Stone Arch Bridge on a December Morning

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Coming Clash in Blended Learning: Part II

This past weekend, Tom Vander Ark tweeted about Michael Horn from the Christensen Institute kicking off a small wonkish blended learning conference.  Horn was one of the authors along with Clayton Christensen and Curt Johnson of a book called Disrupting Class. That book was all about using technology to replace teachers and create new models for the U.S. K-12 education system.  As I pointed out in a post in 2010 that included an exchange with Horn, the first edition of their book didn't mention blended learning.  They've since added a section on their brand of blended learning in later editions.

I replied to Vander Ark's tweet with the following tweet: " Not differentiating replacement / empowerment of teachers"

To which Vander Ark replied: "off base (like your blog); all about Improving Conditions & Careers for teachers, see paper I think he was referring to this post.

We then exchanged a series of tweets;  I'm @sabier on Twitter if you want to look them up.  The Disrupting folks are beginning to realize that disrupting class or disrupting the public school system which appears to be their ultimate goal is a big job, and their teacher replacement model is not likely to get much traction except in schools that are really desperate.   The schools that Vander Ark has worked with so far are all charter schools, or new schools of some type, or home school networks, or severely stressed school districts like Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Nashville, and Clark County. 'Working with them' seems to involve some kind of private foundation support and some kind of reorganizing how teachers are paid. They don't seem to know how to implement blended technology without disrupting the governance/financial structure of a school.

One of the tell-tale signs that they're really interested in teacher replacement is how Vander Ark's group explains how a teacher will earn more pay with their brand of blended learning  "teachers can extend their reach by teaching a larger number of students without increasing class size because, at a given time, some of their student are using digital instruction with paraprofessional supervision, while teachers use the face-to-face teaching time for higher-order learning and personalized follow-up" - see here for more details on this clever scheme.  They're replacing teacher time with digital instruction and paraprofessionals.

One of the later issues in the Smart Series that Vander Ark suggested that I look at is actually pretty good. It contains some sound advice about steps that districts should take when implementing blended learning, especially the section on using a learning management system.  But the paper doesn't get at the basic decision that a district needs to make about how teachers will be included in the implementation.  What are the district's core values about teachers and teaching?  Is the blended learning system going to be a top down directed system utilizing corporate created content, or will it be driven by teachers using teacher created content and  using assessments managed by teachers.  Will all teachers be empowered and supported, or will the system be used to sort teachers into the keepers and the expendables?

Blended learning doesn't mean the same thing to everybody. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Coming Clash in Blended Learning

Blended learning doesn't mean the same thing to everybody.  The model being touted by the Christensen Institute  is essentially a teacher replacement model.  The model described by Garrison and Vaughan focuses on the quality and quantity of the interaction between student and teacher and "the sense of engagement in a community of inquiry and learning, achieved through the effective integration of Internet communication technology."

That difference was highlighted in a webinar I listened to recently by two of the Christensen Institute's disciples, Arthur VanderVeen, VP of Business Strategies for Compass Learning, and Tom Vander Ark,  author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World and CEO of Getting Smart, a learning advocacy firm. The different models might be attributable to the different arenas in which the two pairs work.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are part of the corporate business world that is trying to take over the K-12 educational system; Vaughan and Garrsion are professors of education and researchers and have so far focused primarily on higher education.  Both  groups have intentions of impacting the other's realms. 
Their respective intent and purpose probably has more to do with the different models, though.  Garrison and Vaughan are interested in developing a stronger richer community of inquiry and learning; Vander Ark and Vander Veen want to blow things up and make money putting them back together again.  They follow the Christensen's Institute's disruptive model.  I've written about Christensen's disruptive model previously in a discussion of the book, Disrupting Class.   That book was all about using technology to replace teachers and create new models for the U.S. K-12 education system.  As I pointed out, the first edition of the book didn't mention blended learning.  They've added a section on their brand of blended learning in later editions.

