Demos and feedback: Students learning from each other

This the fourth and final blog post in a series of reflections with Bill Tihen. I am pleased that, just as we finish processing Bill’s notes from his November visit with LAS visiting scholar Bret Thayer, Bill has scheduled a new visit to attend the ECIS STEAM conference we are hosting March 6-7.

Students must learn to give, hear, and accept feedback. Bill suggests that there are four general steps to make feedback effective. 

  1. Students plan and present a demonstration of their work, keeping the requirement for feedback in mind. Ideally students share their work for other students (and faculty members). Before presenting their work, students predict what sort of feedback they are likely to receive – both positive comments as well as suggestions for improvement.
  1. After students have presented their work, they receive feedback. When students receive feedback they keep it safe for those giving them feedback by restricting themselves to listening and taking notes. Students learn to resist the urge to challenge the feedback, clarify misunderstandings, or justify themselves. In this manner, students and faculty giving feedback do so in a safe environment – and the students receiving the feedback actually hear it. 
  1. Giving feedback entails:

(1) commenting on those aspects of the work that are well-liked and how the demonstration shows movement toward the end goal; and

(2) commenting on what would make the work even better. For those things that might need to be addressed, an acceptable formulation of constructive criticism might be: “I like the [whatever it is] and think it might be even better if you [did this, changed this, considered this alternative, etc.]

  1. And finally, working with the feedback requires clearly using one or more suggestions received from the group. Students give credit for the origin of the idea and explain how they made the suggestion their own and integrated it into their work. Work completed without adopting and adapting ideas from others is incomplete.

These four steps from Bill can lead to great use of feedback – or not. We’ve seen both results, so it’s probably fair to say that these may be necessary but not sufficient conditions in Bill’s framework. Other factors, like having the time and space to work without constant adult interruption, having an atmosphere of trust, and so on, are also important.

As I reflect on Bill’s four steps, two interesting parallels jump out. First, how similar his suggestions for receiving feedback are to student feedback sessions of LEINN International at the University of Mondragon. Second, how refreshing it is to hear someone require students to incorporate each other’s ideas. 

LEINN International is an undergraduate program for future entrepreneurs. (LEINN stands for Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation. It is managed by a highly creative company, Tazebaez, which is itself a product of the parent LEINN program.) The day I visited, a cohort of freshmen were giving each other feedback. They sat in a circle. The student receiving feedback took notes and limited his responses to a “thank you” for both positive and constructive comments from each colleague. I was amazed at how frank the feedback was, how carefully presented by the students, and how gracious those receiving feedback seemed. In hindsight, they were doing nothing other than what Bill suggests in (2) above, something we’ve adopted for our alternative 9th and 10th grade program at my school.

Requiring students to use the ideas of other students contradicts a lot of common practice in schools. How often have we heard teachers admonish students to “do your own work” and “keep your eyes on your own paper?” Bill is doing the opposite, requiring students to get and use feedback from other students, and above all else, not to try to go it alone. Please, please look at other students’ papers (plans, projects, models), he is saying. Learn from each other, exchange ideas. And then give credit where credit is due. What a refreshing take on learning.

Thanks, Bill, for the years of collaboration, the experimental classes, and the debriefings that continue when we get together, most recently in this series of blog posts. You are amazing to work with. 

Posted in Paul Magnuson | Leave a comment

Uplift: Contextual Exploration and Building Student Confidence

This is the third in a series of four posts based on ongoing conversations with Bill Tihen.

On a recent Sunday morning I was playing badminton with my nine-year old daughter. Our rallies were extraordinarily long, we had really gotten the hang of it.

Then she said, “Let’s count how many we do!” She served the birdie off the edge of her racket into the net. “0.” She sent the next one over and I missed it. We couldn’t get another good rally going. Soon she asked if we could switch activities. 

During the long rallies we experienced a feeling of “uplift,” the sense of each one of us doing well on account of the other, the sense that we were able to help each other have the next good shot. Individually we were a good team and being a good team made us good individually. We were in a state of “flow.”

When Bill speaks about uplift, he focuses on the creation of an atmosphere in which students build on existing strengths and grow their self-confidence. Bill feels that students are more likely to find joy in learning when they start from a position of strength, and that redirecting them from distracting activities toward helpful activities is easier. An uplifted atmosphere is full of exploration and meaningful context, one in which stress is reduced by focusing on what students do well. 

Dangerous to an atmosphere of uplift are traditional assessment practices. Assessment shouldn’t hinder motivation or impede performance – think of our terrible badminton shots when we started focusing on assessment! We need to avoid letting our assessment practices lead to student behavior that is safe for the assessment practice but damaging to a creative sense of exploration. Assessment serves learning, not the other way around.

For example, in our 3D Nautical Design class, where students designed and printed plastic boats, students tested the boats in a pool of water so that everyone could see what boat designs work and which do not. Assessment (and reflection) is needed to advance the learning. Students test as they are ready to test, not to demonstrate mastery, but to discover the next step, the next improvement. The students are experimenting with the performance issues that they are designing for. They don’t need a teacher to tell them if a boat is right or not, they will see for themselves if it can’t handle a payload or gets swamped by a wave. Assessment becomes personal, with a goal of iterative improvement, which can actually contribute to the atmosphere of uplift. Assessment is not a teacher’s judgment of ability, which ranks students against each other or to levels on a rubric. Assessment is what is needed to take the next logical step, discovered by the student.

Uplift by focusing and building on strengths. Increased ownership and student agency will follow. 

Posted in Forrest Broman, Paul Magnuson | Leave a comment

Turning Conversation Into Action

So I just returned home from the AAIE 2020 conference and frankly, I’m inspired. Actually, more than inspiration I’m feeling empowered and profoundly called to action as a result of the conversations that we all engaged in throughout the three days in New York. The themes that we deeply dove into revolved around diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice, and the question that was posed was, how do we go after these issues purposely in schools…or do we at all? Great debates, provocative conversations and thoughtful questions related to how we tackle these themes in education, and the level of responsibility that we all have as leaders and educators to do so. My head is still spinning honestly, with the possibilities and opportunities that we have to change the narrative around what’s really important and imperative in today’s world…it’s time to turn these conversations into action and I’m excited to get going.


