What Were You Thinking!? #micon14 #micon15

06/08/2015 Update: Alice and I were asked to share this session again tomorrow at the Martin Institute 2015 Summer Conference.

What Were You Thinking!?Today and tomorrow Alice M. Parker and I are learning and sharing at the 2014 Martin Institute Conference. Alice and I are facilitating a session entitled “What Were You Thinking!?” Our goal is to help teachers learn and grow in their ability to develop students into the critical and creative thinkers they will need to be to thrive as citizens in the rapidly changing, information-rich world in which we now live.

Session Description: Blank stares. Ask your average middle school students what they are thinking, and all you’ll receive are blank stares. As teachers our primary goal must be to move beyond simply teaching content to helping our students develop the critical and creative thinking skills they will need to thrive in the modern world. This session will explore the value of critical and creative thinking and examine how to develop student thinkers by using visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques across the curriculum and in all disciplines.

Session Outcomes:

  • Examining the importance of critical and creative thinking in today’s information-rich world
  • Insight into what critical and creative thinking looks like in a classroom
  • Familiarity with visible thinking routines and creative thinking techniques
  • Awareness of the 4 aspects of creativity and how to scaffold them into instruction
  • Reflection on current practice and transformation of classrooms into places that promote students’ creativity and critical thinking

Protocol/Routine Links:

The following are some resources for further exploration and learning:

Brookhart, S. (2013). Assessing Creativity. Educational Leadership, 70(5), 28-34. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb13/vol70/num05/Assessing-Creativity.aspx

Ciotti, G. (2013, June 22). Creative Thinking: How to Be More Creative (with Science!). Sparring Mind. Retrieved June 8, 2014, from http://www.sparringmind.com/creative-thinking/

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (20112011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tishman, S., Perkins, D. N., & Jay, E. (1995). The thinking classroom: learning and teaching in a culture of thinking. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Runnings Thoughts: Pace, Cheers, and Water

[gigya src=”http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf” flashvars=”mp3=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F893715-captured-running-thoughts-pace-cheers-water.mp3%3Fsource%3Dwordpress&mp3Author=Philip_Cummings&mp3LinkURL=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F893715-captured-running-thoughts-pace-cheers-water&mp3Time=08.04am+22+Jul+2012&mp3Title=Captured+Running+Thoughts%3A+Pace%2C+Cheers%2C+%26+Water” width=”400″ height=”160″ allowFullScreen=”true” wmode=”transparent”]

This morning I ran the second 5K in the Memphis Runners Track Club 2012 Road Race Series. The first 5K was two weeks ago, and I’m proud that I improved my time from 31:09 in the first race to 29:36 today. Unlike my last run, today I focused on running a good race and trying to keep my pace. However, there were three things that occurred to me as I was running that connect to teaching and learning as well.

  1. Begin with the right pace. Two weeks ago I shot off the starting line thinking my energy and adrenaline would carry me through the race. They didn’t. Near the halfway point, I crashed and dropped way off not only my original pace but also my training pace as well. I also started too close to the front so I was passed by a ton of people–very discouraging. In the classroom, it’s important to spend a few days setting a good pace, too, but I don’t mean the speed at which learning occurs. Instead, I’m referring to taking the time to create a good classroom culture. Get to know your students and let them get to know you. Work together with the students to determine classroom norms, rituals, and routines. Make sure you emphasize what matters most. I want my students to know I care about them, I value their thinking, and I believe reading matters. Therefore, I design my first few days to focus on activities that communicate these ideas.
  2. Encouraging cheers rock! One of the things I appreciated most this morning was how some of the runners that finish before me came back along the route to cheer on those of us who run a little slower. I appreciated people shouting, “You’re doing great!” “Almost there.” “Just one more right turn!” One friend from church who knew I wanted an under-30 time came back and encouraged me to “kick it” to make my goal. I did and reached my goal, but I’m not sure I would if not for her encouragement. So much of teaching is really about encouraging kids to set goals and reach to achieve them, but it’s easy to get wrapped up in things like assessing, lesson planning, and meeting deadlines. As a teacher I want to give wings to dreams and be a constant encourager of my students. That doesn’t mean I won’t give constructive feedback, but I will find a way to encourage as I do so.
  3. Drink plenty of water. It’s hot and humid in Memphis in the summer, and this morning was no exception. It’s vital that a runner stay hydrated if he is going to perform at his best. To carry the metaphor, a teacher needs to stay hydrated, too, by doing things that keep him energized and help him recharge. I must make time to invest in myself. Running is one way I do this. I also regularly have lunch with a friend. I read teaching-related books that challenge me professionally. I attend EdCamps, TeachMeets, and TweetUps. I try to connect with my colleagues and improve upon my lessons. Most importantly, I schedule regular date nights with my best girl, and I stay active at church, too. Keeping myself emotionally and spiritually hydrated is one of the best things I can do to help me perform best as the leader in my classroom.

