Jan 09

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation…

I think I first came across McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y in a educational administration class. When I read about Theory X, I was struck by the idea that anyone could think this way about management. From the Wikipedia entry on Theory X and Theory Y comes this definition of Theory X:

In this theory, management assumes employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can. They inherently dislike work. Because of this, workers need to be closely supervised and comprehensive systems of controls developed. A hierarchical structure is needed with narrow span of control at each level. According to this theory, employees will show little ambition without an enticing incentive program and will avoid responsibility whenever they can. The Theory X manager tends to believe that everything must end in blaming someone. He or she thinks all prospective employees are only out for themselves. Usually these managers feel the sole purpose of the employee‘s interest in the job is money. They will blame the person first in most situations, without questioning whether it may be the system, policy, or lack of training that deserves the blame. A Theory X manager believes that his or her employees do not really want to work, that they would rather avoid responsibility and that it is the manager’s job to structure the work and energize the employee.

The problem is that so much of education is defined by Theory X. Much of NCLB is a Theory X model… that schools and teachers somehow are to blame for all the problems of our kids, and if you read the much of the level of discourse about what is wrong with school, and you find Theory X ideas behind much of it.

Michelle Rhee’s proposal to pay teachers $120,000 / yr with the caveat that their jobs are then tied to the test scores speaks to this idea. The many districts we see implementing scripted "teacher-proof" curriculum with standardized assessments, in my opinion, is directly related to the idea that we cannot "trust" teachers to work hard in service of their children.

But sadly, as teachers we’ve created a situation where that could happen in classrooms all over America. How many classrooms have you been in where Theory X was the dominant paradigm? How many teachers tell students that they have to do the work or else… how many teachers assume that the students will only do the work for the grade? When we consider how much the carrot and stick has dominated our classrooms, is it any wonder that this is now becoming the way our schools are being managed?

If we want to move away from Theory X, we have to offer a different vision of our schools. We have to create a vision of schooling that does not assume that accountability trumps responsibility. We have to create a vision of school governance that respects teachers and honors the work they do, while always being aware of how much more work there is to do. And we have to create classrooms where students are taught to value their own work, to understand the relationship between freedom and responsiblity, to understand how to dedicate themselves to an idea, a passion, to their work, not just for a grade, but for the sake of the work and for themselves and their community as well.

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Tags: learning, motivation, McGregor

Jan 08

The Power of the Network

EduCon 2.1 is just about two weeks away, and it is going to be an incredible event. The amount of work that SLA teachers, parents and students are putting into it to make it something wonderful is astounding. For us, it’s our chance to bring together educators in our home and talk about the ideas that we care most about. (And if you’re coming, make sure you spend some time talking to SLA students, they walk the walk every day.)

But in the end, what still astounds me is how much this conference belongs to everyone. It’s up on a wiki again, and presenters are adding things to their wiki, people are starting to plan meet-ups and the twitter search speaks to how much people are making this their own.

I really do believe that this conference speaks to how much the network can come together in real time to make meaning together. That still excites me. I love the idea that so many people are investing their time and energy to come learn together without an exhibit floor, without a fancy conference center, but just in a school with students and teachers (and cheesesteaks.) And that it really happens because a small group of volunteers work hard and a large network cares enough about the ideas to talk about it, blog about it, and then spend their time to come together to make it happen.

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Tags: educon21, educon

Dec 30

Why Assess?

Gary Stager wrote this on twitter last night in the context of a conversation about using PISA scores to draw international comparisons:

@dkuropatwa @chrislehmann I’ll be outrageous and say that all assessment is an interruption to the learning process.

And it reminded me of something Doug Christensen – former State Education Commissioner of Nebraska – once said to me when I was lucky enough to interview him for a grad school project:

Assessment should never be a policy tool, because if you use it as a policy tool, it loses its validity as an instructional tool.

So why do we assess? What is its purpose as an instructional tool? Is Gary right that all assessment is an interruption to the learning process? (And I think he was being outrageous when he said it.)

I’m going to get the slightly cynical reason out of way first. One of the reasons we assess is because schools are about much more than learning. One of the primary reasons for the institution of high school is to act as a sorting system for higher education. If we didn’t need to do that, we wouldn’t have the grading construct we have today, I think. And then Dr. Christensen’s words about how we have created a policy tool out of what was meant as an instructional tool is true, and again, if we were created a system that was purely about student learning, I don’t think the high-stakes assessments we have created over the past twenty years in so many states would have been created. (And I agree with Dr. Christensen — those tests shouldn’t be a policy tool.)

So is Gary’s outrageous assertion right? Is all assessment an interruption of learning?

No… I don’t think so. I think much of the summative assessment we do could be described that way — especially the way it’s used in most schools. But I think formative assessment is a powerful form of learning. I think about all the essays my father shredded with the editing pen before I was allowed to hand them in. I think about all the work teachers do in the editing process in every subject, assessing progress, editing writing, teaching revision, and I am convinced that is very much a vital part of student learning. That’s assessment as mentoring, assessment as skill-building, assessment as learning about how to create, revise and present. And that’s vital.

So formative assessment, I believe, is absolutely not an interruption of the learning process.

Is summative assessment?

Too often, yes it is merely an interruption. How many times have we seen this in a classroom… a teacher tries to make a final assessment on a project or paper a critical piece of dialogue between student and teacher, but all the student does is whip to the back page to look at the grade, not the comments? If students look only at the grade on a quiz, and do not work on corrections and learn from their mistakes (and from their successes), then the assessment was an interruption of learning. But it doesn’t have to be.

Formative assessment lends itself to being a learning tool. Summative assessment requires a teacher’s work to make the assessment part of on-going learning.

Perhaps that’s the answer — assessment is not an interruption of learning if and when it can positively and directly influence the current or future learning and work of the student. If it does not, then it was an interruption of learning.

But in this model, I think it’s hard to argue for any test such as the PISA or any of the state-wide assessment tools are tools for learning, given that – in the case of the PISA, it is a closed test that students cannot review after taking, and in the case of most of the state tests I know of, students do not receive their results in a timely enough fashion to effectively learn from them. The argument about how well any of these tests can be used as a policy tool is an open debate, although I’d argue that we have to be very, very circumspect about how we use them, but if we can come to the conclusion that they are not learning tools, but rather policy tools, it should force us to question the amount of time (and money) schools and districts are spending on these tests.

At the end, there’s something else that Gary’s comment brings up that is important when we think about assessment. All assessment is a construct. We attempt, through tests and projects and homeworks to quantify a student’s learning. We attempt to assess, but any teacher who ever played with the way they weighted assignments before handing in their grades knows or anyone who remembers when ETS rescaled the SATs one year or when the NY Regents made the Physics test way too hard, there’s a lot of space on the margins of any grading / assessment system. That’s o.k. as long as we recognize assessments for what they are — rough attempts to codify that which is very difficult to codify — what do children learn when they are in our care. If we can use these assessments to further student learning, wonderful, but if we don’t — and too often in summative assessments, standardized or not, we don’t — they do, as Gary suggests, take time away from what matters most — the time we spend with our students on learning.

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Tags: assessment, learning