Not only did I enjoy the daily breakout sessions, I was also inspired by the keynote speakers and their messages related to shared humanity and joyful leadership, two things that I am personally passionate about. Dacher Keltner from the Greater Good Science Center, and Firoozeh Dumas, a New York Times best selling author called us all to action and implored us all to lead with our hearts, and to go after the conference themes with purpose and with a sense of urgency and responsibility…so good. I was fortunate enough to be a part of two panel discussions to do with inclusion, and how leaders can turn conversation into action, and I made a personal commitment to take a more proactive role in leading out some of these initiatives with our young people. I also challenged the other leaders at the conference to do the same, and to work with each other and hold each other accountable for bringing this change to life through our work with our students and communities. 


Thinking about accountability, I’ve been wondering about which systems and structures that schools and organizations can target to initiate these changes. Strategic planning, curriculum design, mission statement re-writes, hiring practices, and even professional development are good places to start, and I’m also wondering about the accreditation process. Thinking about the amazing and transformative work that CIS has done regarding child protection and safeguarding over the past several years, where it is now an expectation and requirement to have specific policies and procedures in place in order to be re-accredited, I’m thinking that we could leverage accrediting organizations to help hold international schools accountable around the themes of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. I’m not sure exactly what that would look like but once again, it’s time to turn these conversations into action. 


Anyway, I have to say that not only did I return home feeling inspired because of the conference conversations, but I also felt proud and validated that the work that we are doing at ASP is strongly connected to all of this. Actually, in many ways we are helping to lead the way and it feels great. We are doing meaningful and purposeful and transformative work through our strategic planning and this conference just pushed me to do even more to support our journey. I’ll leave you with a final quote that has stuck with me since I returned from Cornel West, who said that, “Justice is what love looks like in public”. Honestly, isn’t that what the world needs a bit more of these days…love. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.-Gail Sheehy


Inspiring Videos –

 College Tuition

Part 2 – Responsibility

All That We Share

Climate Change Rap

Social Justice in Schools


Related Articles –

What is Social Justice?

Curriculum Design

Diversity in Schools

What is Equity in Education?

Together We Learn Better

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

The Educational Advance of the Decade Will Be Gender & Sexual Diversity Inclusion

www.emilymeadows.org
@emilymeadowsorg

If your school has not yet opened a conversation about gender and sexual diversity, I predict it will in the 2020’s.

Gender and sexually diverse students attend international schools, and educators are increasingly aware of the benefits of inclusion. Right off the bat, I acknowledge that many countries have cultural or even legal barriers in place to suppress full inclusion. I have worked in religious schools, and also in the Middle East – I really do get the challenges. Still, there are data-based, safe, and effective interventions to increase the educational experience for LGBTQ+ children, appropriate for even the most conservative contexts (for specifics, see the books where I have written on this topic[1][2]). We have got to move past culture as an excuse for discrimination.

Inclusion of gender and sexually diverse children is relevant worldwide. UNESCO asserts that, “The education sector has a responsibility to provide safe and inclusive learning environments for all students. Addressing homophobic and transphobic violence in schools is critical to effective learning, to meet human rights commitments, … and to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”[3].

Gender and sexual diversity inclusion is relevant on a large scale. It is difficult to gather data on such sensitive metrics but, where we do have studies internationally, research indicates that somewhere between 5-10% of people self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender[4][5]. Scholars and statisticians estimate that these figures are lower than the actual LGBTQ+ population because respondents may be reluctant to identify themselves, given the associated stigma, or may not connect with these labels, even if same-sex attracted or gender non-conforming[6]. Intersex people further increase diversity, representing an estimated 1.7% of the population[7]. Moreover, LGBTQ+ identities are on the rise, with Millennials self-identifying as the least cisgender and heterosexual generation to date[8][9]. This is not to reinforce the myth that gender and sexual diversity is new; rather, greater social acceptance has made space for more people to be open about their identities.  

Still, even if we consider the conservative end of the bracket, and posit that only 5% of people in the world are gender or sexually diverse today, this constitutes about 400 million individuals. If that was the population of a country, it would be the third largest nation on earth (and, dare I say, would sport the most colourful flag). Gender and sexually diverse people are significant.

Child-centred international schools cannot conscientiously ignore this population, and it is unethical to do so. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children are among the most vulnerable to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and suicidality[10][11]. Let this not be confounded with the tired trope of homosexuality as a mental illness; LGBTQ+ identities are risk factors for nothing, whereas contexts that pathologize and discriminate against LGBTQ+ people are risks factors for multiple negative outcomes.

Indeed, it is encouraging to discover that inclusive contextual factors can virtually eliminate the vulnerability we typically associate with LGBTQ+ youth. Gender and sexually diverse children who have access to affirming social support see benefits across multiple outcomes[12][13]. School-based interventions, such as non-discrimination policies and affirming students’ gender identities, substantially reduce LGBTQ+ mental health risks[14][15]. Robust research shows that gender and sexually diverse children are not inherently troubled, but exposure to stigmatizing social conditions is detrimental.


Fortunately, schools are well-positioned to make a tremendous positive impact in reducing this stigma. As an educational consultant on gender and sexual diversity, I train international school teachers, counselors, and administrators who may start with a modest understanding of LGBTQ+ children (because, truthfully, most of us did not learn much about this in our education courses). Nevertheless, even the most novice participants leave my sessions confidently prepared with knowledge and skills to improve their practice to be more inclusive of all students, regardless of where they work.

Gender and sexual diversity inclusion and equity will become an expectation among international schools this decade. If you act now, you still have time to become a leader in the movement.


[1] Meadows, E. S. (2019). “That would never work here”: Overcoming ‘context paralysis’ on behalf of gender & sexual minority students worldwide In Wiseman, A. W. (Ed.) Annual Review of Comparative and International Education 2018 (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 37), 287-305. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing.

