Friday, February 4, 2011

I Resign From Teaching

Many of you have already read this post. If not take a moment and read. If you have read this look below to see my extended thinking...


To Whom It May Concern:


Consider this my letter of resignation from teaching. After much deliberation and intense research, I now see the futility of teaching my students. I have found that telling my students what to do does not make them learn. I discovered that when I told them what projects to do, they didn’t produce high quality work. I now see that when I give them a test they might do well but can’t talk to me about what they learned. It has also come to my attention that when I tell them something will impact their grade and they need to do it, it doesn’t motivate them. So, I am giving it all up. I am done teaching my students. I will no longer give pencil and paper tests. I refuse to tell my students what projects to do. It has become increasingly clear to me that the less I teach, the more my students are actually learning. Clearly that means I should give up teaching…although this is a painful decision for me.

Now, even though I am resigning from teaching, you will still see me in my classroom. If you look in my open door you will see me at my desk with my feet up more than likely. My students will not be quiet and certainly will not be doing the same thing. Some of them might not even be sitting in chairs and none of them will be sitting in rows. It will be chaotic and kids will be all over the place. But I ask you to take a closer look.

As I am sitting at my desk I am no longer teaching but guiding. I have carefully constructed learning questions and activities for each student. The students are working collaboratively with each other on differentiated learning activities and producing a variety of evidence. They don’t look to me to tell them how to show they are learning but choose how to learn and how best to show me they are learning. They no longer seek me for the answers but look to the array of resources I have provided for them. I am no longer the source of knowledge but merely another learner in the room. Soon I will become invisible and the students will take complete control over their learning. My life as a teacher will cease to exist and a whole new one will replace it.

Please respectfully accept my resignation from teaching. However, I will stay on board to be a guide, a provider, a supervisor, a friend and a learner.

Respectfully Submitted,

Josh Stumpenhorst


When I wrote this post I was not intending it to be viewed by nearly as many people as it did. I understand the idea behind a public blog, but you never expect it to “hit home” with as many people as it seemingly did. Or possibly a handful of people kept hitting the refresh button…:) With that being said, I have had a lot of comments posted as well as tweets and direct messages sent to me. As a result I wanted to expand on my thinking behind this letter of resignation and maybe explain myself in a bit more detail.

First, this was meant to be a play on words but the message was serious. In my classroom this year I have shifted the way I approach my student’s learning. Yes, I did have students doing projects and group work prior to this year, but not at this level. Before, I used projects and various activities as kind of a culminating activity to end an area of study. I still think those types of projects have value. However, what I am doing now is creating those projects and learning activities for students to discover that knowledge more independently. They are no longer relying on me to provide them with the information. Instead, I provide them the tools and skills to go and find that information themselves. In addition, the way in which I assess their learning has changed. It is now varied and independent to the learner. It is not a cookie cutter assessment that only fits one type of learner.

To say this is easier would be a lie. It takes a great deal of time and the process is evolving as I go. I teach 6th graders so I do a great deal of direct instruction at the beginning of the year to model and “teach” them how to be successful in my classroom and the junior high setting. As we have progressed this year I am slowly pulling back and allowing my students to take more control of their learning. The more control I give to them the more they are responding and learning. I know there are teachers who sit at their desks and give kids projects and think they are guiding their class but are simply being lazy. If you think you can just sit back and let kids create Power Points under the guise of being a guide, then in my opinion you have lost the intent if guided learning. Good teaching is hard work regardless of the method you use.

In closing, if you were a student in my classroom last year you would notice it a very different place this year. That is not to say it is better or worse. However, it is better for my kids this year. That is all I want as a teacher. This approach may not work as well next year and something else might. I will continue to find what approach is working best for the group of kids I have in m room at that moment. I am not naïve to think I am doing something remarkable or that my approach will work with every classroom and in every setting. It is working for my kids and therefore I will continue to use it and modify it as I need to in order to push the learning of my students to the highest possible level.


