21st Century Skills? Practices? Stuff?

As we enter into the year 2017, there is quite a buzz afoot in education circles about 21st century skills. As an educator for the last 31 years it’s refreshing and a bit exciting to see the recent reform 21st century learning movement. The origins, as have been described to me as well as emerging from basic research forays, is the idea that American businesses and corporations were dissatisfied by the quality of worker coming to them post-schooling. It would seem, they had been educated for a factory that no longer exists in significant numbers. With one peek under the hood of our schools, folks suggested that the way we arrange our schools and learning experiences were less relevant and non-parallel to the work experience the young “educated” would encounter in 21st century contexts. In addition, much has been made about the rate of change (technologically driven) that our 21st century inhabitants experience and the incongruent experience that our schools were providing in that they seemed to be frozen in an inert time warp somewhere between 19th century British classrooms and the American 1950’s.  

 

One way or the other, these notions and other currents in the educational stream, have given way to the 4 Cs and a whole lot more Cs that have followed. A new set of foci have emerged and I think they are great on their own; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The Rio School District has added the 5th C, Caring which is another great thing in my opinion. Reaching back to the purported origins, the world of business has suggested that students who can communicate, collaborate, critically think, and be creative are just what they need in their 21st  century enterprises and I would suggest that they have it right. What’s exciting to me beyond the generalized pragmatism of these business driven aims for education, is the idea that these 4 Cs and the many other C s that educators can imagine and design lessons for are really great focal points for the construction of curriculum, units, lessons, schools, Districts, partnerships that have the potential to guide young learners and educators into developing full human beings that can live and thrive in the 21st or any century.

 

To some degree this 21st century reform movement seems linked to the enlightenment of centuries past. For me this focus on the 4 Cs and the other Cs that help to fully humanize our schooling efforts are both a return to progressive thought and a reaching towards the future in which we ask basic questions about freedom and the purposes of education and schooling in general. Allowing all students to talk and discover language as a means for intellectual development is a good start and a departure from the sit there, shut up, and do your workbook mindset. Thus we have communication at its essence. Collaboration, that we allow children to learn from the feedback loop-rich context of cooperative learning and group work is a nod to the years of positively leaning research on the effects and constructs of of socially constructed learning. Critical thinking emerges as schools come to understand that the world of work and the world of life in any century is filled with complexity and uncertainty. Thus, in order to problem solve and navigate complexity, we need to be experienced in working through problems that are such that they do not lend themselves to simple uni-algorithm solutions. This suggests the idea that there is rarely the one right answer and that learning is not best done for all by setting up a race to see who gets the right answer first and more often. Finally, there is creativity, which emerges in the corporate sense from divergent or innovative thinking and design. That is, coming up with unique or divergent solutions to problems in order to think about the problems in new ways and perhaps create pathways for solutions that have previously been non-existent. While this form of creativity is certainly the engine of the day in terms of economies and business, it is also at the root of the basic survival techniques of doing a lot with a little. This tradition of creative survival has been a root of human development in every century. All this said, the idea that having the last 4 C for creativity promoted and permitted is giving way to the return of many school activities that we all know and have always known that all children and humans in general deserve and need. That is, the arts and making, and playing, and expressing and while I am not sure we can teach that per se, we can certainly create the conditions that foster it for all learners and educators.

 