[2] Meadows, E. S. & Shain, J. D. (2019). Supporting gender & sexual minority students in conservative school communities In Sprott, R. & Lytle, M. (Eds.) Walking the Walk: Addressing Gender and Sexual Orientation Diversity in Schools from Primary Education to College. Manuscript submitted for publication. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Books.

[3] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2016). Out in the open: Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Paris, France: UNESCO.

[4] Mor, Z. & Davidovich, U. (2016). Sexual orientation and behaviour of adult Jews in Israel and the association with risk behaviour. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(6), 1563-1571.

[5] Greaves, L. M., Barlow, F. K., Lee, C. H., Matika, C. M., Wang, W., Lindsay, C., Case, C. J. B., … & Sibley, C. G. (2016). The diversity and prevalence of sexual orientation self-labels in a New Zealand National Sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(5), 1-12.

[6] H., E. (2015, May 6). How to count how many people are gay. The Economist. Retrieved from: https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2015/05/05/how-to-count-how-many-people-are-gay

[7] Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York, NY: Basic Books.

[8] Newport, F. (2018). In U.S., estimate of LGBT population rises to 4.5%. Gallup. Retrieved from: https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

[9] Lam, A. (2016, October 18). Counting the LGBT population: 6% of Europeans identify as LGB. Dalia. Retrieved from: https://daliaresearch.com/blog/counting-the-lgbt-population-6-of-europeans-identify-as-lgbt/

[10] Haas, A. P., Rodgers, P. L., & Herman, J. L. (2014). Suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults: Findings of the national transgender discrimination survey. Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute.

[11] Mathy, R. M. Suicidality and sexual orientation in five continents: Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies, 7(23), 215-225.

[12] Snapp, S. D., Watson, R. J., Russell, S. T., Diaz, R. M., & Ryan, C. (2015). Social support networks for LGBT young adults: Low cost strategies for positive adjustment. Family Relations Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Science, 64(3), 420-430.

[13] Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D. M., Diaz, R. & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213.

[14] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Birkett, M., Van Wagenen, A., & Meyer, I. H. (2014). Protective School Climates and Reduced Risk for Suicide Ideation in Sexual Minority Youths. American Journal of Public Health, 104(2), 279-286.

[15] Russell, S.T., Pollitt, A. M., Li, G., Grossman, A. H. (2018). Chosen name use is linked to reduced depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior among transgender youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 63, 503-505.

Posted in Emily Meadows | Tagged | Leave a comment

A sad little metaphor

This past semester, visiting scholar Bilge Kalkavan and I chuckled over a metaphor of school as an amusement park. We hypothesized different booths, like those where you get to knock down clowns with a ball or toss rings around bottle necks, but organized like school instead of an amusement park. Would it work? And what might we learn from the way an amusement park actually does work?!

Consultant

What can I help you with?

Entrepreneur

Well, I created a new amusement park for kids and it’s not going as well as I hoped. 

Consultant

Oh?

Entrepreneur

You see, the first weekend the line at the entrance went way down the street! Everyone wanted to get in. But by Wednesday there were no lines, and by Friday hardly anyone was in our park. Then on the weekend, well, I can’t go on like this. [imploring look] I’ll go broke!

Consultant

Perhaps you should tell me a bit about the amusement park.

Entrepreneur

Yes. Thank you. [wrings hands] I hired eight specialists to run eight different booths. Each booth is stock full of super cool information. Kids can learn about science and math, about history and geography. They do sports and learn languages. It’s fantastic.

Consultant

It certainly sounds good. How does it work?

Entrepreneur

Oh, it’s very well organized. Every child who comes gets to hear all the same information. They visit all eight booths!

Consultant

They all do the same thing?

Entrepreneur

Right. Really interesting lectures about all these cool subjects. And they get the same amount of time at each booth. It’s guaranteed! [knowing look] There’s a schedule, you see, and a clown who blows the horn according to the schedule, and then the kids all move from one booth to a different booth.

Consultant

Ah, so they choose where to go.

Entrepreneur

No, no. We tell them exactly where to go. That way it is very orderly. Like I said, everybody hears all the same information, for the same amount of time.

Consultant

[hesitating] Right. And what if they aren’t interested in a particular booth?

Entrepreneur

Well they should be interested. I hired experts in these specialties and they work very hard to share with the kids what they know.

Consultant

How do they share?

Entrepreneur

That’s the beauty of my business plan. They all have a plan we created before we opened. They follow the plan. It’s all written down. They just have to tell it to the kids.

Consultant

What if, well, what if the kids aren’t all interested in all eight things?

Entrepreneur

They should be interested. They are all important.

Consultant 

[coughing] To you.

Entrepreneur

Excuse me?

Consultant

Have you thought about what to do with the kids who already know a lot about one of these specialities? Or maybe those who really don’t know anything at all?

Entrepreneur

Well. of course the kids are different, but they do all have to learn the same thing. Our workers adjust. And we have this little game for them at the end, before they switch booths.

Consultant

Game? Is it ….

Entrepreneur

They do this little exercise so we can see which kids understood everything and which ones didn’t.

Consultant

… it is.

Entrepreneur

It is what?

Consultant

A bit what I feared, perhaps. What do you do with the kids that didn’t understand so well?

Entrepreneur

Oh, they go on to the next booth with the rest of the kids. We have to stick to the schedule you know. It’s very organized.

Consultant

You want my advice?

Entrepreneur

Well of course. [hands on hips] That’s what I’m here for. How do I get them to come back next week? How do I fill my new amusement park?

Consultant

That’s a hard one, but I think I have an answer. 

Entrepreneur

Yes?

Consultant

I think you have to make it required. Not just for the kids in your neighborhood, but in all neighborhoods. Everywhere, in fact. 

Entrepreneur

Required. Yes, required. There will have to be lots of new amusement parks. 

Consultant

And they will all have to operate the same, more or less. Otherwise kids from one amusement park might want to switch to another one.

Entrepreneur

I see. So we all get some kids who come to our parks and learn at our booths. 

Consultant

And learn the same things. And follow your schedules. And play your games at the end. 

Entrepreneur

[Rises to shake hands.] You have been so helpful.

Consultant 

I wish that were true.