The do(s) and don’t(s) for putting your feet up in the classroom:


Do:
  • Construct meaningful work for students to be doing; boredom and disinterest leads to disengagement and behavior issues.
  • Allow students to choose how they show their learning. Don’t use a cookie cutter approach to activities or assessments.
  • Let kids work in groups to collaborate and share ideas. Two heads are better than one and four heads are really good.
  • Have a comfortable chair! :)
Don’t:
  • Assume kids can do this without some level of modeling and preparation.
  • Close your door and hide what you are doing. Be proud of work student’s work and share it with others even if they are not ready themselves.
  • Grade everything your students are doing. Grades do not motivate students so don’t use it as your motivator. Students will be motivated by learning if the activities are relevant, active, and collaborative.
  • Think that you can always put your feet up. There will be a time when direct instruction will be needed.
  • Think you can actually put your feet up! :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The A - Listers

Recently I read a post written by George Couros that prompted me to comment as well as do some further thinking. Here is my comment left on his post with some additional thoughts based on a day of reflection.


One of the ideas that George mentions is the cliques within Twitter and how some people are considered “A listers” in the social media world. I think it is very interesting that people would be claiming there are cliques within Twitter and that people are being left out of some magical circle. Personally, I have only been active on Twitter since November of this year. In that time I have connected with people across the globe from every walk of life (educationally speaking). I have yet asked a question that was not answered nor have I felt on the outside. During my time I have learned that as with anything in life, it is what you make it.

I talk with some people more but that is a matter of who I relate to and is discussing what I want/need for my students. This is just logical. There is a magic circle of “A-listers”, but who is on the last or in that circle is up to you. Follow and read those people that work for you and that you learn from. The power of Twitter is that there is a limitless amount of inner circles that are dependent upon the user. Make your own circle rather than complain about not being in someone else’s. As George mentioned in his post, be respectful of all but realize the practicality of responding and commenting on every single thing that is posted.

The key to the success of social media like Twitter as a method of educational reform is the connection we all have. That bond is the kids. If we are caught up in who is on the “in crowd” we lose sight of what is truly important. If we are worried about how many followers we have then we lose sight of the resources being shared. If we are worried how many times we are retweeted then we miss out on great professional conversations. If we get upset that someone didn’t comment on our blogs we will miss the true point of Twitter which is learning. If we are concerned that we are not “A-listers” then we will not learn how to be better teachers.

While I admit some people are probably on Twitter to self promote, that is not always a bad thing. If we don’t share what we are doing and do some self promoting then the power of Social Media is wasted. I write about what I think and what I do in hopes that it will help someone else. I just hope that my writing will be even a small help as compared to the amount of help and ideas I have received.

In addition, some of the people that complain about not being on the so called “A-list” are left out because it is easy. It is easier to complain about not being connected than to make the effort to connect. If we spent less time complaining about being on the outside of the metaphorical circles and instead we should share, collaborate, and connect more. We might find that we will create our own circles and be right in the middle of it ourselves.

I will continue to blog, tweet, retweet, and skype with anyone that will listen. Even if I am on the D-List with Kathy Griffin, have no followers, and nobody reads my blog. I will do it because I know I will learn and that learning will be better for my students!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Teach With Passion

What is passion? Having passion for teaching is not always a convenient thing. Sometimes it makes your life more difficult and it makes you stand out. Being a passionate teacher will get you noticed by administrators which will in turn get you noticed by colleagues. Those colleagues will not view you as passionate but rather as a “butt kisser” or worse… If you are lucky you will be surrounded by passionate teachers but I am realist and know that not everyone has the same passion for their job. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by many passionate teachers and administrators. To me, passion for teaching has many definitions.


Passion is annoying when your coworkers are not as passionate as you are.

Passion is pushy when you are trying to get people behind a new idea.

Passion is when you are mad they called a snow day because you love going to work.

Passion is when you defend your job to a complete stranger in Great Clips because he is badmouthing teachers.

Passion is not settling for what has always been done and you search for what works now.

Passion is when you help kids during lunch time even though your union rep says it is a bad idea.

Passion is voluntarily staying up until 2am on a Saturday attending a virtual conference.

Passion is doing and not talking about making things better for your students.

Passion is loving and caring for your students like your own children.

Passion is not settling for mediocrity.

Passion is teaching beyond the bells.

Passion is not talking about would could be but rather doing what will be.