 9 and 1/2 minutes into their webinarVander Ark and Vander Veen  brought up the notion that their blended learning model would reduce the need for teachers and change teacher work rules; that's code for fire teachers and bust unions.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are selling to the corporate / charter school money making interests all too prevalent today.  The counterpart to that in the higher ed world is the MOOC phenomenon, which is also based on the notion that teachers are expendable and cost too much.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are well connected to moneyed interests, so I'll give them the best odds for the early rounds in the coming clash between these two models of blended learning.  In the long run, though, I think "the quality and quantity of the interaction and the sense of engagement in a community of inquiry and learning" will carry the day.  I'll go with Garrison and Vaughan.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Christensen Institute's Horn says Prof Dev not so important

Now, to be fair Michael Horn does say teachers do need to build new skills, but he thinks that implementing a team and then a 'model' takes precedence.  That hasn't been my experience. In lots of schools, most I think, the team is already in place.  The team is the teachers. Most schools already have a structure of governance and a culture.  Changing the governance and culture of schools is something that requires a lot of work, so I say don't do much of it unless it's absolutely necessary.  Teachers like the students they teach are not interchangeable widgets.  Most innovations in teaching and learning are implemented by teachers.  It's, of course, a good idea to have a group designated as the leaders of any innovation, but task groups, committees, and communities of practice are not new ideas, and they are only one part of an overall implementation.  The AEA calls professional development the critical priority in a 1:1 program.The AEA plan doesn't say  much about selecting a team, but it does have quite a bit to say about how a new program should be implemented based on research and experience.

 I've been involved in teacher professional development in one aspect or another for over 20 years.  These days a good chunk of my income is derived from providing and leading others doing teacher professional development.   And, my work before getting a teaching license was as a sales manager and consultant in business ICT where teaching other professionals how to implement new tools was the essential part of the work.  Professional development is crucial to success with all new information and communications tools. The 'model' in which the tools are used is only important in so far as it aligns with the larger purpose or vision of the organization.  The implementation plan should be developed over time with as much input as possible from as many people as possible who will have a hand in the innovation, including students. (It most certainly does not need to be 'disruptive' - more on that later.)

Horn and his bevy of Ivy Leaguers at the Christensen Institute seem to be making their livings touting various 'disruptive' 'models' of Blended Learning.  That's interesting because in Disrupting Class, the book he wrote with Curt Johnson and Clayton Christensen, he didn't even mention blended learning before I pointed out that they hadn't done so ( a note was added to a later edition.)    Three years ago, when I said that Disrupting Class didn't consider blended learning, I was referring to the fact that Disrupting Class was focused on using computers to replace or substitute for teachers, and not on using computers to enhance the teaching and learning practice of teachers and their students who were already in classrooms and schools and already had more than enough disruptions with which to deal.  I considered blended learning to be the use of computers to enhance teaching and learning, something I'd been doing for many years and something that lots of teachers all over the world were already doing.

The Christensen Institute defines blended learning differently these days.  They've even broken down their concept of blended learning into sub types of blended learning.  Their nomenclature system is logically sound but not really very useful unless you're trying to impress someone who doesn't have much experience actually using some of the exploding number of new information and communications tools in a teaching and learning environment.   Anders Norberg has called blended learning A Boy Named Sue.  Norberg was recently on a panel with Heather Staker, one of the Ivy Leaguers at the Christensen Institute, at the Sloan C Blended Learning Conference and talked about the fact that blended learning wasn't such a big deal in Europe because teachers there just talk about good teaching and student learning.  They, of course, use whatever new tools they can to improve their practice, but they don't worry too much about the name of a particular model.

Norberg's point is that there are so many new tools and their application is so varied in different classrooms by different teachers for different students that a particular model and its name is irrelevant.   That's consistent with my experience in the classroom.  I used pretty much all of the different models for which the Christensen Institute has come up with names.  The devices kept changing and so did the students and their learning needs.   One of the exciting things about new literacy tools is the novelty.  I wrote a blog post last year for Naiku about why novelty is useful to learning.  Sticking to a particular model is often counterproductive, besides not being much fun.  Focusing on acquiring skills to improve student learning is more important than focusing on a model.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jim Lenfestey's Phantom Quiz - An update of Walt Whitman’s 'By Blue Ontario’s Shore'

Jim Lenfestey recently gave me a copy of his outstanding new book of poems, Earth in Anger: Twenty-five Poems of Love and Despair for Planet Earth.   We were both reading at an Open Book event which had been arranged by our mutual friend, John Caddy.  The event was supposed to have happened on Earth Day, but it got snowed out and was re-scheduled for a week later.  Jim hadn't been scheduled for the original Earth Day event because the launch of his new book was happening that evening.   Earth arranged for Jim to read his poems two weeks in a row.  I guess some of the people who drove through the blizzard to get to the original reading were a little miffed that it was cancelled.  I hope they pick up Jim's book and divert that energy as he recommends with his poems.