Posted in Paul Magnuson | Leave a comment

Every Day is a Lesson

So I turned 50 years old this past week and honestly, it feels pretty good. I was fabulously spoiled by my family and my friends, and by my students and colleagues, and it was such a great day that I think I’ll find a way to turn 50 again next year as well 🙂 The thing about milestone birthdays however, as much as they are great in so many ways, is that they do make you pause and reflect on your life up to that point. They make you take stock of your current reality, and think about the journey that has led you up to that day…the triumphs and joys and successes, the stumbles and mistakes that you’ve made along the way, and most importantly for me anyway, the lessons that you’ve learned that have shaped who you are. 

Looking back, it’s funny to see how many lessons I had to learn the hard way, and over and over again until they finally sunk in, and how fortunate I am to have arrived at this half century mark to the life that I currently lead. Like most of us, I’ve pulled off some Houdini-like escape acts that could and should have derailed my life, but somehow it has managed to work out. It’s been fun over the past week to think back and reflect, and to get a little nostalgic, but the biggest take away for me throughout that reflective exercise is the realization that regardless of how old you are, every new gift of a day that you are graciously given is indeed a lesson. Everyday is an opportunity to learn, and to do better, and to find a way to bring joy to someone else’s life. 

These daily lessons are often times not ones that you’re learning for the very first time, especially if you’ve lived for more than a few decades, but the ones that just cement some universal truths that help you become a better person for yourself and for others. This past week, for example, I was reminded of a couple of life lessons that have reconnected me back to what’s truly important in life…in my view anyway. I re-learned from a child last week that something as simple as a kind word and a small celebration can change their lives forever. I re-learned from from a colleague that a smile can change someone’s day for the better, and is often just what someone is needing at a particular moment. I learned again from my beautiful wife that you absolutely get back the energy that you give out to the world. I re-learned from my daughter that beauty is everywhere in the world, all around us all the time in the simple little things that we often take for granted. I learned from my brother that age is really just a number, and it’s what’s inside your mind and your heart that really, truly matters, and finally I learned again from a good friend of mine, who had a parent and hero pass away earlier in the week, that none of us are ever promised tomorrow, so live your life today. 

An important lesson for all of us, regardless of how old you are, is the ability to recognize that life is made up of a string of single, individual days…little gifts of time that are presented to you to learn from, and grow from, and to embrace. It’s never too early to pass this sentiment on to our students, and even though they will need to go through their own journey, and make their mistakes over and over again until they finally sink in, we can still use our wisdom to give them some help along the way. At the very least, we can try our best to get them to see that every day is indeed a lesson, and an opportunity to become a better student, person, friend, and a better human being for our world if they only just embrace the here and now. 

Anyway, turning 50 has been wonderful, and thank you to everyone for making it so special. I’m excited to continue learning and growing and doing better, and here’s to the next 50…bring it on! Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.  

Quote of the Week…

The fastest way of learning is little by little and day by day – Lewis Carroll

Inspiring Videos – 

Michigan Marching Band

Son’s Graduation

Rethinking Challenging Kids

Who’s Coming for Dinner?

Soul Pancake

Related Articles – 

Daily Lessons

Self Reflection

Powerful Life Lessons

Free Time TED Talk

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Not So Hot for Teacher?

Disruptive Classroom Technologies: A Framework for Innovation in Education by Sonny Magana, Corwin, 152 pp., $29.95


To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection. Jules Henri Poincaré (1854 – 1912)


NOTE: I’ve heard it said that great writing is ‘clear thinking about mixed feelings,’ and I have a lot of them after working through Sonny Magana’s book and the research and marketing behind it.  As an experiment, I published this post and then published a follow up post after I saw Magana speak about his book in person at the ELMLE conference in Budapest. I wanted to be open to changing my mind if I was misunderstanding him or his work etc., The follow-up post is here.

NOTE2: By the way, the title of this post is a “riff” off of Magana’s “rock and roll!” related storytelling/style; that at some level the genesis for the book started around a campfire hearing Eddie Van Halen for the first time as a young man learning guitar.


What follows builds on my previous post where I wondered aloud if anyone had any evidence or data on technology’s positive effects on student achievement? I look at Magana’s work in the context of the wider Edtech zeitgeist and examine it not just for what it contains, but what it does not contain, how it is marketed, and who it is marketed towards.

By the end, I hope readers will not only better understand the issues Magana addresses in his book, but also hope you will be more confident in making an informed judgement when hearing your own heads of school and principals offer solutions to the challenges of technology integration.

First, my conclusions:

Magana’s framework is itself sound— (I know, I created one largely identical to it a decade ago as an MYP IT teacher.), so one can argue it could be an improvement over SAMR, Triple E. TPACK, etc., but the problem is that for generalist teachers, it’s akin to putting a new stereo in your car to fix a faulty transmission.  As “Julie’s” review of the book on Amazon.com explains perfectly: (click the review to open it in a new window to read)

Despite claiming “It’s important to refrain from assigning any kind of blame” in promotional pieces for the book, Magana’s claims teacher’s “tell and practice” model of teaching is the reason technology’s effect on student achievement is so “dismal.” He says it again, and again and again, over, and over in different ways. It’s most notable because of the contrast: Magana has nothing at all to say in his book about how leadership, policy, school programming and other actors actions or inaction around technology and teaching and learning bears any responsibility for what is happening in classrooms. I don’t mean he doesn’t focus on it, I mean he doesn’t say a word. I don’t understand how you get teachers to follow your framework if the first thing they need to do is get themselves out from underneath the bus.

Magana’s research partner, John Hattie, blurbs the book and seems to be saying the opposite, claiming that understanding why performance is so low is “critical”. I don’t get the sense that either Hattie or Magana understand very well what happens when you approach people and tell them “you’re doing it wrong,” especially without acknowledging/affirming first what they are up against that is completely outside their control.

Magana points to Hattie’s Visible Learning data which claims “computer technology” as having effects underneath the zone of desired effects for the past 50 years.  If this type of research and technology integration has been his “life’s work”, the lack of explanation, pushback or questioning of Hattie’s data, methodology or vague categorization of what exactly Hattie supposedly measured with regard to “computer technology”, seems incongruent.