What do you think about these ideas? What connections would you make between a road race and the classroom? What things do you do to set a good pace, encourage students, and stay “hydrated?” I’d appreciate hearing from you in the comments.

My Twitter Story #mytwitterstory

I cannot believe that I am only a few weeks shy of my 3rd Twitter birthday. Or is that my “twirthday?” In 2008, I was working as the Director of Development at a local independent school. I was trying to finish my M.Ed. in school administration and supervision and looking for ways to connect with school alumni, parents, and friends. A few years earlier the school had responded rather negatively to student use of MySpace. At the time, our response had been to send out a big warning and tell parents to keep their kids away from the medium. However, by 2007,  the tide of opinion on social media had changed, and I had led the school to use Facebook as a way of building and establishing relationships for our physical and virtual community.

Angie was a friend on the school’s board. Over the course of several conversations, she convince me to also give Twitter a try. So on December 4, 2008, I joined twitter and immediately started following Angie, her sister, and a few of the people they were following. The tweets were random, usually funny, and well, pretty inane.  I gained a few followers and tried to follow most folks back if they didn’t appear too creepy, but in all honesty I never found much use for Twitter. In fact, I was not exactly sure what I should tweet or even why I should tweet. In early 2008, I was listening to the radio on the way to school and the announcer was talking about how narcissistic Twitter was. The criticism matched my experience and within a few hours I had deleted my account. I saw no value in reading what others were having for breakfast, watching on TV, or thinking about politics. Why did their posts (or mine) need amplification or my (other’s) attention? I shut down the account and quietly walked away. I’d spend my time on Facebook.

I was away from Twitter for a few months. In the meantime, Twitter grew. From February to June 2009, Twitter use exploded. People, organizations, and businesses began jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, and I started hearing talk of Twitter everywhere. It was inescapable. I started rethinking Twitter and decided maybe my problem wasn’t with Twitter but rather with how I used Twitter. How could I use it differently? I reopened my account and began to be much more selective about who I followed. I wanted to connect with other educators. Within a few days I was following some wonderful teachers from around the world–people like Monte Tatom, Clif MimsShelly Terrell, Tom Whitby, Eric Sheninger, Vicki Davis, Roger Zuiderma, Patrick Larkin, and Jason Flom. I closely watched how they used Twitter and began using it the same way. Tom and Shelly invited me to participate in #Edchat. I did and loved the conversations and added many other educators to my network. I also learned about RSS, social bookmarking, wikis, blogging, etc. Twitter was a learning goldmine!

One of my richest Twitter experiences occurred one Saturday morning. I was engaging several teachers in conversation about learning when Russ Goerend and I struck up a conversation about social bookmarking. Russ had made several videos for his own students about how to use Diigo. He kindly shared them with me and suddenly I understood the possibilities of web 2.0, networked learning, and the cloud. The conversation was career altering.

In a matter of a few weeks I had developed a good friendship with Clif Mims, attended a local Barcamp, and started a new blog. All because of what I was learning online. I quickly became addicted to Twitter and the opportunity it provided for continuous learning. My online connections introduced me to new ideas, new tools, new philosophies, and new methods, and they were always sharing–24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I was so excited by what I was learning on Twitter that I couldn’t quit checking the feeds. (It took a while to find a better balance.)