Teach with passion and please if you are not passionate about working with children, please step aside because there are many passionate educators waiting in the wings…

Monday, January 31, 2011

Hole in my Classroom

A while back I joined an #ecosys conversation about Dr. Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall theory of learning. What Dr. Mitra did was put ATM style kiosks throughout India with internet access. In doing this he found that groups of kids were coming to these free computers and learning. Simplistically stated, Dr. Mitra believed that kids learned best in a small group of four around this one computer. I wanted to test this theory of group learning in my classroom. Bear with me while I explain the method to my madness…or just scroll to the results at the bottom.

Hypothesis:

Students will learn best if working in collaborative groups of four.

Procedure:

I took four learning standards in my Social Science curriculum that coincidently had to do with Ancient India. I created a four step model of “attacking” each standard.

  1. Identify the standard
  2. Create research questions based on the standard.
  3. Choose a method of gathering information to answer those questions. (notes, graphic organizer, concept map, etc.)
  4. Choose and create learning evidence for your standard. (essay, presentation, slide show, podcast, digital story, etc.)
For the first standard we went through the four steps as a whole class. I modeled each step and we discussed various examples for steps three and four. Once we modeled and went through the four step process the real work began. For the remaining three standards students worked independently with minimal teacher guidance. They were placed in one of three grouping scenarios. They were either working by themselves, with a partner, or in a group of four. Individuals working by themselves were responsible for doing all the steps independently with no help or discussion from peers. The partners could work together on all of the steps and even turn in one final piece of learning evidence for step four. The groups of four followed suit and did all their work collaboratively including turning in one piece of learning evidence for the whole group.

In order to validate the results, each student experienced each of the grouping scenarios. For example, if a student worked by themselves for the first standard they would be in a partnership for the second and a group of four for the third. This actually proved to be quite a logistical challenge to ensure all students experienced each grouping scenario. By the time we finished the three remaining standards all the kids rotated through the three group types.

The groupings were determined by myself in order to ability group the students. I wanted to make sure the results were not due to one student carrying to load but rather a true collaborative effort. While in some cases a strong student is a good idea, for this I wanted to keep everyone on a level playing field.

While students were working on their various activities they were given rough estimates of due dates but nothing firm to avoid anxiety. Once all the students had completed their work on the standards we took an assessment. The assessment was based directly on the three standards.

After the students took the assessments I graded them and matched the results of individual questions to determine which grouping scenario applies to which kid on which question. This was an exhausting process…

Results:

The results however were encouraging. The assessment itself consisted of short answer questions that directly aligned to the standards that the students were working on. In nearly every question on the assessment, the students that worked in groups of four performed higher than the partners and the individuals. I am not going to share the actual raw date but let's me honest, no one really looks at that stuff. However, the numbers did indicate higher scores for those students working in the groups of four which would align with Dr. Mitra's theory of the power of collaborative learning. Only one question did not have those same results but were within a tenth of a point average.

So based on this data kids performed best when working in groups of four. In addition, I surveyed the students to have them reflect on this process. Here are some of their thoughts:

“I think I learned the most in a group of 4 because the group each had different background knowledge.”

“I learned most in a group of four because there was ideas thrown everywhere. We debated and always chose [the] best ideas that I would never have thought of on my own.”
Final Thoughts:

First, students do learn more and better in a collaborative group. In my observations during the work, students in the groups of four were highly engaged in conversations about the work they were doing. Second, I took a very “back seat” approach to the learning going on. I was hands off and did very little direct instruction but rather fielded questions and gave direction when needed. When compared to previous assessments when I had a more direct instructional approach, students actually did better on this assessment. So what does this all mean? The less I taught, the more the students learned. When I gave them the power to choose how to learn, how to show their learning evidence, and let them “do” rather than “listen” they learned more.

As a result of this little “project” I will be providing more opportunities for students to work in collaborative groups as well as let go of the reins in the classroom a bit more.

If you give your students a voice...

The inspiration for this short post was from reading If Your Give a Mouse a Cookie with my son's for their bedtime story. It is a great book that my boys love and just got my wheels spinning just a bit...

If you give your students a voice they will ask for choice in their learning

If you give your students choice they will want you to guide them.

If you guide their work they will ask for more resources.

If you give them more resources they will demand technology.

If you give them technology they will demand that you learn how to use it.

If you learn how to use the technology you will want students to use it more often.

If you let your students use technology more often they will want more time to work.

If you give them more time to work they will produce higher quality products.

If they produce higher quality products they will ask for a higher grade.