In a promotional piece on Magana’s website written about a school that implemented his T3 framework, the actual changes made to implement it could only have been done by Administrators, not teachers. The piece claims success came from the provision of tech training for teachers through a “Curriculum Camp” and allowing demand from teachers to drive tech choices/integration instead of top down decision making. This does not square with the claim that the problem with tech failure stems from “tell and practice” teaching methods. What this piece actually demonstrates is that technology sprayed into classrooms without adequate teacher training is going to result in low teacher efficacy with technology. You have to change the admin approaches first, not the other way around.  Nowhere in Magana’s book are administrators asked to be responsible for these types of changes, yet they are front and center in the “success stories?”

Corwin’s stable of authors all blurb the book effusively on the Corwin site, on Amazon, LinkedIn, Sonny’s website, etc., without disclosing that they are all fellow Corwin authors. How is this different than Amazon product reviews where the financial incentives/conflicts of interest are not disclosed? If this kind of intra publisher back scratching is common practice, so be it, but it seems contrived.

—————————

“Where are the nuts and bolts?”  

For two former teachers and tech integrationists who’ve no doubt shared many of same experiences in schools, I draw different conclusions than Magana does about the root cause of low impact technology integration. I began writing about these realities in TIE back in June of 2019. I called some of the phenomena Trickledown Edtechonomics, the Edtechochamber and Kabuki Integration.

During the decade and a half plus years I taught, coached and lead Edtech programs in several schools and countries, I worked with administrative leadership who more often than not had a limited grasp of technology but could both micromanage and starve IT programs of attention simultaneously; no small feat. My hope in publishing this review is to offer my experience so you can make up your own minds what you think makes sense as the best next step to invest scarce time and resources in your own school. On to the review.

The studies the book is based on some consider “Pseudoscience”

One cannot review Magana’s book without first reviewing the material on which Magana bases it on, which is the work of Australian researcher, John Hattie. 

Hattie’s partnership with the educational publisher Corwin (both Hattie’s and Magana’s publisher) is to develop professional publications and learning workshops.  Hattie has co-authored about twelve different books since publishing the original Visible Learning book in 2009, all variations on the same theme and all containing the same highly controversial analysis as a starting point.  One can find Visible Learning books for math, literacy, K-5, science, teaching, and a host of other spinoffs, the most recent being Magana’s book.  

There are many critics of Hattie’s work and it’s conclusions, but the core complaint is that the work is unscientific and his meta-methodology draws conclusions that simply cannot be drawn. Another is that Hattie’s work facilitates the rise of the guru, one who outlines how things could be and provides aspirational descriptions of a utopian future if we just do the work…often without any consideration of how the labor involved in the new work will be “paid for” and by whom.

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The Role of Leadership, Teachers and Solutions in Technology Integration

Role of Leadership

Any school that believes the use of technology can improve instruction must find a way to provide training for teachers and opportunities for them to practice and prepare technology enhanced lessons.

If they can’t or don’t, then school administration should be held responsible for the failures and no one else. Otherwise, what does their “leadership” even mean?  Who is hiring all these “tell and practice” teachers Magana and Hattie say are mucking everything up?  Who is setting and directing the schedules that enable or disable the collaborative planning necessary to coordinate such “transformative education frameworks?” Who is controlling the PD budgets? The management of the IT department?  The overall school culture?  

It’s not teachers. 

At best it is disheartening when you see leadership responsibilities foisted on teachers who have zero power to make the programmatic decisions that would enable and increase the possibility of success for technology integration.

In a separate TIE article, I argue this behavior is a deeply ingrained pattern of deflecting responsibility that goes well beyond Education and I offered a parallel with the 737 Max disasters where the pattern of Boeing leadership blaming pilots and distracting attention from systemic issues led to the accidents.  Hattie and Magana’s type of “help” is music to administration ears because it eliminates any need for changes to school programming and policy, administrative leadership style and accountability or rebuilding for high-touch versus high-tech support

Nearly everyone would agree that Edtech has been successful in getting kid’s parents connected to the school, making student assessments viewable online, enabling endless variations on digital teaching, made many forms of collaboration a breeze, survey data collection is now easily done, the list goes on. Edtech’s successes are in command and control, communication and collaboration among teachers, but this is largely digital teaching, not digital learning, and thus it’s not really aimed at student achievement.  Magana does not address this or make any distinctions about what exactly he’s talking about when he talks about “computer technology.”

Schools have been successful with this kind of digital teaching, and I think that’s why more and more you’re seeing schools trying to commingle the success of command and control tech and sell it as part of “digital learning” that is benefiting students. It’s a very convenient conflagration for schools to make, sort of like digital “Kleenex”, but everything being lumped together makes real problem solving much more difficult.

Most schools have some kind of marketing for Information Technology, descriptions of their aim to provide 21st century, student centered learning and some even have a scope and sequence/curriculum for digital learning, a makerspace, etc..  On close inspection, a much smaller number of schools actually have an operational vision, processes, expertise and leadership to make it all function for powerful discovery and learning for students.

Underneath the high visibility, low impact provisioning for students is in large part I think the pernicious myth of the digital native.  This nearly 20 year old, evidence free myth was started by Marc Prensky (another Corwin author) and I would argue one of the myth’s most significant effects was that it gave school administrators a rationale and cover for minimizing time and resources deployed to train staff and students on the devices they were pushing into classrooms. 

Which has lead us to the reality of much of Edtech in the classroom, Kabuki Integration.  This is when culture hasn’t changed because no skill-sets nor mindsets were changed:  New boxes, old ideas.  Magana calls it “technology rich and innovation poor”, I call it FOMO and virtue signaling over virtuosity.   Whatever you call it, it is high concept performance art; the expensive hardware and software is all there, but the critical bits behind it all, the “mindware”, is largely missing. Without having done the work to create a functional digital culture, absent a user focus and the requisite socio-technical feedback and iteration processes, many of today’s Edtech implementations are the equivalent of giving teachers chainsaws:

It all depends on how teachers use it. We don’t buy a chain saw for every teacher. If we did, a few teachers would do brilliant work with the chain saws, a few others would cut off their thumbs, and the vast majority would just make a mess.” Dr. Gary Stager

So in a sense, Magana is right in that teachers would be better teachers if they were also better technologists, but what is interesting about Stager’s quote is that we in fact have given chainsaws to almost every teacher, many times with only the barest minimal of instruction/support in how to use it. The result?  A mess.  What else should we expect? 