By the spring of 2010, I had become a Twitter-evangelist. At Dr. Tatom’s suggestion I presented “The Value of a PLN” to the West Tennessee Administrators’ Technology Academy and connected with Jason Bedell to offer a Twitter for Teachers Workshop at TeachMeet Nashville. While there, I met Melissa Smith, Steven Anderson, Nancy Blair, Adam Taylor, John Carver, Shannon Miller, and Deron Durflinger. These connections have developed into real friendships and into other professional opportunities as well. My connections with Clif and Melissa led to an invitation to present at the Martin Institute’s Fall Conference last year and to our first InnovatED workshop in Memphis–both of which led to my current role teaching 6th grade reading in a 1:1 setting at PDS. Honestly, I’m amazed at how much networked learning and Twitter has reshaped my professional landscape.

I have met some incredible people, learned with some amazing educators, and developed some life-changing friendships–all through connecting with others on Twitter. In just the past few weeks, I’ve Skyped into a Visible Thinking study group in Australia, had brunch and talked connected learning with a prominent marketing/blogging guru, and had lunch to discuss project-based learning with a brilliant IDT professor–all because of connections made on Twitter.

So what about you? Do you have a Twitter story? If so, please share and make sure you tweet it with the hashtag #mytwitterstory. You can link to others’ Twitter stories from Dr. Michael Grant’s original post.

Goal: Better Teaching and Learning Via Thinking Routines

This year, my professional development goal is to incorporate the Visible Thinking Routines into my 6th grade reading class. In a year when all things are new, I want to capitalize on my experience and learning from Project Zero. I am convinced that incorporating the visible thinking routines will improve the learning experience for my students and help them develop into more thoughtful readers. My hope is that using the thinking routines will deepen class discussions, improve student understanding, and provide time for meaningful reflection.

In order to accomplish this goal, I plan to take the following steps:

  1. Read Ron Ritchhart, et al’s Making Thinking Visible (2011).
  2. Blog my metacognition marks and reflections on the text.
  3. Meet regularly with colleagues in a book club to discuss the text and our experiences incorporating the routines.
  4. Research and connect with other members of my PLN who are using visible thinking routines.
  5. Design and write lessons/units employing the routines.
  6. Document student thinking and the use of routines through sticky notes, photos, pencasts, student reflections, and blog posts.
  7. Blog reflections on my experiences using the routines in class.

When my blog posts, conversations, and lessons demonstrate greater proficiency using the visible thinking practices and student thinking shows a deeper understanding of read texts, I will consider my goal accomplished. I know that’s somewhat obtuse and not measurable, but I’m not trying to create data. I’m trying to become a better teacher–and no matter what politicians and reformers say, that isn’t easily quantifiable.

If you are interested in talking about the routines, in reading the MTV book together, or even collaborating on a project, let me know. As always, I am open to questions, comments, and feedback.

Starting Over

As some may know, I decided to start over this school year. Well, that’s an over statement. Last April, while I was pulling double duty as a Title I facilitator and an English 10 Honors teacher, I received an offer to return to the classroom full-time. The Title I job, a quasi-administrative position, was a great opportunity when I accepted it. I learned a ton about federal programs and gained valuable experience. I was well on my way toward reaching my goal of becoming a high school principal. At the same time, I started on a personal learning journey with the help of my PLN and began to rethink what it means to be well-educated and a networked learner in the information age. I realized that while I had been a successful teacher in my old job, I would totally reinvent myself if I ever returned to the classroom.

Over the course of last few years my perspective and my satisfaction with my job changed. The problem was that while I admired the people with whom I worked, I was totally disillusioned by the constant focus on high-stakes testing and quantitative data. I didn’t (and don’t) believe it was best for students, teachers, or schools in general. I wanted to lead a change in the way schooling was done, but if I was truly honest i had no idea how to go about teaching the way I believed it needed to be done. When the opportunity presented to pull double duty and spend the majority of my day in the classroom, I jumped at it because it allowed me to focus less on test data and test prep and see if I could actually be the teacher today’s students need.