There are Skills and there are Skills. The traditional skills were conceived as the three Rs. Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.  Taken together they can conjure the aims of the basic work of the 19th and 20th century school to produce basic literacy for workers and citizenry. As we think about the new 21st century skills, are we juxtaposing this same mindset on a much more complex and dynamically changing factory or should we consider the differences between skills and say practices. Even this idea of practices which lends itself to a more professional frame and is a major component of this age’s New Math and New Science has a very pragmatic orientation. That is, it suggests that same parallel in education between what learners do in classes and what say doctors or lawyers do in their “practices.” These professions never get all the answers right, they work on it and practice. They learn from their experience and study. These practices also suggest to the learner that the entire process of life is a verb not a noun. It is a learning process. Finally, I would say that at this point I prefer to just call it all stuff. The stuff we ask kids to do during what we call school and later define as education.
Whether it is the 4 Cs the 5 Cs or the 22 Cs, I am heartened by the world of professional educators’ leaning towards “stuff” for children that are more fully human and that lead to freedom, choice and simultaneously guiding learners to know themselves, and the world, while learning to live and learn with others. I am also heartened by this leaning to actively pursue these opportunities for all children. While it may take years or never happen that we create scoring systems a la grades, tests, credentials that don’t benefit some children to the detriment of others, we can at minimum, provide rich 21st century 4 C infused opportunities for every child in every school. In this sense, it’s a great time to be an educator in the 21st century. We shall see if it can sustain itself. The sustaining of these efforts which seem to resonate with students and families from every walk of life must also come from the students and families themselves. They must advocate for 21st century learning contexts and support professional educators that help to design and develop them. Ultimately, the 21st century school can be a fusion among professional educators, learners, families, and communities that render developing and redeveloping learning processes that can guide and prepare students for the 21st or any century. For if we don’t educate in 21st century ways, it is laughable, as we are now sixteen years into the century.

I have pasted below some amazing examples of Districts visualizing this work; its great to see the spirit and innovation developing in the American public school system.

21st-cent-3 21st-cent-4 21st-cent-5 21st-cent-6 21st-cent-pic-2

What’s up in 2017 ?

What’s up in 2017?

These days of Fall to Winter are filled with expectations of vacation days, holidays, and time away from school. They are also filled for many educators with plans and ideas for the new year. As 2017 is upon us, Rio staff are engaged in a variety of activities that will prepare the school year through its second and third trimesters.

As such one might ask, What’s up in 2017?, What’s new?, What will we be doing? What will be our focus?

Here are a few ideas or themes to begin to respond to those questions;

Reading: In 2017 we will continue our work to help every child become an interested and competent reader. Our reading dashboards will soon go out to children and families in grades 3-8 in order to stimulate discussion and collaboration between home and school on helping every child become a better and more interested reader. We will continue to focus on and improve our libraries, our everyday reading instruction, our use of technology in support of reading, and our special programs to help struggling or emergent readers.
The Arts and Sciences: We continue to develop our programs and classes in the arts and sciences in order to enrich and expand student learning and development. Music programs at the middle grades continue to develop and improve in quantity and quality. New efforts include providing more opportunities for music learning in the elementary grades. Strings and other things are coming to the elementary schools. Dance is also growing and spreading through our partnership with Hip Hop Mindset and theater and creative drama are just emerging. Middle graders are tackling our first major musical production. Students from across the District are working to put together our first traveling musical theater performance which will focus on the 5Cs; critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and caring. The visual arts continue to develop as students are learning new techniques and using new media to create art as well getting ready for our second annual series of community art shows. In the sciences, there is an explosion of new learning that explore robotics, coding, drones, 3D printing, and project based learning.
Parent and Community Partnerships: In 2017 we aim to double our efforts to connect with parents and community partners in diverse ways. Conversation is important and plans are in place to make better and more frequent connections with parents and partners using technology. We are also working on deepening and expanding parent and partner direct engagement with learners and schools. There are many many examples of such partnerships in each of our eight public schools and we aim to celebrate them more and demonstrate that schools are a great place for both children and adults to learn. As we open the doors and learning pathways in schools to more experts and involved adults we provide more diverse experiences and potentials for students and teachers. By being mindful of how to expand this work in a safe and meaningful way, a powerful community force is developing in which we learn together by helping the children in our schools learn. Our new K-8 S.T.E.A.M. school is in development to open in the Fall of 2018 and will serve as a model and learning lab for community engagement and problem based inquiry learning.
New K-8 STEAM School: Several years ago the Rio School District began to develop a master plan for facilities. In recent years our enrollment has grown by approximately 100 students per year. Rather than adding more portable buildings to our  existing schools, we developed plans for a new school in the River Park area. The school will accommodate the growth we are experiencing in terms of the number of students and will also enhance and model the growth we are pursuing as a learning organization. We have embraced the idea of transforming all of our schools into 21st century learning environments that prepare children to thrive in the worlds of school, work, and life. The new STEAM school planning will pick up in development speed in 2017. The building plans have been approved by the California Department of Education (CDE) and are awaiting final approvals by the Division of State Architects (DSA) in the new year. We are aiming for construction to take about a year with an opening of the school in the Fall of 2018. People will be able to watch the construction process in action on our new STEAM school webpages. http://rioschools.org/riosteamacademy/ . This coming summer of 2017 we hope to have staff selected and beginning on the development of learnings and curriculum and instruction projects that will culminate in a fully project based, problem based, inquiry path of learning that focuses less on subject areas and more on transdisciplinary learning. The new school will be a model of where we want all our schools to go in terms of learning and teaching. In recent years our Summer Science Academy has been a model for STEAM learning for the teachers and students who choose to attend and work. This model will be more further developed in the new STEAM academy.
World Class Learning: In a true and tangible sense, Rio is striving to become world class in the way that we help children learn. A few years back that notion may have been difficult for some people to imagine at Rio. Still, these last few years have demonstrated the amazing collaborative and creative spirit and work ethic of our teachers, staff, students, partners, and community. We have begun to make a mark on the local, state, national, and world stage for some of the things we are striving to do and also some that we are accomplishing. This aim of becoming world class involves adults in learning many new skills and practices and adopting new mindsets about children and the learning process in general. We have been capacity building and innovating. We have been working together to understand and accomplish. This learning process does not come easy or quickly. It is a long and infinite race. In the year 2017 we aim to march and run towards world class work and achievement as thoughtfully and quickly as possible. The children of Rio, as all children, deserve the best learning environments we can create. They deserve to have teachers and staff that believe in them and help them develop both the basic literacies as well as the 21st century skills and practices they will need to to thrive in their world in the years that come. We look to 2017 as a year full of optimism for the potential of the future and with a sense of deep and important purpose. World class learning matters for child, family, state, country and world.