Teachers

We’ve been steadily increasing the amount of operating systems, apps and hardware every teacher and student must know each year.  Our orientations and PD include a tiny fraction of the training teachers eventually piece together on their own just to stay afloat, let alone innovate. In my last school we had over a half-dozen major software platforms staff needed to navigate and that didn’t even include any “learning” apps for lessons, etc., that was just for infrastructure, grades, curriculum, communications, storage, etc..

Why aren’t teachers efficacious at imparting digital learning skills even when they have integration support? Because the tech integration process into units/lessons, the functional integration system and mechanisms that connect a schools digital learning “aspirations” to actual classroom activity are often completely absent or inconsistent at best in all but the smallest percentage of schools, even the “better” schools.  And this floundering is as at least as much or more the result of programming choices by administrators, as it is the way teachers teach, and Magana has nothing at all to say about this in his book.

There is no shame in being an “Average user” as without continual access to training and knowledge, without being told that it’s not worth pursuing a certain course of action because there’s a non-obvious roadblock that leads to negative results, without someone to tell them they should try procedure X in this specific step because “it just works better when you do it this way,” everyone struggles.   Getting access to this kind of hard earned tech knowledge and skill is an enormous performance advantage and that’s why it’s such a shame that so much tech is rolled out with so little time devoted to coaching and integration support. 

Also mentionable, in teachers defense, regarding the common refrain from the school community peanut gallery that “The kids are just sitting there on their devices watching/doing X instead of doing the work in class…”  To suggest that a teachers inability to defeat the work of professional psychologists, behaviorists, gamification experts, and all the other people paid to make devices, games and social media addicting is somehow the fault of the teacher is at best irksome.

Solutions

Magana is correct that we’re putting computers and other technology in a school system that was designed for a totally different epoch. In part, we’re still living under the legacy of the blackboard, the overhead projector and pencil and paper, technologies that required presentation bit by bit…which is why it had to be divided into curriculums, subjects, assignments…where children then had to be organized into age groups and rows because what could be taught was restricted by the conditions under which the knowledge was disseminated.  

Today, knowledge dissemination is largely the reason “computer technology” is assigned to students to use in schools—most often it’s used as an efficient content delivery and assessment system; and it’s prescriptive, not imaginative. It does things to children; rather than empower them to do things that are important to them.  Tech use in schools is largely about following rules and copyright, finding the right answers, consuming in the basic ways what you’ve been told to consume; it’s the way you process and turn in assignments.  Magana is correct that schools generally remain at this type of “translational”, surface learning.

Magana’s recommendations are in sync with the feedback I’ve gotten from students over the years is that information technology has been the most beneficial to students as an autodidactic launching pad; enabling self determined, independent learning.  Unfortunately, schools, leaders and teachers today are ill prepared, and often hostile towards this type of learning as it requires an entirely different approach to “School.” And no, you cannot single teachers out as the resistance, most I have worked with would love to loosen up how and what they teach, but parents, school leadership and even students often reject these “new teaching methods”.

As far as new ways of doing “School”, teachers largely do not seem to have the support systems necessary to re-conceptualize their educational roles and the requirements placed upon them. Whether it’s Magana’s framework or another, absent change at an administrative level that not only acknowledges the need for teacher training/support, but actually devotes adequate (ongoing) resources toward it; creating the culture, calendaring and communication systems to support the collaboration it requires, godspeed to you in “disrupting Education.”

Assuming the Status Quo in Schools Stays Pretty Much The Same (it’s a safe bet), What Might a Truly New Framework for Digital Learning Look Like?

So, if the computing “grammar” and ecosystem kids experience in school, its structure and constraints, stand in the way of the real possibilities computers and the internet represent for learning, what then? 

Outside of the school environment, digital tools can offer an incredible breadth of experience in a tiny footprint, — IF and it’s a big IF, you know how to use IT yourself and have the ability and patience to guide others in how to use IT. 

Assuming a person had the skills and patience, what might be possible?

What if you set schools aside completely, forgot about them as part of digital learning until the Magana’s and the Admins and the teachers of the world get their priorities and responsibilities worked out, and instead you focused on cultivating one of the most accurate (and uncontested) predictors of student achievement: parental involvement in their child’s education? 

In other words, what if you were to design a system that was about learning with technology, not teaching with it; acting as the curator and coach of students’ and parents learning experiences together? e.g., A framework that includes dedicated “mindware development” for digital learning, rather than focusing on the process and devices and apps for digital teaching which is a different animal altogether?

This way you could imprint the better angels of what technology is useful for and ingrain the right types of “screentime” from the start. Young children would then have a useful tool that follows them through the rest of the their schooling, not a debilitating distraction as many children today seem to relate primarily with devices.

Perhaps technology is best learned as an autodidactic launchpad, not taught as the way to turn in assignments?

I will have to generate some data on that idea.


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Fata ‘Magana’

(Joshua Nowicki – Photography)

NOTE: This post is a follow on of my review of Sonny Magana’s book. The previous post entitled Not So Hot for Teacher?


A Fata Morgana is a mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. Early associations of the effect were said to resemble “fairy castles built in the air.”

A Fata Magana is a mirage suggested that by making tweaks to how they teach, teachers can disrupt all of the highly interdependent status quo fixtures of “Education” itself and double student achievement. Like the Fata Morgana, it is suggestive of fairy castles built in the air.


TLDR: Polymath believes his interpretation of Hattie’s meta study of technology’s effect size on student achievement afforded him insight into creating a framework that doubles student achievement while requiring far less teacher effort. This is purportedly achieved by combining “high probability teaching strategies” and tracking student emotions about their work solving “wicked problems” using whatever technology they deem appropriate. While there is no shortage of dramatic descriptive detail, Magana leaves out how the framework integrates within Education’s core subjects.

