I just attended the 2014 WISN Conference on Innovation. It is one of the most thought-provoking conferences that I’ve attended, rich with educational leaders and visionaries who have imagined the possibilities for education and put those possibilities in to practice. These are people who are creating and leading schools that are rich with discovery, learning, engagement, and meaning. There are project-based schools, blended and online schools, place-based schools, Montessori schools, schools that embrace game-based learning and more. It is a playground for those who are interested in discovering what is possible for 21st century education, for people wondering if there is something better than the status quo, and those who want to learn how to make educational possibilities a reality.
As I reflect on my notes and experiences from the event, here are some the more provocative and thought-provoking ideas from two of my favorite sessions. One comes from the keynote with Alife Kohn. One need not agree with everything he says to benefit from his challenges to the dominant models of schooling today. The second set of quotes come from a team of presenters at Harltand School of Community Learning; a personalized, experiential, project-based, student-centered school in Wisconsin.
1. On dividing students in school by grades… “When was the last time you spent the entire day with only 42 year olds?” – Alfie Kohn
2. “When you get away from all grades and rewards, kids are more likely to pick things that are challenging for them. When you add many grades and rewards, people are more likely to try things that are easier, that they have a better chance of ‘passing.'” – Alfie Kohn
3. We need to find ways to get away from “stratifying, segregating and sorting kids so they see themselves as deficient in some way.” – Alfie Kohn
4. “Others students are labeled as gifted or talented which give them access to enrichments and experiences from which all kids would benefit.” – Alfie Kohn
5. “If we looked at the research to drive our decisions, we would not use letter grades.” – Alfie Kohn
6. “PowerPoint corrupts. Absolute PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” – Alfie Kohn
(I still use plenty of PowerPoint, but I love the challenge of the quote.)
7. “We want kids to experience success and failure as information, not as reward and punishment” – Alfie Kohn quoting Jerome Bruner
8. “Even good forms of assessment are bad when kids think about them too much. Most of the time, kids should not be thinking about how good they are doing.” Instead they should be lost in what they are doing. – Alife Kohn
9. On the dangers of rubrics… “Kids are thinking, ‘Is this a four?’ rather than, ‘How is this sentence impacting the reader?'” – Alife Kohn See, Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment for more information on this.
10. Read Joe Bower’s blog about assessment as a conversation (de-grading, de-testing…).
11. In response to claims that Kohn’s critique of letter grades is unrealistic and would require a complete overhaul of our system… “Until we’ve made massive changes in our infrastructure, go ahead and keep destroying kids with grades.” – Alife Kohn
12. There is no research to show that homework improves student learning before high school, and it is minimal/questionable on that level. – Alfie Kohn
13. On the Common Core State Standards – “Let’s not confuses uniformity with excellence.” – Alfie Kohn
14. When it comes to the topic of grading and assessment, “we need to ask the radical questions. Don’t argue about whether an 86 should be a ‘B’ or a ‘B+’. Don’t just ask if 45 minute periods should be 47 minutes. Ask why we use periods instead of projects.” – Alfie Kohn
15. On the negative impact of homework… “Family time should probably be determined by families, not by schools assigning homework.” – Alife Kohn
16. A great school mission statement from the Hartland School of Community Learning – “To empower individuals to be architects and advocates in their journey of learning.”
17. “We don’t talk about weaknesses as much as opportunities for growth.” – Hartland School of Community Learning staff
18. One of the main questions for a teacher at Hartland School of Community Learning – “What do I know about you as a learner?”
19. On the importance of reflection and debriefing at Hartland School of Community Learning – “An activity is just an activity until it is processed.”
20. “At even given moment in our school, 27 kids are doing 27 different things.” – Hartland School of Community Learning
21. Key questions for learners at Hartland School of Community Learning: 1) “What are you going to create/do to show your growth over time?” 2) How has this experience evolved your thinking?” 3) “What experiences do you want to have to make your mind and your world bigger?”
22. “If you are comfortable, then it is probably not personalized learning.” – Hartland School of Community Learning
23. “Without the messy, we can’t have the magic.” – Hartland School of Community Learning
23. For personalized, student-driven learning, “a great amount of unlearning needs to take place. It will be messy and uncomfortable, but trust the process.” – Hartland School of Community Learning
24. “I’ve seen the interest drive the learning so deeply.” – Hartland School of Community Learning.”
25. If you are in a school, are your teachers addicted to learning in our own lives? “Our staff is addicted to learning.” – Hartland School of Community Learning.”