Sometimes AIW Local Coaches contact me for advice when their district is going through a major transition. Recently one teacher, who is an AIW Local Coach but not an "official" Teacher Leader (based on a new Teacher Leadership compensation grant), reached out for thoughts about how to her district could deepen its commitment to AIW even though the new superintendent they've hired doesn't have an AIW background.
After several emails between us, I decided to share my latest thoughts in this blog in case others find it useful. And, of course, if you do not agree or have additional thoughts, send your comments in to we can post them.
We left off talking about how she might begin to organize all of her concerns under an essential question to keep her thinking from getting fragmented.
Here is what she recently wrote:
I am energized by what the essential question should be for this situation. Your idea of asking how we can sustain AIW with fidelity as the district transitions under new leadership is on the right track...But I am not fully convinced it is what I'm trying to ask. I'm thinking of the part of "How can we sustain AIW with fidelity". I think I am wondering if our district even has it yet. Some of us do, but I am not sure. Maybe I am worrying for no reason. I don't have any concrete evidence that the majority of the staff doesn't have fidelity---it's just my instinct from the way our leadership meetings have been going and by my own observations.
I feel it like “if you were training for the Olympics and at the most vulnerable stage of your training--just when you were starting to build the belief that you could do it, you got a new coach, who contradicted everything your old coach just told you ...what happens to the fidelity of your belief system---and ultimately your performance? I am not so worried about the new superintendent not having AIW experience as I am about our leadership team not having enough depth to fight for it.
You brought up a good point that we should be having a lead facilitator at our AIW meetings...at the district level, that is usually our superintendent (who will be leaving). At our building level, our principal has "empowered" us with the idea that we are all leaders. It’s like everybody is a cook in the kitchen so-to-speak---it makes it hard to get anything accomplished. We do a lot of talking, but mostly about what the agenda for the next meeting will be.
So is a better essential question: “How will the current our leadership team increase fidelity with the AIW process in order to show success and maintain its sustainability with changing leadership?”
Not sure that's the exact answer, but I am spent now :) Thanks for being my thinking partner.
This is my response based and how I’ve seen teacher leadership succeed:
Recently, I was a guest speaker at a graduate class where teachers have been researching problems in their schools. When I arrived, their common concern was now that they had framed the problem and even found some solutions, what they should do next.
First, I asked them to think about the difference between these two questions:
- What is your goal?
- What is your charge?
Just because you’ve discovered a problem and researched it doesn’t mean it is your responsibility to solve it. In fact, thinking you can usually causes huge problems.
I drew this image on the white board to help them think through the idea of impact:
- How you want to impact a system (your goal) and what you are charged to do (the roles and responsibilities based on your job) are not synonymous.
There are important distinctions worth considering with significant implications:
- First, the best solutions require group effort! When we get too far ahead in our thinking in isolation from others. When this happens it's easy to become presumptuous about how problems should be solved and who should be doing what. This is what the arrow on the left represents, where it skips from the bottom stair straight to the top. This never works, not only because you piss people off; more importantly, it's easy to start building solutions on false assumptions because you only have one perspective: your own! The power of the collective is actually looking at the problem from different perspectives and co-creating a solution that you could not have otherwise discovered—just like what happens when we score a task or unit and co-discover a solution.
- Second, leadership matters! If everyone is a leader, there is no leadership. Someone, or a designated pair, needs to be in charge at your AIW leadership meetings. Perhaps their role isn't to solve problems, but rather to frame questions and facilitate the discussions. If no one is assigned to do that, nothing will happen. I think this is what you are experiencing. I think raising this concern with your team is appropriate.
- Lastly, respect different roles: know that everyone should feel empowered to have a personal impact. That's what the vertical green text is talking about in the lower tier. But as you move up the hierarchy, sometimes solving a problem falls outside our purview and is no longer our charge. This is when we step on other peoples' toes because they see solving a problem or leading a solution as their charge not ours. And frankly, they may be right based on job description or title. In AIW districts, we support an “and/both” approach with teachers AND administrators leading the reform. Since your district is empowering teachers to be leaders, take on the role formally and volunteer to facilitate (or co-facilitate) the AIW leadership meetings.
These points may not be the most radical, but they allow you to create meaninglful and long lasting change from WITHIN the system.