Magana’s Entry in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Education

I learned a great deal from this experiment of doing research, writing a critical review and then seeing the author speak about the work in person.

The first jolt of the process was the instant feeling of camaraderie and collegiality walking into an education conference with a hundred and fifty other people. Seeing all the smiles ostensibly all there to “educate better” it was hard to imagine being critical of anything or anyone in that initial moment. As humane and comforting as this feeling was, I noted this is also related to why it is so hard to maintain an independent voice in a school.

Sonny’s Session for Teachers

I went to Sonny’s presentation for teachers first. There were about ten of us. I was familiar with his sessions as I’d seen and read so much online already, nonetheless I was surprised just how exactly the session went like a copy of what I’d seen online. His message discipline was remarkable.

He has obviously read Dale Carnegie and made sure to have everyone introduce themselves upfront so he could immediately begin using our names. As in his writing, he comes off as a clearly intelligent practitioner, of…? His background is somewhat hard to parse; he told us he was a “researcher”, but didn’t let on that before that he spent seven and a half years in various sales roles for Promethean, a whiteboard company, and before that an unexplained three year gap on his profile, and before that a principal of a “Cyberschool”, and so on.

A “difficult” child in his own youth, he related that his career took the path it did after taking on kids who were failing in “the system” and helping them to succeed. Once you understand his “alt-school” background, it makes his approach towards traditional teachers and schools much more understandable. You can see why he formulated a framework that fit much better outside “the system,” given his previous roles had effectively allowed him free reign to design his courses and assessments as he pleased.

After hearing about his bona fides, he moved to the story of how he came to the seeds for the book. It all started when he was around a campfire in his teen years, strumming open chords on a guitar until for the very first time he heard…BLANG!!!!! Magana queues Eddie Van Halen’s song “Eruption” to play as if he did not know it would be coming on.

Magana uses Van Halen’s frenetic guitar to demonstrate his framework and how its three stages culminate in transcendant learning, as in the type exemplified by Mr. Van Halen. It was an effective demonstration of the core pillars of his framework and Magana would (effectively) come back to music concepts and clips again and again to explain and his work.

Beyond music analogies around the genesis of his thinking, Magana is less clear….How to lead the transcendent pursuit? How does each kid learn how to learn?  Can it be generalized? All great questions and where those answers fit into a school’s curricular program is a mystery that Sonny does not speak to.

Sonny’s first session activity for teachers was to set the four tables off reading a couple pages of his book summary. Fair enough, but when he asked us to not only come back with three “things that made us think Aha!” from two pages of his writing but also at least one thing we’re going to implement in our own classes, the presumptuous/pretentious request immediately made eyeballs both dart and then roll slightly between teacher attendees.

While he waited for us to read, he noodled in the background on an acoustic guitar while his favorite classic rock jam band tunes played in the background. It was a bit much given only once briefly in about 15 minutes did he walk around among the tables, but even then he did not engage. Next, when we had finished, instead of just discussing the work as a group, he had us type our work into our digital tool of choice and send it to him on email, which seemed bizarrely overcomplicated until later you realize this was to goose the next step in his book promotion/sales process.

When we pulled back together, the responses were not what he was intending. I think with so much of his work being with public schools in the US, he was not at all used to the depth and experience that Tier 1 international school teachers who self select into a technology session possess.

In other words, things got awkward.

A 10th grade social studies teacher politely but firmly told him she was already aware of the strategies he referenced and used most them at different times with her classes; there was nothing new under the sun here. Sonny quickly moved on, and the rest of the responses were tepid at best.

Sonny then went in to describe the stages and reached the final goal of the T3 Framework, Social Entrepreneurship.

Sonny holds “Social entrepreneurship” as some kind of deep, universal human desire that all students will want to participate in at every opportunity if we would only just let them. Sonny’s framework also assumes that changing the world and making money doing it is viable in 6-8 different classes each day. Even if this was the only worthy goal for students (and it is not) I would argue there are not as many kids with the kind of endless creativity and drive Magana assumes. Not every student is Elon Musk, nor should they feel they need to be.

Magana came up to me during a break after the first session for teachers ended and asked about me. I was the most engaged in his sessions in some ways. I said I was a former teacher, involved in digital integration most recently who would really like to see a framework like his work, but that I was concerned that it had a lot of earth to move in terms of the status quo. Sonny interpreted that to mean I was talking about teachers and he did what I was wondering if he would do– he gently threw teachers as a whole under the bus.

Sonny said “You know, so many teachers, like we had today, say that they are doing the things in the framework, but they are not.” He then indicated he had to go, and later in the day he sent me an email with a copy of his Oxford Research paper as a gift to share with my colleagues. Not really a good look at a teaching conference. I felt relief that my initial judgements had born out.

Sonny’s Session for Administrators

I attended Magana’s session intended for Administrators on the final day of the conference. I was not surprised that his presentation to teachers and admin was nearly identical, but what was different was telling. Instead of Van Halen, he used the Beatles and US President Kennedy’s “Moonshot” speech along with a stirring video montage to relate his framework as Education’s “moonshot”.

Again, as in the first, he glazed over the details on the studies; let’s just all assume Hattie’s massive meta-study is a stone tablet from on high. The rest of the presentation steps were generally the same, only without any reading activity and collection of emails for his marketing machine. It was less on explaining the framework and more on selling the whole package…the association with Hattie, the book, the classroom walkthrough Google form tool, the T3 Leadership Academy. Interestingly, none of the non-theoretical practical tools were beyond early iterative stages of a basic Google sheet and form.

I asked what he felt the top three or four things administrators would need to do to implement or encourage the implementation of the T3 framework. Here’s what he said:

  1. Belief in collective efficacy.
  2. Have to talk about it. You need a common language for transcendent learning
  3. Common set of strategies to establish examples
  4. Need to evaluate it

I thanked Sonny when it was over. I then took a seat, went into the initial blog post/book review, added a question mark in the title and let the rest stand.

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Pull vs. Push

This is the second in a series of four posts based on ongoing conversations with Bill Tihen.