Reading, Reading, Reading…

This year the Rio School District, more than ever perhaps, is focused on guiding every child to become an interested and excellent reader. Interested readers choose to read as a discretionary activity as well as finding the interest in the reading they are assigned at school. Excellent meaning that they read at levels of fluency and comprehension equivalent to or exceeding the very rigorous demands of state standards. As you might say, this is not necessarily your grandpas’ childhood reading expectation that used the Dick and Jane Readers and went on to more difficult and meaningful texts in later grades. 21st century schools demand very complex and analytical reading from its students especially beginning in the 3rd grade when the state begins to assess their skills on standardized tests such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) .

Even as we enter the age of video and other more prominent multi-media, reading text on a page or screen remains the dominant gatekeeper for student success in the schools we construct. Recent CAASPP results in mathematics as compared to previous year’s CST tests are testament to the fact that now even in math, a student’s reading ability and interest plays a major role in their success in other subjects such as math.  This emphasis on reading in all the new tests and our new common core curriculum reflects the society’s demand for ever more analytical readers in society and the work place. All of this being said, RSD wants to help every child get on a path to loving to read and to becoming excellent readers. If they do, test scores and other metrics such as grades will likely follow in kind. More importantly, reading is a door to information, adventure, knowledge, and a process of understanding the world while understanding the self.

Reading is also a bridge to new mindsets and connections to the vast heritage of leaning developed by mankind. Reading is an efficient means to store and recall information and develop wisdom whether it is accessed through great novels, blog posts, or technical journals and articles. Along these lines, we are working to help every Rio learner develop as decoders of the sounds and symbols of the English language while quickly learning to makde sense of and understand what they read. At our Rio Real Dual Language Immersion Academy, in all our libraries, and in our middle school second language programs we are doing the same for student learning in Spanish, Mixtec languages, and other non-English languages.