REMEMBER, developing an essential question and creating a goal is great, but...
- You can only impact those parts of the system that within your charge. If you don't know what your charge is, ask!
- Don't get so far in your own thinking that you leave others behind. This will only alienate them.
- AND, you will also begin to build solutions on false assumptions that come from only one perspective.
- What you are describing requires both individual efforts and the power of the collective at all levels of the system, both to gain multiple perspectives, and to have multiple points of impact.
- Lastly, leadership matters—put this issue on the table first and volunteer to be part of the solution!
Best of Luck.
Edweek is currently hosting several good conversations online about teacher leadership.
AIW Coaches focus a lot on mindset. In fact, Carol Dweck's groundbreaking book Mindset (2006) is required reading for all AIW Coaches. We spend a lot of time on Chapter 7, which focuses on how the mindset we have about ourselves and our mindset about others can be different. For example, one of the reasons I think I was good at teaching inner city middle-school students was because I had (and still have) a growth mindset towards their capacity to learn. This meant that if the class did poorly on a test, I didn't think they were in adequate—just that their preparation had been inadequate, which could have been as much my fault as theirs.
This was in sharp contrast to the fixed mindset I had towards myself. I had very little patience for failure. The only silver lining was quitting computer science and becoming a history major, which in turn led to me becoming a teacher. Although I've become much more self- aware, I still get "fixed-mindset-drfit." I especially have to fight hard against its pull when I'm backed into a corner or make a mistake.
One place I go to for inspiration and resources is the Mindsetworks website.
Eduardo Briceno is a terrific CEO and writes a compelling blog about what he is learning about Mindset. This months' entry is on making mistakes. I especially love the 2x2 he uses to illustrate the different kinds of mistakes we make. If you make mistakes and are interested in mindsets, I hope you check out Eduardo's latest article:
7th Grade teacher reflects on the positive impact of AIW on getting the results she had hoped for in her Heredity Unit
Dear Dana and Center for AIW extended community,
I'm excited to pass along this reflection on an Individual Career Development Plan from a teacher just starting her thrid year in AIW. She wrote this last spring and I believe it's worthy of sharing.
"The heredity unit in 7th grade science changed drastically as a result of [AIW]. The focus on construction of knowledge [COK] caused me to change the order of the unit. I [began] by focusing on inquiry and presented students with a question: How are traits passed from parents to offspring? Students explored this question through the use of a virtual simulation that required data collection. Students constructed their own knowledge about how parents pass on genetic material and the role of dominant and recessive alleles.
As we progressed through the unit, we were able to relate new content to this lab [that required Construction of Knowledge]--especially as we studied Punnett Squares and predicted the probability of offspring having certain traits as a result of parent genotypes."
Not surprisingly, students "performed well on the summative assessment associated with this unit, particularly on questions related to patterns of inheritance and dominant and recessive alleles."
Middle School Principal
Gilbert Community School
Note to the reader: We are also happy to share stories, questions, or anecdotes about AIW. If your school has something to share with the AIW family, please email your guest blog to email@example.com
12 Nuggets of 21st Century Learning
Authentic Intellectual Work was mentioned as "Nugget" number seven, listed in no particular order.
Nugget #7: The PLC Focused on Critical Thinking
"Most of us concur that critical thinking may be the most important of the 4Cs, so we need strategies that help teachers improve their pedagogy around critical thinking. Many schools and districts have formed PLCs, but too often they've only focused on traditional content approaches. That's why the Center for Authentic Intellectual Work (CAIW) helps teachers in PLCs work together and challenge each other toward practices aligned with higher-order thinking. Several of our districts are now working with CAIW on these PLC critical thinking strategies."
I usually don’t participate in social media, but since I worked with Grant, and since my and others’ research on authentic intellectual work since then launched further studies and professional development to implement the framework in US schools and abroad I’d like to respond to Grant Wiggin's blog on authentic assessment.
Origins of Concern for Authentic Assessment
Education reformers in the1980’s voiced many criticisms of common testing procedures (multiple choice, short answer, true-false). Most of the critiques boiled down to the objection that, because they are designed mainly for convenience of scoring, and in the case of standardized tests, in order to achieve a statistically normal distribution (where half the population must score below the mean) such tests measured only meaningless, trivial, contrived forms of mastery. Such tests failed to indicate students’ ability to master complex intellectual tasks, or to explain solutions to important problems, both within and beyond academic disciplines.
