Sunday, April 9, 2017

Grades and the Growth Mindset

I have been on Spring Break this week and found myself reading many blog posts by Aaron Blackwelder (@AaronSBlackwel1) about grading and the grade less classroom (yes the space between grade and less is intentional. In my mind this seems/seemed like such a radical concept that many parents wouldn't by into readily or easily.  The more I read though, the more it make sense.

When you pair that with Carol Dweck's growth mindset concept, the two almost seem to be a great marriage. To me, a grade less classroom encourages more growth for students, especially when they have a growth mindset going into this.

The hurdle I see are the parents.  So many feel like if there aren't 20-30 grades in a gradebook, the teacher nor the students have done anything nor learned anything. I have seen (and heard from many) parents that as the quarter or semester comes to a close with little to no work graded stressing out about their child's grades. In my opinion, this concept is shallow learning vs deeper learning when students get an opportunity to revise and edit their work, learning in the process.  That's why the combination makes such sense. So how do we get parents (and yes teachers and admins too) over this hurdle that many grades is better than fewer but more informative grades (deeper learning).  That's what I still need to ponder. I am very early in the learning process of this new concept.  Reading posts on the Facebook group Teachers Going Gradeless and posts by Aaron Blackwelder and Arthur Schiavaralli are helping to inform my thinking.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

HOTS Questions- Part of Your Toolbox?

Recently our school had a team of five outside educators come in and evaluate 200 minutes of instructional time in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade and meet with me and one of my teachers afterwards to let us know what they saw that was going well and one thing we could improve upon that would have an immediate impact on student learning.

HOTS Questions visual
What we decided collectively could make an immediate impact would be for our teachers to have a stronger focus on HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) questions.  It is a tool in their toolbox that likely was being used, but needed to be refreshed and pulled out more often.  I talked with the staff at our staff meeting the following week to let them know what our focus goal was going to be for the next 90 days. I came up with a couple of ways we could tackle this.  At our next staff PD day, the presenter, Cindy McKinney, wove this into the discussion.

One of my teachers took the idea and quietly came up with a great visual on her own (see picture on left).  Her goal, when she made it, was to not only give herself this visual, but a smaller version for her students too! Some of her colleagues saw it and told her how awesome it was (and would she make them one).  The idea behind it is for the teacher (and students) to work from basic "basement" level questions that had concrete answers to "attic" level questions that require much deeper thinking.  Getting the students to move from the "basement" to the "attic" in their questioning skills on their own is vital to their success as students.  Now the onus is not solely on the teacher, some of it now falls to the students in her room too. 

This visual is like a Bloom's meets HOTS questions mashup.  The visual made sense not only to her, but her colleagues as well.  What a great, easy way to add (and refresh) this tool to the toolbox of things a teacher can draw from when needed.

I share this not to necessarily say that HOTS questions need to be a part of a teacher's toolbox, which they do, but also to showcase one of my teacher's great ideas for taking the initiative to move a needed staff focus goal forward without my help AND get buy-in from other teachers on staff to do the same.

Your thoughts?

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Be Bold!"

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Eric Doden of Greater Ft Wayne Inc. speak to a group of Pastors, board chairs and principals in NE Indiana.  Eric is a very dynamic speaker who has a ton of passion and enthusiasm for the city of Ft Wayne.  Of all the things he spoke about, the thing I walked away with from his presentation were two words "BE BOLD!" Indeed he has been bold and passionate about telling others about the great things going on in Ft Wayne and NE Indiana.  Are you being BOLD about the ministry where you are?

I think that at times our Lutheran heritage of being humble etc gets the best of us and we forget to BE BOLD about the good news.  We have so much great stuff to share that we should be shouting it from the rooftops!

As a principal of a Lutheran school, there are many things I could (and should) share in my school ministry everyday, greatest of which is the exciting news of God's grace and our salvation through Jesus Christ. Many days, weeks, months we get caught up in the daily operation of our school that we forget that.  We have a message not only for those who already know, but even more important for those who don't yet know. Our ministry goal is to share Jesus with our students and their families everyday in our classrooms and then take it to those who don't yet know.

This is a reminder that we all need to BE BOLD and passionate about the awesome news we have to share not only with our own but those have yet to hear.  With Christmas just around the corner, it's a great opportunity to share the good news of the birth of our savior.  Will you BE BOLD to share the good news?  I will.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Media Literacy in a Media Driven World

I recently read a really good book called Master the Media by Julie Smith.  In her book she talks about all the different kinds of media from the basics of TV, radio and newspaper (that seem to be not nearly as popular) to social media and the internet.