Rio S.D. is also working to help every learner read “Academic Language” and the language of school and scholarly work such as research. We endeavor to guide children to “read” their community and local and global cultures such that they can better navigate them in the present and future. Yes Reading is Fundamental, but its not the only thing, and reading that is relevant and meaningful comes in the context of reading to learn as we learn to read. In this we mean that students learn to improve as readers as they use reading to learn about their subject areas and their interests. This year we are ever more focused on creating a community of readers such that all our teachers are playing a reading role by helping to support developing readers in every class from Physical Education to Music. While these subject area teachers may not be “reading teachers” as such, we are helping them to build the capacity to support learners as readers in their classes.

Our partnership with a team from California Lutheran University (CLU) and their California Reading and Literature Project (CLRP) is helping us build a firm foundation of reading teaching skills. Together we are poised to make great improvements in our students’ reading interest and excellence. We are also employing Improvement Science utilizing a recent partnership with edleader21 and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as we create Network Improvement Communities (NICs) aimed at improving literacy skills and interest for all students with a special focus on English Language Learners. Together, we are about to roll out our most ambitious initiative to partner with parents and families to support their children’s development as readers. We have partnered with an educational software company, Learning Priority, to develop tools that connect children, families, and school in a process of mutual support for the development of interested and excellent readers.

The LP/RSD learning dashboard will soon be active in allowing student, teacher, and family to access their child’s reading assessment results in relation to their grade level expectations. In its second phase the dashboard will also allow parents and teachers to quickly dive through the digital score and directly experience hearing their child read and examining their fluency,  accuracy, and comprehension by listening and viewing their child’s recorded reading and retell of a grade level passage. This simple tool is our first major digital effort to systematically connect families to their children’s reading development via a simple digital toll you can access on your cell phone.

All of these and many more efforts acknowledge that children have many things to learn in school while considering that their reading interest and ability is a critical gatekeeper to their success in school. We look forward to the dashboard rollout and to getting feedback and guidance from parents about its ongoing development as a communication tool for the 21st century.

Amazing Rio Technology Team

The Rio School District employs nearly 500 people in one role or another. All working together to provide the best possible learning environments and opportunities to our more than 5000 students in grades TK-8. One amazing team of four people, Kathryn, Tony, Oscar, and Brian make up our technology team. Together they do an incredibly complex and large scale job with great efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism. Our District is a One to the World District with one computer device for every student and multiple devices for staff. The Tech-Team built, and maintain a robust wired and wireless network that provides tremendous access to Internet based and other multimedia resources. Maintaining a mindset of security and protection while utilizing open source tools such as our Linux based Ubermix and Google schools platforms is a challenge that yields great rewards for learners of every age.

The Rio School District has leveraged much in the way of instructional shifts towards 21st century learning through the use of technology. Our powerful tech team of four are truly world class. Their type of work is often unrecognized except when things go wrong, which they rarely do, and this is just the nature of their work and people’s orientation to technology. This blog post intends to fleetingly make folks aware of the outstanding work they do to keep the Rio School District technology infrastucture and human users growing, learning and making a 21st difference for learners of every age.

If you happen to see a member of the team of four…pass along a word of appreciation. I recieved an email today doing just this and I showed it to one of the team on my cell phone which was routed through the wireless network system. Seamless.

Portrait of a Graduate

As we commence the 2016-17 school, we have begun to reflect on the basic AIMS of this school year and every year. We are asking ourselves again the simple question; what do want our students to be like when they leave us in the 8th grade? We call this the Portrait of a Graduate. A few years back, as we gathered all our teachers together for the first day back from summer break, we asked groups of teachers to draw and label their portraits of graduates as a reflective and focusing opening activity. They produced a beautiful list of attributes and characteristics they aim to help develop in every Rio student. The list is really long but also really wonderful.