Beyond the nature of tests, other procedures were criticized. Grading was as unfair and invalid. As secret enterprise in which the teacher’s criteria were usually not available to the student or the public, a grade gave no indication of what kind of mastery had been demonstrated. Grading on the curve, rather than by demonstration of mastery, like standardized testing, denied half of the students the opportunity to succeed. Teachers making only “final” judgments about the quality of student work, without prior feedback and an opportunity for students to improve, had no instructional value.
Doug Archbald and I (Beyond standardized testing: Assessing authentic academic achievement in secondary schools. National Association of Secondary Principals, Reston, VA, 1988) summarized these concerns and presented examples of assessments that addressed many of them. We began by noting that traditional assessments, especially standardized tests, communicate very little about the quality or substance of students’ intellectual accomplishments. As mentioned above, the type of accomplishment measured is usually considered trivial, meaningless and contrived by students and adult authorities as well.
We realized before suggesting new assessments that addressed this criticism, we first needed to identify criteria that would identify worthwhile, significant, and meaningful intellectual accomplishment. But instead of beginning with abstract notions of intellectual quality, we considered examples of intellectual accomplishment by successful adults in diverse endeavors (e.g. scientists, historians, jurists, literary and artistic critics, journalists, physicians, designers, skilled technicians and trades people). From these examples, we tried to deduce characteristics that differentiated their intellectual work from most of the work students do in school. We proposed three main criteria: disciplined inquiry, integration of knowledge, and value beyond evaluation (production of discourse, things and performances that have utilitarian or aesthetic value apart from determining the competence of the learner). We considered achievements that met these three criteria “authentic” in the sense that they represented the kind of intellectual work done by adults that would be considered worthwhile, significant, and meaningful.
From this perspective there is no particular technique or set of techniques that constitute an authentic assessment. Instead, an authentic assessment can be any task or activity that requires, or makes demands, for authentic intellectual work.
Research and Development on AIW Since the 1980’s
Since the 1980’s I, along with many colleagues at the University of Wisconsin and beyond, published many research reports on instruction and assessment that promotes authentic intellectual work (while the research in Chicago that Grant mentioned was among the most significant, several other studies also offer important evidence on the power of AIW), and on professional development to help teachers teach toward AIW. Grant Wiggins cited one of the most recent publications. It is Newmann, King and Carmichael (2007), Authentic Instruction and Assessment: Common Standards for Rigor and Relevance in Teaching Academic Subjects. Des Moines, IA: Iowa Department of Education, available at http://centerforaiw.com/sites/centerforaiw.com/files/Authentic-Instruction-Assessment-BlueBook.pdf.
a) refines the criteria for authentic intellectual work into the following categories: Construction of Knowledge (organizing, interpreting, evaluating, or synthesizing prior knowledge, rather than retrieving or reproducing it); Disciplined Inquiry (having a prior knowledge base, in-depth conceptual understanding, elaborated communication), and Value Beyond School (solving problems that have utilitarian, aesthetic, or personal value beyond demonstrating success with school tasks);
b) summarizes research showing strong positive relationships between teachers who promote AIW and student achievement on measures of authentic intellectual work and on standardized tests as well (the most recent and comprehensive review of literature related to the AIW framework can be found in Saye, J. and Social Studies Inquiry Research Collaborative, 2013. Authentic pedagogy: Its presence in social studies classrooms and relationship to student performance on state-mandated tests. Theory and Research in Social Education, 41:1, 89-132);
c) provides examples of student work, teachers’ lessons and assessments that meet the criteria to varying degrees;
d) outlines a professional development program to implement the AIW framework.
Since 2007 the Center (www.centerforaiw.com) has worked with the Iowa Department of Education and districts elsewhere in more than 100 schools and 3000 teachers to implement the AIW framework. We are in the process of revising the 2007 publication to refine the presentation of the AIW framework and report in more detail on professional development to sustain such work. Contact the Center for more information.
