Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Pittsfield: The Takeaways 1

Howard-Winn CBE team with staff from Pittsfield

I've spend two days with a group from my school visiting Pittsfield Middle High School in Pittsfield, New Hampshire.


Asking questions


Thinking hard

Questioning what I do and how I do it

Questioning why I want to change--especially why I want to change at this point in my career.

It would be so much easier to coast through my last five years. To rest on my "laurels". To embrace being the oldest female in the building and simply do what I've always done.

But if you do what you've always done, you get what you've always gotten.

And what I've gotten isn't good enough. It isn't good enough for me and it certainly isn't good enough for my kids.

Years ago, I used to say to students that in my class I wanted them to learn to think. I would give them crossword puzzles, logic problems, boggle boards and then step back and let them struggle. I wouldn't help them. I watched how they figured out what they didn't know.

Some would cheat. Some would use resources at their disposal. Some would struggle and struggle, getting very frustrated because they thought everyone else knew the answer and they should too. I didn't grade these puzzles. I gave them five points for trying and moved on. Why did I give them five points? Because I thought if I gave them work to do, it should get points.

This approach was right and wrong.

  • I was right to want students to use their brains and think. 
  • I was right in wanting to challenge them. 
  • I was right in wanting them to solve problems on their own.
I was just wrong in my approach.

It seems everything I've done in my education career has led me to competency based education.  CBE measures learning, not time. Just because you sat through a semester of a class, does not mean you learned anything, no matter what grade it says you received on your report card. In CBE,  it doesn't matter how long you take, but you must master all the skills of a course before you move on.  Not just standards either. For example, you are in pilot school. You get an A in take-offs, an A in flight time, but a D in landings. Are people going to want to fly with you?  

In classes now, students work through a progression in the curriculum. It's possible to get a good grade in a class even though you may do really poorly in one section of the course.  But do you really know your stuff?  Can you prove it?

In speech, I want students to communicate effectively.  In order to get to that point, we practice by speaking in front of class frequently, but I also teach them how to write strong, interesting introductions and conclusions. I teach them how to organize the body of a speech. We work on eye contact, standing still, and speaking with enthusiasm.  It all leads to that competency of communicating effectively. 

Just because a student can write a beautiful speech does not mean he/she is an effective communicator. If they stand in front of the class and speak so quietly that no one hears them, or speak in a monotone so that everyone tunes them out, they are not communicating effectively. Communicating, yes. Effectively. No.

So my brain is in overdrive this week, thinking how we need to change what we do. Pittsfield was very open with us how they went about things when they began this transformation. Will we do exactly what they did? No. We aren't them. We'll go back to the collaborative and share what we learned and they will want to set up a model for the state. And that's OK too, as long as everyone remembers to develop their plans for their students, their community, their staff. Because this isn't a cookie cutter transformation plan. It won't have a handbook with step by step rules for CBE. 

This will be messy, chaotic, dirty change. 

And it needs to happen.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a lot of hard thinking and learning and questioning is going to lead to great changes for the students! Yes, it will look and feel different. Yes, it will be a transformation. Yes, it will be difficult for all involved. But you said it. It needs to happen. Bravo to you and your team! Try to enjoy the messy, chaotic, dirty moments!


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