If you give them a higher grade it will not motivate them to do the work better.

If you are not motivating with grades you will stop grading work.

If you stop grading work the students will still learn.

If the students are still learning then you are a great teacher.

And if you are a great teacher you will give your students a voice.



Angry Birds!

If you are like me you are addicted to the game Angry Birds. If not, after reading this post, go download it and join the rest of us addicts. A tweet posted over the weekend got me thinking about the connection between Angry Birds and learning. While that may seem like a stretch, hang with me as I explain.



While playing Angry Birds your goal is to try to “fling” little birds through the air and knock down various structures to “pop” the green pig-like creatures. This is a very simple explanation as some birds have extra powers and the structures get more elaborate in setup and properties. However, the concept is to throw birds and hit piggies.

If you are like me, you don’t pass each level on the first time. In reality, some of the levels took my hundreds of tries before I was able to take out all the pigs. However, I adjusted my placement of the throws and my strategy for knocking the structures down. Why on earth would anyone spend their time doing this? Well, you need to try it before you answer it. Yes, it is a game, but is requires thinking, strategy, and little trial and error. Players constantly evolve their play to master each level and move on.

So here is my question…how can we make classrooms more like Angry Birds? I am not suggesting we throw birds at pigs, although that would be exciting! What I am suggesting is that use the concepts taught in the game:

Concept One: Multiple tries to complete a goal. Give students multiple tries to meet a standard or accomplish a learning goal. Too often kids get once chance to show their learning and as humans, we have bad days. One bad day should not hold a student back from achieving their academic goals.

Concept Two: Have a worthy goal in mind. As an Angry Birds player, we want to “pop the pigs”. It is something we are motivated to do because it is engaging and involves some problem solving. How much of the stuff we ask kids to do is because we have to, or because it is in the book. Why not construct learning around motivating and engaging topics. Make their learning worthy of their time.

Concept Three: Levels become more difficult but at the player’s pace. As you progress through the game the levels increase in complexity and difficulty. There are more variables to work with including different birds with different abilities as well as the building materials around the pigs change. The key is that you have to successfully pass the level before moving on to the next. This is logical to me. Don’t move on to the next level until you’ve mastered the previous. Yet, in school we move on to the next chapter because our curriculum pacing dictates this to us. Regardless of students being ready for the next level we move on and up…

I challenge you to do two very simple things… One would be to evaluate the work you have your students do and compare it to the three concepts of Angry Birds. Two would be to go out and download this awesome game!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quick! Call 20/20 to catch a predator...

If you were sitting in a conversation at this weekend’s EduCon and felt like you were being watched…you were. You didn’t see me but I was there. I was watching you interact. I was listening to your conversations. I was stealing your ideas to bring back to my school. Thankfully none of you pulled a Mark Sanchez while on camera.


It was kind of surreal watching some of the people I follow on twitter in “real life”. It was nice to put faces and voices to folks that I have met and learned with over the past three months on twitter.

This was my first EduCon experience and much like the Reform Symposium, it was inspiring. My first thought was how the sessions were called “conversations” and not presentations. That is truly what they were; conversations with dedicated and passionate educators.

I was able to creep in on the conversation on standards based grading and listened to some great ideas. One idea that resonated with me was when they broke into small groups. The question being posed was “how would you design a better grading system.” The camera on the live feed jumped to a conversation that included @thenerdyteacher who said, “no grades”. I completely agree with this as it would put focus on learning and not the grades themselves. I just wish out educational system was not so neck deep in standardized testing to support this type of thinking.

Another conversation I jumped in on was hosted by @shareski and @courosa who talked about the global community of educators. As teachers we have an obligation to teach our students and help develop staff members we work with. However, what is our obligation to work with students and teachers across the globe? There is nothing in my contract that says I have to chat with a teacher in Ohio about grading practices. There is also nothing that tells me to have my students chat with kids in Pennsylvania. However, I do these things because I feel obligated to help others and be helped in return. Also in that conversation is the idea of sharing and being open with what you are doing. While this sounds easy there are issues with copywrite, citing, and ownership of curriculum by school districts.

Looking forward I feel inspired to figure out ways in which I can bring the power of the conversations of EduCon to my school and community. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn from passionate educators to hop into the twitter stream from #educon and read some of the conversations that are taking place.