Comparing Our Work to Wiggins
Grant Wiggins’ comments here that ‘authentic tests are representative challenges within a discipline” are consistent with our criterion of disciplined inquiry, but this represents only one of our three criteria. To be sure, it could be argued that representative challenges within a discipline must necessarily involve construction of knowledge. In this sense, it seems that Wiggins embraces at least two of our three criteria. Construction of knowledge, however, may not always represent a challenge within a discipline, as when teachers ask students to organize information in new ways not relevant to a specific discipline (“Write a story that illustrates possible problems in always getting what you wish for”).
We agree with Wiggins that “hands-on” or “real world” activities do not necessarily demand authentic intellectual work. Our third criterion “value beyond school” requires only that the intellectual challenge has utilitarian or aesthetic meaning beyond demonstration of competence demanded in school. Students in a classroom could be given dimensions of a bedroom, along with information about paint such as square feet covered per gallon and price, then asked to calculate the cost of painting the room. The activity occurred in school and did not involve “hands-on” activity, but the problem occurs in the world beyond school and solving it has utilitarian meaning, beyond showing the teacher that the student knows certain mathematical definitions and applications.
The main difference that I notice between our work and Grant’s is that our framework is more concise and, we think more useful to teachers. We focus exclusively on the nature of authentic intellectual work by adults wherever it occurs, and articulate just three main criteria for recognizing it. We deliberately do not suggest techniques for assessing it –only that whatever techniques are used make intellectual demands that call for construction of knowledge, through the use of disciplined inquiry, to produce discourse, products, or performances that have value beyond school. In contrast, Grant proposed an “unwieldy” (his words) set of about 27 criteria, dealing with multiple issues, that “might bear on authentic assessment.” Still, many educators have valued Grant’s work.
Though we chose different paths to authentic assessment, I respect his contribution and believe the conceptual compatibility between our perspectives is on solid ground.
It is January and -31 from where I’m writing. For most Americans, the season after New Year’s and before Valentine’s day is all about the Super Bowl, The Oscars and the Grammys. But in the land of AIW, we know better—this is the season for Mid-Year Institutes. These regional collaboration days are an important opportunity for practitioners of AIW reform from different schools to meet together and exchange ideas, score and “talk AIW.”
This tradition started in 2008 when the nine original pilot schools in Iowa Department of Education’s high school reform project. Originally, the Mid-Year Institute was a two-day event, with the first day dedicated to scoring artifacts from the field and the second day set up as a conference, with workshops targeting specific issues or practices in the field. Over time, the tradition has been condensed into a one-day event and expanded to several locations with distinct regional twists. Some Institutes include a keynote to kick off the day, while others are all about the workshops, and move participants through 90-minute blocks of time. The only common elements that remain include scoring with people form the same discipline who are not from your regular AIW team, (and preferably not from your school) and exchanging of ideas on how to make our practice better using the Framework for AIW and the scoring standards.
This AIW Mid-Year tradition is remarkable and part of why some regions retain vibrancy and freshness in the reform. Yet, sometimes the evaluations don’t reflect how amazing the event truly is. In short, some of us (yes, I would put myself at the top of this list) need reminders about which small stuff to sweat and what to let pass. So as I prepare for my own break out sessions and select the sessions I’ll be attending as a participant here is my own list of reminders:
Reminders as a Participant
Ask for what you need. When I’m in a session and the presenters are talking “at the audience” too long, it’s ok to politely ask for some time to discuss the ideas being presented with a partner or in small groups. I’ve found that more often than not, the presenters wrote that in their workshop lesson plan, but find themselves talking too long because they are nervous. A gentle nudge towards group discussion can be a welcome reminder to an anxious presenter.
- Be kind and prepare to disagree. AIW is at its best when cognitive dissonance flourishes. That said, there are times when passion becomes stubbornness; when a strong point of view turns a good thinker into a jerk. I find the best antidote comes from the three features that define substantive conversation, especially the second feature: “conversation involves the sharing of ideas....(and)...is not completely scripted or controlled by one party,” 1
- See the glass as half-full. Lastly, I try to always remember that we are all learners, including the presenter. Even if the workshop was less than I had hoped for, the evaluation is a place to give constructive feedback—not to scare the presenter away from ever doing a workshop again.