Jim read By Azure Huron's Shore as his last offering that evening and it's the final entry in the book, but I think it should be read first.  This Phaantom's quiz places the poems in an context of urgency that allows the supple rhythms of the poems more space to undulate.

NOTE: In 1848 journalist Walt Whitman and his brother Jeff traveled to New Orleans to help establish the newspaper the Crescent.  After three months, according to his own hand-drawn map now in the Library of Congress, they returned up the Mississippi and through the Great Lakes, passing through the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Huron, then Erie, then Ontario.  In the 1867 edition of “Leaves of Grass” he included “As I Sat Alone By Blue Ontario’s Shores,” in which he encounters a “Phantom” who quizzes him on the qualities necessary to undertake the American project of creating and healing a nation.  Inspired by Whitman’s interrogation, I wondered what “many and stern” questions the Phantom would put to poets and citizens today to undertake our necessary project, healing and reclaiming our broken, reeling planet.  In the Invocation, I changed but one word of Whitman’s, substituting “earth” for “nation.”  The rest of the Phantom’s interrogation came fresh through me in one burst as I sat alone by azure Huron’s shore.  Originally published as a broadside, it may be reproduced free forever.


(An update of Walt Whitman’s By Blue Ontario’s Shore, section 12)


Are you he who would assume a place to teach or be a poet here on this earth?

The place is august, the terms obdurate.

Who would assume to teach here may well prepare himself body and mind,

He may well survey, ponder, arm, fortify, harden, make lithe himself.

He shall surely be questioned beforehand by me with many and stern questions.

Who are you indeed who would talk and sing of the earth?



Do you know the depth of the waters, and the height of the sky, and their composition?

Have you befriended the trees where you live, know their roots, their crowns?

Have you studied the rocks beneath them, to the fifth epoch?

And the birds above, their songs and what they eat, and where they nest?

And the people who lived there before you, and your ancestors, to the second millennium?

And the rivers and lakes, their subtle watersheds and hidden springs?

And do you swim in the chill and warm waters of your seas and lakes indiscriminately? And with relish? And know the sources of pollutants threatening your waters? And fight against the dark rain with armies of petitions and voters’ guides and drives and meetings?

Are the glaciers and the jungles your friends, the serpents and beasts and birds your guides, the pigs of the sty your helpmates, the microbes and fungi your intimates?

Do you shun or reform all religions that deny the primacy of the earth and its processes? That believe mankind unable to destroy everything good? Or save everything good?

Do you accept with joy the findings of science?

Are your taxes paid to the federal, state and municipal authorities without complaint, as the recognized price of civil living?  Do you wish to pay more?

Do you believe in the Holy Trinity: the water, the grass, the air?  And do you worship them every day with acts of kindness and political clout?

Are you sickened unto death that the biodiversity of the earth is plummeting? The Arctic sea ice melting?  The oceans acidifying?

Have you read the 4th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Or at least the Executive Summary?

And know that its finding of warming for the most part due to the burning of fossil fuels has been everywhere affirmed, including by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, even the George W. Bush Administration?

And are you hot with anger at the lies about the cause of changing climate spouted by those with fingers black with oil, breath black from smoking mines?

And will you slay with dark thoughts the miscreants at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Rush Windbag and others who perpetuate those lies?

Will you fight back with evidence and heat and love for the atmosphere which is the life blanket of our planet?

Do you firmly believe there is no such thing as evil, but only abundant ignorance, stupidity, shortsightedness, self-dealing, self-loathing and fundamentalist self-righteousness?

Do you “fear a lie as others fear fire,” as Chekhov said, and know that “inside you is an inexhaustible fountain of ideas,” as Brenda Ueland said?

Do you believe in families and communities green and cheerful with good schools and happy parents and joy shouted from the schoolyards?

Have your studied Emerson’s essays The Poet and Nature, foundation stones of the spiritual democracy of our nation and all nations, who saw the divine in every person and particular of nature, including these Great Lakes?  He who begat Thoreau and Whitman and Dickinson and Bogan?  Jim Bogan?

When you gaze at the person you love, and the multitudes you love, do tears of gratitude spring to your eyes?   Do your hands fall open in gratitude to the waters, the grass, the air?  And for people who fight for the waters, the grass, the air?