I guess I am (along with probably a few others) one that remembers radio, TV and newspaper as being the only "trusted" source of news and information years ago.  The proliferation of all of the new sources of news available today sometimes seems to put me in overload.  One of the things I've noticed is news today is much more sound bite oriented than it used to be.  We have become a society and culture where that is all we seem to have time for.  Going wide and never digging deep doesn't give you the full story, nor do you often see the slant or bias the media source puts on the information and who the news source is serving.  The author does a nice job of dissecting each of the different media sources, both good and bad and helps the reader understand the implications and effects of them.

This is a great book for teachers to use in their classrooms as well as for parents at home.  I don't often recommend books to parents, however this one I did because I think it is important for kids today today to be "media smart" in a time where there is so much being put out there and the line between reality and fiction continues to blur.  It is our responsibility as educators and adults to make sure our kids understand and are able to "master the media".

For more information you can follow the author Julie Smith on Twitter at @julnilsmith or #medialiteracy

What are your thoughts?  Feel free to share.

Friday, July 3, 2015

You Can Lead a Horse to Water....

I've been thinking lately that as much as I have learned with my Twitter PLN, why I can't seem to get my teachers to get on board with trying it too!  Many have told me that they still see it in the old paradigm of 140 characters of communication done by kids and others, and not the powerful learning network that it is for all educators.

So, that's the struggle I have as I continue to lead my staff in the 21st century, leading the horse to water.  Alas I can't make them drink it though!  I hope through continued modeling and talking about all that I am learning via my Twitter PLN, that they come to at least try it.

There is a great book out written by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul and Jimmy Casas called "What Connected Educators Do Differently" that does a phenomenal job of laying out getting connected via Twitter etc.  Therein, I think, lies my hope and answers for leading the horses to "water" AND make them drink it.

In His Service,

Axel Gruen

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Technology Invades the Classroom

I know it's no surprise that technology has invaded our classrooms.  I chose that word very carefully and intentionally for the title of this blog post.  In many senses, in some of the classrooms of our schools, technology has invaded the classrooms!  We acquire technology for the classrooms, and suddenly the tech takes over and we lose focus on what the tech should be doing in the classroom.  Thus it has invaded/taken over what we do in the classroom, rather than keeping control ourselves.

In some of our smaller Lutheran schools, of which I am the principal of one, we get so focused on wanting/needing technology in our schools for various reasons.  We see it all around us, schools that have more tech tools, gadgets etc. and we become focused on the acquisition of tech for the sake of tech.  That's not what should happen.  We need to be good stewards of the money we are given and spend and use it wisely.

As leaders of our schools, we are responsible for setting the tone of the things that go on in our schools.  When we lose focus on the use of tech, where do you think our teachers get that from?  They end up doing the same thing in their classrooms.  They use the tech tools we give them with little thought to the pedagogy that needs to come first. 

In the wake of the ISTE conference that is ending today, I've tried to keep up with everything that is coming out of it. One of the things I read, and continue to read in other places is that, as educators, we need to make sure that the pedagogy of the lessons we teach come first and then figure out ways to infuse technology as it makes sense in the lesson, not the other way around!  I read a good blog post today by @mrkempnz entitled "The 4 Biggest Mistakes that Teachers Make When Integrating Technology".  He makes some great points worth taking to heart!Therein lies the challenge for some of us (including me sometimes) of making sure we are focused on the right things.  We need to help our teachers have that same focus as they plan what goes on in their classrooms.  There are so many things that can be done, but that doesn't mean they should all be done.

As we edge closer to the new school year, I am going to remain vigilant and aware of the invasion of technology in my school and help my teachers to understand its proper place in their classrooms(but strongly encourage them to use it)!  After all, they come first, not the tech!

There is a great quote I read somewhere on Twitter recently that I love that sticks with me that says "technology in the hands of great teachers is transformational".  That should be the goal for all of us as educators.  Teachers are the ones that make the difference, not technology!

In His Service!

Axel Gruen

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My ISTE 2015 Experience

It has been interesting to follow the ISTE 2015 conference from afar these last couple of days.  I have never been to this conference but am now very intrigued by it.  There is so much to learn even from home, that I almost feel overwhelmed by the learning being posted on Twitter.

I am very thankful that in this day and age that technology exists that we can get and read information being presented at a conference, even if we can't attend.  That's not to say there is no value in attending, there is!  Sometimes schedules, finances or other don't allow us to do so.

I am also thankful for all the connected educators that I follow on Twitter that allow me to be able to still get vital, cutting edge education information.

At some point I hope to attend an ISTE conference so I can truly get the full experience, but until then, thank you to my Twitter PLN for keeping me in the loop!

In His Service!

Axel Gruen