Tag Archives: feedback

Learning is Not a Competition

Greenwich Photography via Compfight cc

The revelation earlier this week that Canadian Cycling hero Ryder Hesjedal had been a doper and a cheater came as no surprise to those of us who have spent good chunks of our lives involved in the world of elite cycling.  Road racers claim the culture of doping gives them no choice but to cross the line into dishonesty to survive in their sport. Clean cyclists are robbed of their funding and their ability to make a living when cheaters hog the podium, and some of the best athelete role models never get to compete for their country.

Cheaters also “hog the podium” in school.

In a culture of learning, there should not be a “podium”, but we all know that there is.  It’s called “Recognizing Excellence” or “Academic Awards”, or some other such thing that allows us to celebrate the “winners” of the competition called school.

Ryder Hesjedal chose to race on a bicycle and he chose to cheat to win.  Jesse Jakomait continues to choose to race on a bicycle and chose NOT to cheat to become an Olympian.  Choosing to compete can be healthy and fun and push you to stretch your personal limits if it works for you, but it is a choice.


But children do not choose to come to school.  They have to.

They come to school to learn, not to compete for marks.  We know that learning works best in an environment of collaboration.  Competition for the highest mark, and practices like bell-curving, work against collaboration, and against best learning.

We know that feedback from teachers is a powerful way to move learning forward, and we know that when that feedback is accompanied by a number, a grade, students look at the grade and ignore the feedback.

This recent article/interview on CBC Radio Day 6 outlines the problem of awards and extrinsic awards for learning:

“[But] you don’t just get rid of awards assemblies because they make the kids that don’t get rewards feel bad. You get rid of awards assemblies because they’re not useful for any kids. Everyone loses in a race to win.”

Changing the rules of the game is hardest for those who are winning at the game, as demonstrated by the interviews of “furious parents” at the beginning of the audio interview.

And when learning is a competition, just like elite cyclists, students cheat.

As a Principal, I spent more than a few hours dealing with students who “cheated” on tests, exams and assignments.

But why do kids feel they need to cheat? If kids are supposed to be learning in school, how does cheating enter the picture?

It comes down to how performance differs from learning.  Comparing yourself with others, fighting for the highest mark, competing for a spot in a university program or trying to meet parent demands for high marks sets students up to find the easy way out, which can be cheating.

This math major says it well.  Math is hard, but you can do it. “Stop comparing yourself to that other student!”

Schools need to be a place where children and young adults feel valued, are encouraged to reach their full potential, and learn to work with others to achieve excellence.  There is no room for the message that winning is the only thing we value.

Save that for the cyclists.

Note: Thanks to Louise Robitaille (@Robitaille2011) for sharing this thoughtful post by @terryainge: https://deltalearns.ca/terryainge/2013/10/28/understanding-assessment-how-i-fell-out-of-love-with-the-grading-program/

Please also see this collection by Chris Wejr (@chriswejr): http://chriswejr.com/thoughts-on-awards-ceremonies/

Find the Right Inch

It’s that time of year when almost any outdoor activity during the work week requires an additional accessory – a headlamp.

Last night, when I paused for my beagle to grab a drink at the water’s edge, we could see a ribbon of light on the horizon as the sun faded for the day.

2013 10 29 sliver of light

I live in a part of northern Ontario where every day, something grabs my attention and makes me just stop and gaze in awe at its beauty. As I stared at this sliver of light,  the interplay of colour along it was so complex as the sun set, it captivated me.

My focus on such a tiny, intriguing part of the sky reminded me of the work by Stephen Katz on “finding the right inch”.  He reminds us that thinking ‘big’,  and creating blanket, one-size-fits-all, mile-wide inch-deep school improvement goals is not  the right approach.  Finding the real problem, and going deep with a meaningful solution, is far more effective.  But first you have to find the real problem, the urgent learning need.

Last year I had the opportunity to work with Robert Dunn and Stephen Katz on a Case Management Project.

Student attendance at our school was a huge concern, and school-wide efforts had not been effective.  Instead of trying to solve the problem for everyone at once, we focussed on learning deeply about three truant students, then addressed the reasons why they were not attending.

We learned that the reasons for non-attendance were vastly different for each student.  No blanket school effort would ever work for these adolescents.  It was only by digging deep into individual situations that allowed us to begin to fully understand their needs and respond accordingly.  It helped us to deepen our understanding of the complexities of the issue of non-attendance.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to work with educators who were looking at how we teach math in our schools.  They worked on solving a problem, posed by the presenter, that students in grade 9 might encounter in a math course.  The thinking and reflections were very revealing.

One teacher reverted immediately to the “formula” he memorized when he was in high school.  When that didn’t work well (because the numbers were not “friendly” for calculations without a calculator), he really didn’t have any other strategies to go to – except to hunt for a calculator.