By azure Huron’s shore,

do you stand at the water’s edge, tasting the delicious energies of the grass, inhaling the delicious energies of the air, and fearlessly plunge into the dark waters, for the sake of your soul, and the soul of the earth?

Monday, January 21, 2013

If You're a Teacher You're a Leader Part 2: McGovern, Inouye, et al.

When the four of us had finally settled into the little golf cart like train car, George McGovern introduced me to Senators Daniel Inouye and Charles Percy.

 The 'train' car was on a set of tracks that ran underground from the Russell Office Building over to the Senate.  A few minutes earlier, Senator McGovern had walked hurriedly out of his inner office to greet me, saying without stopping, "I'm sorry, Dan, I've got to go over to the floor for a vote and I have another meeting in half an hour.  Walk along with me and maybe we can chat a bit after I vote."

  I was reminded of that day when I read Kevin Cashman's explanation in The Pause Principle of how the three types of questioning and listening need to merge in order for breakthroughs to occur and growth to be sustained - the kind of breakthroughs and growth that also make a classroom vibrant.  Cashman says,

 "For growth to have a lasting, transformative impact, three interrelated pauses that arise from questioning and listening need to merge: building awareness, building commitment, and building practice. If all three are present and informing one another, breakthroughs will occur and growth will be sustained. if we do not help others to sufficiently pause for each of these phases, the results will most likely dissipate over time."
  When Sen. Inouye enveloped my outstretched right hand in his left, it felt gentle and kind, a friendly Buddha like acknowledgement. I didn't even notice that he didn't have a right hand with which to shake.  Senator Percy's traditional quick pump was accompanied with a "Well, what brings you to Washington, young man?"  Senator Inouye's  listening eyes told me that he, too, was interested in my mission.  I was there representing South Dakota at the NATA convention (NATA is now part of TIA.)  The main focus of that convention was to stop the Bell System's attempt to make outlaws out of their competitors, competitors like me.

  It was indeed a heady day for me.  In addition to the appointment with Senator McGovern, I had met earlier with Rep. Larry Pressler Rep. Berkley Bedell, and Sen Jim Abourezk's chief of staff. The convention attendees from some of the big states were having trouble just getting an appointment with a staffer of one of their congressional reps.  When I stepped off the elevator and into the Senate lobby with George McGovern's hand on my elbow and Senators Inouye and Percy just behind me, I saw a few heads on very expensive pin-stripped suits turn to check me out.  These were lobbyists, and several of them had big cigars.

 I shuffled my polished cowboy boots and tried not to be too conspicuous in my faux suede sport coat until Senator McGovern appeared a few minutes later to usher me out into the bright afternoon sunlight to walk back to his office.  He confirmed that I was Jimmy's grandson and had once lived in Artesian, just north of his home in Mitchell (Grandpa had been a delegate to the national convention in 1960.) Having connected by family and place, McGovern said, "Now, how do think we should be looking at this bill."  I was very glad that I'd been coached by the PR people hired by NATA on what to say.  McGovern didn't respond with a canned response like Pressler had earlier in the day.  He thought and asked some clarifying questions, which I don't remember exactly, but I knew he wanted to understand.  And he didn't make any promises, but when he said, "I think I'm with you on this one and I'll have, and I don't remember the person he named, look into this a little more, and we'll let you know how it goes" I believed him.

I was walking tall to the debriefing back at the convention hotel.  The PR team that was keeping track of congressional visit results looked at me a little doubtfully when I ticked off the members of congress I'd talked to that day.  I told them McGovern, and Inouye, were with us and probably Abourezk and Bedell, too.  I told them Percy's comment about the CWA probably meant he was not to be counted on, and I told them I thought Pressler could be flipped because I didn't think he understood what he'd theoretically co-signed.  I found out later that Pressler had eventually held back his support of the Bell proposal.  McGovern wrote me a note about a month later saying he thought the bill would not be acted on that year, and he thanked me for participating in the work of government.  The 'Bell Bill' never became law.

