jazz band to create a jazz piece for performance. We worked together for long hours, knowing that not only would our peers (the band) be playing it, but that it would become a piece in a performance for a real audience. It was pretty intense learning. I wish I had an audio of it now.

Earlier, I had also written a piece for the Deep Learning MOOC Story Bank about another experience with my local chapter of the National Writing Project, where I spent a summer writing and learning about the teaching of writing. It is a prime example of Deep Learning PD, I think.

Peace (in the MOOC),

Having Fun with Flowcharts

I’m relatively new to the idea of Open Learning, where technology has opened up new and expanded spaces for people to engage in their passions without the traditional four-wall structure. (And, some critics would say, without the same rigor, too, although that would be a source of intense debate, I suspect.) To me, open learning is a way to dip into topics and communities and go as deep as you want or need or desire, with personal goals guiding you forward. This is not for everyone, obviously, and I toggle back and forth between how engaged I want to be.

The thing is, I keep meeting incredibly interesting people in Open Learning environments who stretch my thinking and push me in new directions. We need that in our lives — folks inside our learning trajectory who show us new paths to pursue and new ideas to consider and new schematics from which to observe the world.

All that is to explain that this is suddenly, for me, the reason of a bunch of projects that I am participating in. As a way to navigate my own thinking, I created this flowchart the other day. It is meant to be fun, and was as a much a scaffold for my own thinking as it is for anyone else. Seriously, if you need to use my flowchart to figure out Open Learning, you might be looking in the wrong direction. <ha>

I shared out the flowchart (which I created in Google Drive) on Twitter (my real hub of online spaces) but then, I realized if I used ThingLink, I could put in links to the communities being references. Plus, as I worked on the links, I realized I could add a bit of humor, too. (ie, the moo and the door and more).

Peace (in the chart),