Others in the room used a variety of strategies – proportion tables, lowest term fractions, sharing ideas and working with a partner.  When we debriefed the exercise, I was surprised by how many different strategies people had used, and how sharing their thinking helped us to consider many approaches to the same problem.  Our understanding grew as we spent more time listening to each other.

The teacher who used the formula told me that he was always “good” in math in school, and he continued to believe he was “good at math”.  In reality, he suggested that he was actually good at memorizing formulas and at knowing what numbers to plug into them.

How often do we give people a false sense of competence when we just scratch the surface of topics, and then make them write a test?

How many people get left behind in this system that focuses on teaching (rather than learning) and the length of the semester (to achieve a credit)?

Math is not a performance activity. Focusing on performance (test scores) takes the focus away from what it really is, an opportunity for learning.

Instead, when we take the time to go deep, to focus, to slow down, and to observe carefully, we create the conditions that allow for real learning to happen.

2013 02 28 sunrise in red rock

What Are You Thinking?

Photo Credit: jDevaun via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jDevaun via Compfight cc

Recently, this post was shared with me on Twitter:

Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 9.05.52 AM

It’s a very good look at the need to communicate and respond in many ways to all the stakeholders in the school community.

I would add another item to the list: Blogging

Why should education administrators blog?  For the same reasons we want teachers and students to blog.

#1: Make Learning Visible

Through blogging, educational administrators at all levels make their thinking visible to their team.  Learning is shared and open.  Conversations about learning become widely shared and asynchronous.  Anyone can join in.  Learning is enhanced for everyone who participates.  Introverts who may feel uncomfortable having a conversation with an educational leader face to face, can carefully consider their comments and share them in a way that makes them comfortable.

#2: Encourage Others to Make Learning Visible

When administrators share their learning, they model the practice of making thinking visible, encouraging all members of the school community to do the same.  They show that risk-taking is valued, that failing is a catalyst for learning, and that learning is important for everyone in the school environment.

#3: Share the Learning

How often do we hear that Principals are out of the building too often, and that Supervisory Officers are never in the school?  Blogging allows administrators to share their learning with others.  It is a built-in accountability that their time away is well spent and that the learning can be used to build capacity in the entire system.  What personal professional learning are you currently engaged in?  What books are you reading?  Share your learning with your school community and your PLN.  Model personal professional growth while encouraging your staff to do the same.

#4. Organize Your Thinking

A teacher who recently started blogging was preparing for a position of added responsibility this year, and she remarked at how easy it was to organize her thinking.  It was already organized on her blog!  Education Administrators who are called on to make presentations have easy access to the material they may need as they have already presented their thinking and learning in their blog.

#5. Connect With Other School Leaders

By following the blogs of school leaders around the world, you can engage in conversations and learn from their learning.  Be a part of the Professional Learning Network that believes in sharing, in challenging thinking, and in making thinking visible to all.

The Power of Visible Learning

I enjoy reading Hattie’s work (Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers), but in all the quality time I have spent with Hattie’s writing, I have only really thought about how it applied to children/students.

My first day in #etMOOC changed all that.

I have been encouraging educators I work with to engage in the #etMOOC experience (“encouraged” may be perceived by some as an understatement).  You already know how I feel about this perfect/open/free opportunity to learn and connect.

Yet throughout the last three months of “talking up #etMOOC”, I thought only about how much my colleagues were going to learn about educational technology.  I had not expected to learn so much about learning – on the first day!

On day 1, Jenni Scott-Marciski wrote her first blog post ever.  She shared her experiences in joining Twitter, her hesitations about blogging, and here very personal thinking about connecting.

Even though I see Jenni every day, this was all new to me.  Yes, I knew she was using Twitter to learn and connect, and yes, I knew she had started #etMOOC, but I was astonished at how much better I understand her learning now with just one posting.

She was making her thinking and learning visible, and it helped me to understand where we need to go next.

I had a similar experience with my #etmooc introduction.  I have been trying to use iMovie for months now, sneaking in to watch and learn from students as they create videos in their classrooms, asking for help from friends.  But the process of making and posting a video made my learning visible to others, and as a result I have received direct instruction on what to fix and how as I move forward in my learning.

I would not have posted that video if it was for “marks” or if it was for an evaluation.  I would have kept my learning private.  But the understanding that I am in a safe and supportive learning environment made me feel encouraged to share and learn.

And what does this tell us about student learning?

Apples for the teacher

For Learning or Credit?

While working this week, I had CBC Radio One on in the background and I was thrilled to hear George Siemens being interviewed on Ontario Today (recording here) about MOOCs.

As a participant in the #Change11 MOOC  (see the schedule here), I was very interested to hear what George had to say.  It is difficult to get your message out in a radio talk show, but the questions from the public suggest a lot of confusion around the purpose of education.

Are schools where you go to get accreditation (credits) or where you go to learn, or both?

It takes me back to some writing I did while pondering this statement from one of my “at-risk” students: “I didn’t take this course to learn something, I took it to get a credit” and here: “Credit for Learning“.