Bill doesn’t hesitate to make a big claim now and again. I think it’s because he’s had a long history with schools, but is not working in one now. Perspective comes with distance, and so does the freedom to call things like you really see them.

So when Bill jotted his thoughts down after we got together last fall, he wrote:

“Learning needs to change, as much as possible, from an externally driven system pushed at students by the curriculum into an internally driven system in which work is pulled by students, based on their own needs and interests.”

As teachers, we are familiar with what Bill calls the push system, whether we’ve called it that ourselves or not. A curriculum is first pushed to us (perhaps by the State, or an adopted off-the-shelf curriculum, or the school’s administration, or all three), then we push the subjects and the content of those subjects to our students. We also push course requirements, assignments, grading systems, and due dates. For that matter, we push our viewpoints, directly or indirectly.  And all of us, teachers and students, get rated in one form or another on how well we helped push the prescribed curriculum.

This system is so ubiquitous we tend not to see it. It is the water we swim in, it’s just how things are. So let’s point out three major practices that would have to change to decrease how hard we are pushing and increase the chance for students to do more pulling. 

A standard set of subjects. If students were pulling learning in any significant way, it’s doubtful that their interests would happen to fall neatly into the core canon. Sometimes yes. Always, never. So how do we as teachers prepare for all that variety? How do administrators create a schedule? Would students miss out on “must-learns” in our current curriculum?

Assessment. If students are all learning different things, how does the way we test and report their learning change? What currently accepted standard practices are now maladapted? What happens to transcripts? Is it okay (or preferable) if learning is full of variety, with considerably less overlap between students than in our current curriculum?

Teacher education. If curriculum and assessment in a pull system are quite different from our current practices, then how must teacher education pivot? What does instruction look like in a pull system? How do we retrain teachers steeped in a culture of push? How do we refashion pre-service training to emphasize pull?

Once thinking along these lines, I’m sure we’ll discover many more practices to reconsider. I’m also sure the time spent thinking about them is worthwhile.

For a whole-school perspective on Bill’s quote in this blog – and the degree to which we could set up school as a pull system –  listen to Rob Houben of Agora, Netherlands, on the Edufuturists #70 podcast.

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Been There Done That: leadership of a smaller school

plumbing

Been There Done That: leadership of a smaller school

The 2003 – 04 school year found me finishing up a four-year stint as head of a small start up school in Grand Cayman.  Having gone from 90 students to 300 during that period, I found myself wanting to make the leap from the challenges that came from counting success based on each individual new admission, to the relative stability of a larger school.  In doing this, I was a bit caught off guard by the assumptions made during the interview process of what was involved in running a small school.  There seemed to be a perception it was some sort of holiday in comparison to running a larger school.  Throw in the location of the school I was coming from, well, let’s just say it seemed some people thought I had been doing nothing more than working on my tan.

The assumptions I’m speaking of were painfully obvious from the questions I received. While I was prepared for questions about my leadership style, educational philosophy, beliefs about the role of technology in learning, and the IB, and was certainly asked some of these, the majority of questioning seemed to pursue a different vain.  It didn’t matter if I was being questioned by parents, board members, faculty, or even other heads, the most often asked questions were things like, “What makes you think you are ready for a larger school?” or, “What makes you think you can handle a school that is so much bigger than the one you are at?”  My personal favorite went something like this, “Do you think you’re ready for the extra workload that comes with being head of a larger school?”

Answering these questions always required taking a deep breath and maintaining a level of diplomacy.  I was seeking employment after all, and responding with some sarcastic crack wouldn’t do me any favors.  Still, I felt like asking how familiar their current head was with the inner workings of the actual running of the school.  When was the last time their head had fixed an over flowing toilet, or painted a hallway wall?  Was their head one of the designated bus drivers for school trips?  When was the last time they spent a weekend with two parents to build the play structure on the playground, laid the gravel in the parking lot, or applied bandages to hurt students?  These were all things I was familiar with as head of a small school, and were of course happening while keeping the books, leading the curriculum review, overseeing the ordering of supplies, setting up and hosting parent events, leading the accreditation process, reading to students, and supervising the playground during recess, not to mention a long list of other tasks usually shared amongst a group of people in larger schools.  To all of these things, I could easily raise my hand in the affirmative.  Yep, been there, done that!  I was aching to ask if their current head could say the same.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind being head of a small school is the best training ground there is for truly understanding the operations and inner workings of a school. I remember early on in my tenure at this smaller school a heavy rainfall revealed several leaks in the roof of the building.  Buckets were set out at key locations to catch the chronic dripping.  The first spell of dry days saw the only member of the maintenance staff and I on the rooftop with brooms and hot tar laying a new roof.  The next time it rained, we waited anxiously to discover if our hard work had paid off and learning could continue in a dry environment.  Similarly, a broken water pipe one year found me working side by side with the same maintenance guy mopping the floors, and then replacing a pipe that had rusted away.

Probably one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had as a school head occurred at this same school when Grand Cayman was hit by Hurricane Ivan, a category 5 hurricane, in 2004.  The island was wiped out, and all schools on the island were shut down due to the level of damage.  The maintenance guy and I stayed on the island, recruited a group of workers, and supervised the renovations and repairs to the school.  This permitted me to engage in almost every aspect of the school as we worked for almost three months to get the school ready to welcome students back.  I felt a sense of pride when those students returned to a warm and caring school environment.  There was something else I felt as well, it was like I had a sense of every part of the school, what tools we had, where everything was stored, and what was needed to keep every part of the school running.  I had a sense being head of the school meant understanding how every aspect of the school worked.

In my career so far, I’ve been head of four different schools.  That school in Grand Cayman was the smallest.  A school of 1800 was the largest.  The other two were in between.  Every school has required a different skill set, and I’ve learned the importance of being able to observe, listen, and adapt to what is needed.  I can honestly say though the best education I every received in learning how a school runs was through serving as a small school head.  It gave me the ability to understand, and appreciate the different roles we all play in providing a quality education for the students in our care and in running a successful school program.

You can find more posts on my blog  Gregory A. Hedger’s Blog

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