Notes to Self as a Presenter
- Don’t talk too much. I try to always remember that People are there to learn and the best learning on these days comes from the power of the collective, not from anyone person (including me). My job is to frame the learning objectives and create the space for others to learn from each other. My anchor question for this is Who is constructing the knowledge?
- Everyone wants to walk away with something of value. While this may be different for different people, I need to make sure that participants have a chance to think about what to take back to their classroom or school. This should be unique for each person, but common to the theme or topic of the workshop. My anchor question for this is What’s the Value Beyond the Workshop?
- Cite, acknowledge and thank. This is always tricky because in education we teach our students how to cite, yet as teachers we customarily “beg, borrow, and steal,” whatever we can. It’s a strange double standard. Having spent more of my own professional career in K-12 teaching than in academia, I struggle with this issue myself. Recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot more, especially when I read a recent blog by a famous educator who linked the what we in the AIW world fondly call the bluebook, without citing the source or even referencing its content correctly. As a relative novice in the world of citation, I passed this particular situation along to my more famous co-authors, Fred Newmann and Bruce King, to handle the response. As for myself, here are some resources and questions I’m currently looking at to expand my own understanding of how to do a better job.
- Who set me up for success in this workshop?Was there a teacher’s story, a video clip someone gave me, an idea offered that created breakthrough thinking for me as I put the workshop together? If there was, I can use the “hat tip” approach, common among journalists to acknowledge the source of a scoop, story or idea for their article. 2
- Did I modify, adapt, or recycle someone else’s stuff? This is always tricky. But here is the best rule to live by. If the person who originally created what I’m using sat in my workshop and would recognize it as theirs, I should have a footnote or acknowledgment thanking that person, or at least acknowledging the origins of the idea. The best source I’ve found for thinking about this are outlined in the general guidelines for sources and citations at Dathmouth 3. It’s a practical and understandable way to think the intellectual sharing of ideas and I highly recommend reading it.
- Is what I’m talking about “common knowledge?” The best example of this for an AIW conference or workshop is the language in the AIW framework. It is not necessary to cite when you use key words, such as “substantive conversation," "disciplined inquiry," or "elaborated communication.” We all know they are stadnards in the AIW framework. However, when we move outside our AIW family and do general presentations or publications, properly citing the work is important.
1 Newmann, F.M., King M.B. & Carmichael, D.L. (2009) Teaching for Authentic intellectual work: Standards and Scoring Criteria for Teachers’ Tasks, Student Performance, and Instruction. Minneapolis, MN: Tasora Books, (80).
2 The Wall Stree Jounral example of a hat tip is available at http://blogs.wsj.com/health/2008/04/21/univ-of-cincinatti-psychiatrist-under-more-scrutiny-over-funding/?mod=WSJBlog?mod=relevancy and came from a wikipedia defining hat-tipping at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hat_tip
Winter break in Minnesota has moved to a new level as we rung in 2014. No only is it colder than its been in decades, the break from school has been longer due to mandated cancellations by the governor, a right granted to him by the Minnesota legislature. So cloistered in with my family I 've had ample time to knit, bake, read, think, and write. I even took a stab at whimsically posting random thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, none of which come naturally to me.
On one such posting I mentioned that I was thinking about my essential question for 2014. A fellow AIW and good friend picked up on my post and asked if I would share. So in the spirit of sharing, which AIW work is all about, here is a stab at elaborated communication about this eccentric past time of mine. Enjoy!
Every year I craft an essential question for myself that I explore through fiction, nonfiction, film, essay, and conversations with people. I started about ten years ago after I finished my PhD. I was sick and tired of reading for academic knowledge and couldn't bring myself to read for pleasure. Truthfully, I had grown up surrounded in a family of readers and never quite understood their penchant for staying inside curled up with a book when you could go out exploring!
But with two small children in tow and a non-native English-speaking husband, I felt obligated to at least pretend I liked reading for pleasure. As I got into the myriad of fables and storybooks I began to notice something about my own interest level: it increased the more connected the books were to each other. I wondered if I could trick myself into reading for pleasure more by changing my approach.
Could my love for ideas translate into an approach for reading?
The answer turned out to be YES! I discovered that if I could connect what I read to a theme, with an essential question guiding my choices, a new world opened up. To be honest, it has been amazing. My big line to people is that I'm in a book club for one, so I have to only be accountable to myself.