portrait of graduate wordsfrequency by # groups
21st century learner
able to teach the subjects
academically productive
accepting
accountability
active
active listener
acts locally
adventurous
always interested
analytical5
articulate3
artistic3
assertive
athletic2
bilterate
brave
bright future
capable
caring9
categorize
choices
citizenship
clear,competent communicators2
collaborative9
college algebra
college bound3
compare
compassion7
competentreaders,writers, mathematicians
competitive
comprehends2
computation
confidence13
construct
coooperative problem solver
cooperative3
courteous
creative9
creative thinker
critical reader
critical thinker7
critical thinking consumers
criticize
culturally aware2
curious5
dedicated
dedicated inquirers
detial oriented
develop goals
diagram
diligent
disciplined
doesnt give up
driven to make a difference
eager to learn
effective communicator
empathetic4
enthusiastic about learning
environmentally conscious
evaluate
excellent problem solvers
exercises body and mind
explore
eye contact
fluent readers
focused
formulate
friendly
fun
future minded
future teacher
global citizen learner5
goal oriented4
good character
good listener3
good social skills
good speller
good work ethic
happy2
healthy4
helping hands
high self esteem
humble
imaginative4
independent3
independent learner
independent thinkers
independent worker2
initiative
innovative2
inquiring/ inquisitive7
insatiable reader
inspirational
inspired
integrity2
intellectual conversation
intellectually curious
intelligent
interpret
investigate
kind3
language arts
leader/ skills4
life long learner3
listener
logical thinker
love of learning3
love of reading3
loves to travel
manners
math/ skills2
mature2
mindfulness
morals
motivated3
mover and shaker
multicultural2
multifaceted
multilingual2
music
Nice
note taking skills
observant2
open minded2
organized3
participates
passionate3
peace builder3
perceptive
perseverance4
physically fit3
polite
positive attitude
positive behavior support
positive self concept
predict
prepared
proactive
problem solver11
proficient
project based learner
projects voice
prompt
proud
public speaking2
pursue goals
readers,avid,fluent, comprehending7
real life problem solver2
reasoning
reflective thinker
research
resilient
resourceful3
respectful7
responsible8
rich vocabulary
risk taker4
satisfied
science
scientific thinker
seeks knowledge
self aware
self image strong2
self motivated2
serve others locally, nationally, globally2
social media
socially aware
speaks for themselves
strategies
strong
successful2
synthesize and evlauate info
team builder
team player3
techno-savvy/literate10
thinks for themselves
thinks globally
thoughtful3
tolerant
understanding
unique
values
variety of learning tools
walks life’s tightrope
well rounded3
well spoken
willing to work hard
word problems
work to improve
works well with others
writer2

As a District, some years later, we are very focused on a honed 21st century vision for our learning organization. Along with these many descriptions of our aims, we are working together with students, families, and community to produce or develop a Portrait of the Graduate that is simple in description and complex in accomplishment.

Rio 8th grade promoting graduates will be:
5
21 st Century Practices
Excellent and developing communicators
Excellent and developing collaborators
Excellent and developing critical thinkers
Creative problem solvers and makers
Caring learners, citizens, and people
Literacies
Excellent and developing readers and writers
Excellent and developing mathematical thinkers
Excellent and developing technology users

This year we take the next step in improving our student and organizational outcomes along these lines. We invite community feedback along the way. If you have ideas about shaping Rio’s Portrait of a Graduate, please email Sonia Cervantez at scervantez@rioschools.org.

 

What’s a great 4C classroom look like ?

Across this country, American schools are innovating, changing, and re-inventing themselves in the calculus of a rapidly changing world. Not every school, of course, but schools like those who are members of edleader21 are focusing on the 4Cs; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity among other practices that leaders know children need to thrive in the 21st century.

The world is changing and technology is playing a key role in this change. Schools are charged with helping learners succeed in college, career, and life. As schools change in response its important that leaders help learners, families, partners, and community members understand what this change and innovation is all about. This blog post is a brief description that aims to use text to describe my point of view of what a GREAT 4C classroom is all about. There is no ONE GREAT vision of the 4C class….they come in as many shapes and colors as there are Great Teachers and great school systems. What I am putting forward is my take on the GREAT 4C classroom. As educational leaders describe and show their GREAT cases, folks can draw connections and find the universals as well as the differences that abound.