Talking to and being listened to by that collection of leaders that day was an unforgettable lesson for me.  There were nuances in the levels of awareness, commitment, and practice in the way each of those men listened and questioned, but all of were masters of each. Congressman Bedell reminded me of my best college profs; McGovern was, of course, a college prof before he became an international political leader.  Being a teacher, at any level, requires daily application of the listening and questioning skills that Cashman talks about as crucial for leadership.  Teachers, like politicians, are always campaigning; they need to get votes of awareness, commitment, and practice from their students every day, sometimes hourly. Teaching is leading.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

Evaluating Teachers Part Five

The MINNESOTA VIVA TEACHERS REPORT  was released this week.  It's generally pretty good except for its very glaring sidestep/misstep  of the issues related to measuring student achievement.  The report seems to assume that all measurement of student achievement is created equal.  The report talks about VAMs (Valued Added Measures) as if everybody knows and understands VAMs when in reality VAMs are relatively new to education and not widely understood.  The report rightly excludes VAMs as not appropriate for decisions about teacher employment issues but allows them as a helpful tool to determine whether curriculum or teaching strategies have improved student achievement.

The problem with this is that value added measures, as they currently exist, are really only useful to measure a very limited scope of curriculum and  teaching strategy.  Value Added Measures are numbers that reflect how a student does taking a test compared to a previous time taking the same or a similar test.  For the most part, we only have tests in reading, math, and science.  There's a lot more to K-12 education besides reading, science and math.  And, there's a lot more than one person responsible for an individual students learning even in reading, science, and math.

The big missing piece is that the VAMs don't look at what the teacher, or teachers, or school, or anybody else does between the times the student takes the test.  That's the teaching part.  The report does a fair job of explaining the many variables and limitations of measuring Student performance which is an obvious reason why they shouldn't be used to make decisions about teacher performance.

I know that I'm making things more difficult for those that want an easy way to measure teaching and learning.  We tend to think it should be easy because all of us have made subjective measures of teachers and teaching since we entered our first classroom.  And, we've frequently found plenty of other subjective reports to support our measurements.  But, individual subjective assessment and even a collection of those individual subjective assessments is not the same as professional objective assessment of the art of teaching that is consistent across an entire school district or beyond.

A good place to start with making this very complex situation more manageable would be to start focusing on formative assessment instead of summative assessment.  If we do enough formative assessment and are careful about our recording and communication of that assessment, summative assessment becomes unnecessary.  We won't need standardized tests.  All teachers have always done formative assessment, but only recently have we had the ability to record and communicate those observations, quiz results, and homework grades effectively.  Getting a good score on the test at the end of the year or even the end of a unit is not the same as learning.  With the tools we have available, we don't need to have students take standardized test; we have the ability to record and communicate student learning as it occurs.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

If You're a Teacher, You're a Leader

   Early yesterday I told Kevin Cashman that I liked thinking about The Pause Principle / teachers / educational technology.  I said that in the note I sent to him thanking him for the copy of his new book, The Pause Principle,  that he'd sent me the day before.  And then, in the afternoon, I opened the link to this post by David Truss on his blogBoth David and Kevin are writing about leadership and what it takes to be a good leader. David writes about leadership in schools, Kevin writes about leadership in in the corporate world.
    A couple of years ago I wrote this in a blog post - "this 'piggy-backing' on each others ideas will be an important feature of the 'new' education system. Being the expert on any given topic is no longer of much use; it's not bad, but it's more important to be able to blend our thoughts and ideas with those of others to give those ideas real power."  Blending the thoughts of these two 'thought leaders' will, I think, provide some new perspectives and add power to what both are saying about leading.  Both David and Kevin have some charts about concepts; after a pause, I might compare or contrast their charts, but not today.  Today, as E.M. Forster would say, I'm only connecting. Mary E. Virnoche andGary T. Marx used Forster's  epigraph "only connect" to introduce their study of the possibility of a different social web than we have seen before. They're less optimistic than me about the possibilities of the web, but their work is worth considering.
   I'll write more about Kevin's book and leading with technology in schools - after a pause.  But, there's one more personal connection in The Pause Principle I want to point out.  Kevin and I have been friends for over 40 years since meeting in college (There's more than a couple of stories we could tell about each other.) The connection that illustrates a powerful pause for me is Kevin's mention of Dr. Tom Morgan of Augsburg college.  Kevin noted that Tom had steered him to some new research on the power of questioning.  Tom, the teacher, and Kevin, the leader, first met at Casey's and my wedding 23 years ago.  Tom was a friend of Casey's (they had worked together at Augsburg.)  I'm blessed to still have each of them to connect with and link to, to pose a question to after any length of pause.