The truth is, I LOVE it and have developed a true passion for learning through my questions. Not only do I read essays, novels, and non-fiction, but I’ve also been able to fold in my passion for watching movies and listening to NPR. The net result is that I average investigating hundreds of artifacts each year, and just for my own personal pleasure.
If you look at the list below you'll see that for a long time, the questions seem to go back and forth between heavy and light themes. More recently, I’ve gotten more esoteric. But the cool part is that each year, the next question emerges from the previous year's readings and I never know what it’s going to be.
Here is what I have explored from most recent back to the beginning:
- 2013—How does knowing or not knowing your Purpose impact life? How do you if it's divine?
- 2012—What is power? Who has it?
- 2011—(last six months) What is honor? How do you get it? How do you keep it?
- 2011—(first six months) Random recommended readings!
- 2010—Which ideas change us and why?
- 2009—What was the common man's experience in Great Britain from 1066 to the Victorian era?
- 2008—What's the back-story to the British monarchy, especially in from 1500 to 1700?
- 2007—Who is the greatest female protagonist? Why?
- 2006—What is the inter-relationship among the religious, spiritual, metaphysical and historical schools of thought?
- 2005—How do people experience a magical world?
- 2004—What does it mean to read for fun?
- 2003—Finished my PhD
I’m still deciding on 2014's question. My three contenders are:
- Why does place matter?
- Where does courage hide and is it so fickle?
- “Good Vibrations?” What is the science behind the Beach boy’s famed lyric?
But to be honest I'm not sure. And please don’t ask for the reading list. My only regret has been my greatest indulgence: NOT keeping good records of what I read, heard or saw.
Happy New Year!
Closet reader for life
Recently, I have been focusing on how to create essential questions. These five key points are so useful!. If you want some spubject specific examples, click on Onhand School’s Essential Questions Guide.
Here are the five specific features of a quality essential question identified in the guide:
- Core-focused: The learning objective poses the question. It is the essence of what students should examine and know in a course of study. The same question can be re-asked throughout a main subject (for example, Math), but with increasing levels of sophistication.
- Inquiry-based: The question is open-ended and resists an obvious simple or single right answer. It precludes a creative choice that transforms the search for knowledge.
- Reinforce Thinking Skills: Requires students to draw upon content knowledge, personal experience, and other information they have gathered to construct their own answers. It causes students to search for an answer using critical thinking (ultimately using Bloom’s higher order thinking).
- Interdisciplinary: They usually lend themselves to multidisciplinary investigations, requiring for example, that students apply the skills and perspectives of math and language arts to social studies or science.
- Engaging: Should be created to provoke and sustain student interest. Engaging questions are thought provoking, likely to produce interesting student questions, and take into consideration diverse interests and learning styles.
Superstar AIW Coach Katy Evenson sent this blog our way. It's a fun activity for a learner of any age. Here is the prompt:
Recently my leadership coach presented me with a challenge: write about what you have learned in your years of experience as a school leader that you bring to the new position you have begun this year. The task sparked my imagination as I remembered the young educator I was thirteen years ago when I began my first principalship and sixteen years ago when I began my first school administrative position. What is it I believed then, I wondered, and what is it I believe now?
Check out how the blogger responded. What about you?
The 2012-2013 academic year marked the beginning of district-wide AIW implementation in the Monticello Community School District. A recurring question throughout the district has been how to construct tasks with high levels of value beyond school. At the elementary level a fourth grade science teacher and a language arts teacher teamed up to create a task that would meet this challenge. They never imagined this task would end up influencing audiences outside the community of Monticello.
The teachers identified the concepts of systems and producing text by narrowing them into a persuasive writing project about human body systems. The students had to construct knowledge about human body systems and how they are affected by healthy and unhealthy choices. The teachers facilitated students as they took the role of being scientists needing to support their findings with their writing. Through elaborated communication, students created final products to educate and persuade younger students and the public of the importance of healthy lifestyles. Their products were displayed in health service related businesses throughout Monticello and surrounding communities. Some made it as far away as the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.
Students used concepts from science and language arts in a practical way to influence audiences out of their classroom. This was one example in which teachers found a way to meet the challenge of implementing value beyond school with their students.