I loved being back in the classroom. I loved the re-connection I made with students, other teachers, and my PLC. I also realized just how hard it is to truly reinvent oneself. I think I made strides, but I also fell short. I was to blame for most of the failure, but I was also limited by things beyond my control. I struggled with the lack of student access to technology, the required standardized test prep, the required number of summative assessments (and inflexible grading scale), and the mandated standards and pacing guides. It’s no wonder all the teachers are stressed.

When the opportunity presented to teach 6th grade reading at PDS, I jumped at it. PDS has an excellent reputation in town, and I had already connected with several other PDS educators through the Martin Institute and TeachMeets. They were (are) an impressive bunch. I’d also worked closely with my friends Melissa and Cindy to organize InnovatED, which PDS hosted, and I knew they’d continually push me to innovate. I love that PDS is committed to preparing boys to be critical, creative, and connected thinkers. Besides, how could I say “no” to the opportunity to teach in a 1:1 laptop setting and try to become the kind of teacher I think today’s students need.

So this August I started over. I moved to a new school, a new subject, and a new grade level. I rethought what a classroom should look like and how a classroom should be led. I stopped reading so many educational theory articles and dove head first into young adult literature. I cut back on the amount of time I spent on Twitter and spent more time considering how to teach kids to think. It’s been an adventure–one that I’m loving, and I wouldn’t change a single moment. I’ve experienced some success and some frustration, made new friends and missed some old ones, but when the alarm sounds each morning I cannot wait to get going. There’s just so much to learn.

I’m going to do my best to chronicle this journey here but I confess that finding time to blog has been problematic already. If you have any advice as I move from high school to elementary school or any tips on how best to get out of my students way, I’d appreciate the feedback. I’ll let you know how things go.

Collaborative Research & Learning with Diigo | TCTE 2011

I had the honor of presenting with my good friend Dr. Julie Forbess from Millington Central High yesterday at the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English Conference here in Memphis. The title of our session was “Using Web 2.0 for Cooperative Learning in the English Classroom,” but our primary goal was to demonstrate and lead a conversation about social bookmarking and annotating a tool for teaching 21st century reading and research. Julie teaches AP English Literature and Composition at Millington and most of the fieldwork for this occurred in her classroom.

The idea for the project and presentation developed from conversations we had about how to incorporate more 21st century and cooperative learning in our classrooms. Bill Ferriter deserves recognition for all we gleaned from his book and his website about teaching with social bookmarking. I also want to give a hat tip to my friend Russ Goerend who first introduced me to Diigo and really opened my eyes to the possibilities of online collaboration.

Scattered thoughts from #Educon

Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend Educon 2.3  at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. In January 2010, I virtually participated in Educon 2.2 and decided at that point that I would do what I could to attend in person this year. By early December that didn’t look possible. Fortunately, I am married to THE most amazing woman, who tolerates my edu-geekiness with a smile and offered to send me to Educon as a belated Christmas gift. It was a perfect gift. My only regret is that she wasn’t able to go with me.

I had a wonderful experience and learned much. In fact, I’m still sorting out and reflecting on just what my Educon experience means. Having young children and still recovering from barely sleeping while in Philly, I haven’t had time to stop, sort, and reflect on my experience other than on the few minutes that make up my daily commutes. I have several strands of thought running through my head including the following:

  • the need for more inquiry-based learning and blended-learning
  • moving from a Personal Learning Network (digital) to accountable friendships
  • what does it mean to be a teacher-entrepreneur
  • the need to establish and guard more time to be more reflective and write
  • the need to encourage, promote, model innovation
  • the need to take better care of myself as an educator (holistically)
  • if the arts matter (they do), what am I doing to integrate and promote the arts
  • my desire to better understand expectancy value theory and what does it mean for my classes
  • what is the moral obligation to share and what does that mean for me as a learner, leader, and teacher

I would love to take the time to write a post on each of these strands, but I doubt that will happen. As of this morning I have added teaching four English classes to my Title I administration responsibilities. That said, I plan to let these ideas ferment and grow. Hopefully, I can revisit them soon, and I hope they will impact what happens in my classes. If nothing else, I have at least documented that I am thinking. Right?