While MOOCs are wonderful for learning (accessible, opt in, opt out, collaborate, go off on tangents, free access), they fall apart when it comes to getting a credit for them (who assesses, is there cheating, how does anyone get paid?), unless we think about some new structures to accommodate both (learn all you want through the MOOC, then pay for the assessment and accreditation when you are ready?)

Do we need a similar strategy in secondary schools where we are constantly battling the misfit between what we know works best for learning (for example, feedback without grades and collaboration) and what the universities demand for entrance (high marks, awards, competition)?  How do we encourage students to explore areas (such as the arts) when their focus is to get extremely high marks (as you can in math and science) to get into particular post-secondary programs?

As we rethink what schools need to look like, we need to work at clarifying the purpose of public education.

In the meantime, I am hoping (fingers crossed) that there will be a #Change12 MOOC because for me, it’s all about learning.

It’s Not Reform we Need, It’s a Revolution

Update: July 12/12: http://www.scoop.it/t/leading-learning/p/2159233406/we-need-different-not-better

I will just quote Will Richardson, because I can’t think of a better way to say it!

* We don’t need better assessments; we need different assessments that help us understand students as learners and constructors of their own ongoing education instead of knowers of information and narrow skills.
* We don’t need better teachers; we need different teachers who see their roles as master learners first and content guides or experts second.
* We don’t need better schools; we need different schools that function as communities of inquiry and learning instead of delivery systems for a highly proscribed, traditional curriculum.

… the idea of a fully networked, progressive learning environment would for the vast majority constitute *different* and would require us… to redefine the future.


Sir Ken Robinson on revolutionizing education.

Watch it here on YouTube: http://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html

Hear this in the context of “Building a Better Classroom” on NPR TED Radio Hour: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

I am a scatterbrain today.  I am excited about all the the reading I am doing but I can’t pull it all together at this point.

I am exploring three things right now.

1) We don’t know what we don’t know, so how do we direct our own learning?

Photo shared by Helga under a Creative Commons License.

This thinking is a product of my frustration over the last year as I have been learning with my elementary school colleagues.  I was astounded at how much further ahead they were in their learning than I was, and I was impatient to “catch up” with them, but I couldn’t figure our where to turn!  Now that I have developed a more complex schema around learning theory, I am looking for ways to guide my secondary colleagues through this process – of feeling behind and left out but not quite sure how to move forward.

I wonder how often our students feel the same way as we work on gradual release (acceptance?) of responsibility for learning.  We need to ensure that we are sufficiently scaffolding their learning as they work on self-direction.

2) Reluctant learners.

Photo shared by Zen under a Creative Commons License

Every high school has this issue, but our unique geography and culture can lure us into the trap of giving up or lowering expectations.  I don’t think we have worked hard enough on our inquiry into how to reach reluctant learners.

Here is a piece based on Carol Dweck’s work (see yesterday’s posting) about motivation.  I would love to hear how you are engaging reluctant learners.

What I Wish I Had Known about Student Motivation (ASCD blog) http://edge.ascd.org/_What-I-Wish-I-Had-Known-about-Student-Motivation/blog/5869251/127586.html

3) Integrating Technology and Creativity into every classroom.

I am exploring this as we make the leap from aging desktop computers in a sign-out lab, to wifi and BYOD.  We know we have to go there, but it is a big leap and I need to think about how to prepare teachers.  They range from “I would not be caught dead on Facebook” to “Well sure, I could try that” and, “Yes, I already use that app. Do you have another suggestion?”.

How do I prepare teachers in my school to be ready for this huge leap in how we do business?  In particular, how do we work with teachers who currently do not use technology at all in their own lives?

Again, they don’t know what they don’t know.

This is worth a read:


“Technology is the driving force behind most of the education innovation. It is impacting not only what we can do as educators, but it is also changing how we approach learning. These innovations may have not all reached the education journals yet, but they have been presented and are being discussed digitally and at great length in social media.

A few of the recent topics include: the Flipped Class, eTextbooks, PBL approaches to learning, blended classes, Edcamps for PD, BYOD, Digital classrooms, Tablets, 1:1 laptops, digital collaboration, Social Media, Mobile Learning Devices, Blogging. Some of these topics have made it to the print media, but all are being delved into at length through social media. It is a disadvantage to be a print-media educator in a digital-media world. I can understand how a majority of educators whose very education was steeped in print media is more comfortable with that medium. The technology however, is not holding still to allow educators to dwell in a comfort zone. Just as the technology of the printing press got us beyond the technology of the scrolls (Parchment & Quill), Technology is now taking us beyond print media to digital publications and boundless collaboration.”

Exploring further:

A webinar that I am watching today: Ask Dr. Judy: How to create a learning-receptive emotional state (available on iTunesU through ASCD)


I am also doing some reading on the Finnish education system (isn’t everyone?).


A source for all things Finland (in education) http://cybraryman.com/finland.html

Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? http://store.tcpress.com/0807752576.shtml