Great 4C classrooms to me;

  • are student centered and focus on unfurling and promoting student voice and choice. The great ones move from student voice, to choice, to student governance in the course of a school year.
  • are engaged in deeper learning about concepts and problems that sustain over long periods of time giving learners a chance to saturate and have deep context for their thinking, learning, reflection, creating, and problem solving.
  • engage students in working together over time.
  • engage students in developing their individual skills, practices, and interests.
  • connect to their school, their community and the world.
  • make things, create things, show things, and engage diverse audiences in their creative processes.
  • celebrate the diversity of human experience and development and seek to maximize growth for the learner and the class as a culture (little “c”).
  • help learners and educators tackle problems by saturating themselves in understandings about the problems and then critically and reflectively working to solve the problem or propose solutions.
  • engage learners and educators to take the stance of researchers.
  • offer learners multiple and varied opportunities to communicate in face to face and technology infused contexts as well as with small and large groups, and mass audiences.
  • have great teachers who are able to connect with every individual learner as well as the synergy of the class as a whole.
  • have great teachers who learn to evolve their relationship to their students over the course of the school year as well as longitudinally over the course of their career.
  • are interdisciplinary, transversal, and focused on big ideas and driving questions.
  • strike the right balance between pursuit of nouns and verbs, content coverage and the processes of learning and meta-learning or learning about learning.
  • are fun, messy, hard, and require teachers and learners to push through blocking points in learning in order to take things to the next level. Some call this grit, others call it failing forward, whatever you call it, it takes time, patience, and belief in the learner and educator.
  • easily connect the life of the learner at home to their life at school. Great 4C classrooms are like great songs that stick in your head and your life and the learners take their 4Cs learning with them 24/7.
  • cannot function without the arts.
  • can set a child on the right path for life, “their” path. If they are lucky enough to have multiple Great 4C classes…well that can impact families, communities, and beyond,

 

 

 

Thinking About Testing

The Ides of March are upon us. Soon it will be May and students in grades 3-8, and 11 will be asked to do state mandated tests called the CAASPP which utilizes the SBAC. Folks should follow the links of the acronyms in order to learn what these tests aim to do. Basically, they ask students to go on the computer and respond to questions that test designers have created. There are less multiple choice type questions than in recent state mandated normative tests, rather, they ask students to type in their answers, do some true and false, and explain their answers in one way or another. They aim to assess whether students have met, exceeded, nearly met, or not met standards for skills and content knowledge that the common core standards  framework has determined should be known or accomplished at each grade level.

2016 is the second year these new tests have been administered and results provided to Californian students. These tests aim to provide information at the school level, class level, and individual student level. The tests are very rigorous while also adaptive. Adaptive, in this sense, means that the test questions change based on the prior answer provided by the student. Generally, if the child answers a question correctly it soon provides more challenging questions and if they answer incorrectly, they will soon receive a more basic question. The scores are reported both as scaled scores- a number in the 1000s and as levels; 4= exceeded standards, 3= met standards, 2+ nearly met standards, and 1= not meeting standards.

For Rio students, staff, and families, the District wants to express our encouragement for every child to do their best on each item and each test so that the tests can accurately assess what they aim to assess. We also want children to know that they should increase their levels over the course of their school years at Rio. This will indicate that they are improving and learning more about the standards the test aims to measure. Another and perhaps most important thing to think about these tests or any test, is that the test does not measure or assess what kind of person you are. Students should try their best, see what the results are, work to improve their skills, content, and practices in order to improve over time. The goal is GROWTH.

Students should also know that these tests measure some things and don’t measure others. The Rio School District is working on helping every child develop their 21st century learning practices; collaboration, communication, creativity, and caring. We are beginning to develop rubrics, performance tasks, and authentic assessments that provide students, teachers. schools, and families information about how their children are developing in relation to these aims.

Together, as school and community, we are setting our sites on improving as a learning organization that aims to help every child improve their learning at maximum possible rates and depths.