For those of you that I had the opportunity to meet in Philly, thank you. It was delightful to meet so many fellow learners. I appreciate the way you have challenged me to think and grow. I look forward to continuing to do so. Feel free to comment on any of these ideas. I welcome the conversation.

Read and Follow Directions!

by Sister72 on flickr.com

We’re going through the Friday stack of papers. He’s a good student so there’s really not much to discuss as it relates to his school work from the past week. As I get near the bottom of the stack, out of the corner of my eye I catch him trying to sneak away.

“Where are you going? We’re still looking through your papers.”

He’s already fighting back tears. He confesses, “I was trying to go upstairs before you see my English paper.” This boy hates to be in any kind of trouble, and I’m crushed that he thinks he’s going to be in trouble for a bad grade on school work. My wife and I have made it pretty clear that we aren’t real worried about grades.

Sure enough, there near the bottom of the stack is a paper covered in red ink. The handout looks as though a killing spree might have happened during the English lesson. At the top of the page a giant zero complete with sad face markings glares at me. Scarlett underlining highlight the directions, and the margin shouts Read and follow directions!

Having taught English for several years, I check the paper to determine how much of the concept he actually mastered. Not a single answer is wrong from a mastery standpoint. Suddenly, I’m very angry about the grade, but I’m not angry at my son.

Trying to keep my face from turning the same shade as the paper’s markings, I say, “Looks like you didn’t read the directions. Did your teacher give this back and ask you to redo it following the directions?”

“No, she just gave it back today with all the other papers. I got a 0 out of 20. I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

“I got a bad grade.”

“Well, yeah, but, you actually got every problem right. You know the material. You demonstrated you understand it. You just didn’t follow directions. You made a mistake. Do you realize if you went back and wrote the same answers but followed the directions, you’d have a perfect score?” He tells me he understands, but the crocodile tears he’s holding back make me wonder what he’s really learning from all this.

Unfortunately, we’ve had several papers like this through the years. Often, he knows and understands the concepts, but he forgets to read and follow the directions. The papers come home all scratched up in crimson, and the behavior results in a lowered academic score. It’s unfortunate on several levels.

As a parent, I’ve actually grown to disregard the grades and scores because I’m not sure what they actually tell me. Does his “B” in language arts mean that he has yet to master the content or that he isn’t perfectly compliant? He doesn’t understand the concepts, or he is so bored by the assignments that he hurries to get it done? Is the grade an accurate reflection of his skills and learning or does it include something else, too? I’m a teacher and I’m really not sure what to make of the numbers and letters, and there is rarely any real descriptive feedback.

I want my child to learn grammar. I also want my child to learn how to follow directions. I think it’s an important life skill, and I’d appreciate the teacher’s help imparting it to my child. However, his inability to follow directions is separate from his understanding of grammar, and it shouldn’t be reflected in his grade. If the instructor wants to teach him to follow directions, and I hope she does, she need to do more than mark up his paper and mark down his grade. She needs to have a conversation with him, find out why he doesn’t follow instructions, and have him do the paper again correctly. Wouldn’t that be a better approach?



B. “Wow! You knew all the right answers and would have had a perfect paper, but you didn’t read the directions. In life we have to learn to follow directions and do things correctly. It’s a skill we use all the time to navigate our world. So, I’m not going to accept this paper. Instead, you have to do it over again until you follow the directions. Do you understand?”

I must confess, I’ve made the same mistake several times as a teacher. I’ve taken the shortcut and lowered the grade instead of taking the time to teach the life skill. It was a dumb move, and I regret it immensely. The student wasn’t served, and the moment I did it, my instruction became all about grades and no longer about learning. We don’t do that at home. If one of the kids doesn’t follow instructions when we give them, we have a conversation, and they do it again…correctly. Seems to me the same thing should happen at school.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is my frustration over this unwarranted? How do you handle this in your classroom or with your own children? What approach should I take with the teacher? I’m interested in your thoughts.

In Retro Cite 01/01/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

In Retro Cite 12/05/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.