Too Often It’s the Student Message



The graphic above accompanied a blog post of George Couros – a blogger I follow faithfully and find incredibly valuable and very much on target with respect to education and education reform. As I quite frequently do, I offered comments on this post. This blog post of mine evolves from those comments.

I take issue with the student’s statement in the above graphic!!! Many students, if they had their way, would see the alternative to drowning as having someone TEACH them how to swim.

Think about that: TEACHING someone how to swim… Taken literally, I hope you’ll agree the likelihood of someone learning how to swim by being taught is small. That teaching might likely involve the learning of the arm, leg, body movements to stay at the water surface and move forward; it very likely would involve watching videos or watching, in person, others swimming; and possibly delivery of additional information. I maintain the probability of the learner going to a pool and being able to swim is pretty small!!!

A few students would decide that they can ‘teach themselves’ how to swim in order to enjoy the water without drowning. The chances of them learning to swim well – to be able to save another kid who’s about to drown for example – is not that great however. And the likelihood becoming an increasingly better swimmer without feedback is not great either.

Ah, but how about this: Suppose a swimming instructor showed the non-swimmers a really basic video on swimming, encouraging those non-swimmers to ask questions or share concerns or express ideas they get from the video. And suppose then the instructor takes the non-swimmers to a safe (shallow) part of the water complex and helps them to be comfortable getting their faces wet. And then the instructor demonstrates the basic swimming effort, after which the non-swimmers attempt to repeat that effort – with the instructor giving individual feedback. These interactions continue with individual learners being introduced to upgraded efforts, practicing each level on their own, getting instructor feedback, until each reaches the level determined for each of them (with feedback from the instructor) to be useful / adequate for their expectations.

In this “swimming” analogy, it makes clear for me at least that this FOURTH option is far better than drowning (better:stay out of the water), being TAUGHT to swim, or ‘learning’ to swim on your own. It includes numerous efforts: scaffolding the levels, actually trying to swim, getting good feedback, practicing, self-motivation via individual goals, aligning with ‘standard’ framework from the instructor, demonstrating progress by doing, ….

AND SO I’M ASKING: Presuming everyone agrees that this approach works for swimming (and social media – noted in the graphic – as well as playing baseball / softball, driving a car, baking cookies, building a house, ….), why isn’t it the OBVIOUS way to facilitate students’ becoming Effective Learners??? Too often politicians, policy people, and – yes – teachers see the mission of education as delivering (‘teaching’) the material to be ‘learned’ to the students. Subsequently, the students never make the effort or essentially try to learn the material on their own. MY BELIEF IS THAT THE TOP GOAL OF EDUCATION MUST BE FACILITATING DEVELOPMENT OF THE SKILLS OF EFFECTIVE LEARNING!!!



Effective learning in the 21st century is a topic of great interest, Consideration, and writing. One of the graphics that I saved is the one above. You know how it goes all too often… ‘Let me save this now, quickly; I’ll document the source later.’ Well guess what, I have been unable to find that source (obvious – Partnership … – or non-obvious). If you can help me out, I’d sure appreciate it!

As noted, there is an incredible list of such characteristics. This particular list really aligns with my notion of an Effective Learner; and, yes, in the 21st Century! Here’s something I don’t get: Why is the phrase, ‘in the 21st Century’ added so often these days? I don’t think there was a different list that became necessary as we entered the new century. I don’t think the characteristics listed weren’t valued in the 20th Century. Clearly they were much appreciated in the 20th Century – even earlier. Yes, I know, in my formal education in the 1950’s and 1960’s was teacher-controlled. And I do believe I was found to be ‘career-ready and prepared for life’ – in spite of very little emphasis on deep understanding, interdisciplinary thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, … But if one studied career success in the 20th Century (probably has been done) , there would a strong correlation of that success with these characteristics! If not developed in school, where? I’d suggest three sources: (1) Some educators did facilitate development of such skills; (2) some students did control their learning; and (3) many organizations facilitated such skills development for new hires.

Interesting, hopefully… maybe, but irrelevent. In 2016, the efforts of educators must be on facilitating the EFFECTIVE LEARNING of all students!!! To that end, I’ll be facilitating a Twitter #OklaEd chat on Sunday, February 14th, beginning at 8:00 CT / 9:00 ET based upon this graphic. Likely questions will include the following:

  • Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your Valentine day.
  • Clearly there is not enough time to get broad and deep learning on all important worldwide topics. How can any educator best address ‘broad, deep understanding of the world’ then?
  • Is / are there any issue(s) or concern(s) with facilitating and assessing interdisciplinary connections?
  • Does teacher control preclude student creativity and critical thinking? Limit them?
  • Can students develop teaming skills simply by addressing team assignments?
  • What are effective options for student communication of efforts made?
  • What’s the connection, if any, between student control and ‘creating, evaluating, utilizing information’?
  • Which is more important as an education outcome – career-ready or prepared for life? Why?
  • What does Effective Learning mean to you? Do you facilitate it in your classroom?
  • Please share your favorite reference aligned with tonight’s chat.

Please join me and many others at 8:00 CT / 9:00 ET on Sunday, February 14th, on Twitter using the hashtag, #OklaEd, for our discussion of (21st Century) Effective Learning.

Questions for Educator Consideration


If you’re like me, you read blog posts that focus on a variety of topics. It’s quite frequent (for me and probably for you as well) that a post sort of directed in one direction toward one area has meaning on another topic for me. One such blog is the one written by Seth Godin. My post today is related to one of Seth’s recent posts titled “Ten Questions for Work That Matters.” I would strongly urge you to Consider thus post and subscribe to the blog. The daily email with the latest post is a welcome sight in my inbox.

In this instance, Seth’s intention was for all employees to consider these questions with regard to their job. Indeed he ends the post with the following hints: “Any question that’s difficult to answer deserves more thought [I’d use ‘Considerations’]. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.”

My suggestion to all educators reading this post: Consider the ten questions with respect to your chosen profession – facilitating the development of Effective Learning skills so important to their formal education and, I believe, even more important to their lifelong learning so critical to a meaningful career and personal life. Not quite an unintended interpretation of the blog’s original message – but certainly a specific focus. Let’s look at a sample of the ten questions:

Who are you connecting? Are you facilitating the students’ learning such that they are connecting with other students in the class? Are you establishing trusting relationships with your students? Do you have a Personal Learning Network or PLN with whom you interact regularly to get ideas, answers, and feedback – and provide the same to them? Do you have meaningful connections with your administrators and with your parents? Do you encourage your students to reach out to experts and the general public as they refine their project efforts. To me, each of these efforts are critical to each student’s Effective Learning.

Would you miss your work if you stopped making it? To me, this probably depends upon your approach to your work. If you see yourself as one who ‘teaches your students’ – that is leads them to the knowledge you (hopefully aligned with appropriate standards) want them to be able to use on your and those standardized tests, you might see your efforts as stressful and with lots of student management issues; indeed you might be actively considering leaving teaching because things are so bad. Or you might see yourself as a ‘facilitator of learning’ – concentrating on student control (again, aligned with the appropriate standards) while providing assistance when requested as well as meaningful feedback so important to improvement, you likely find your efforts as rewarding with opportunities to learn along with your students; probably, you are excited by the opportunities to introduce new and more risky options into your facilitation and know you made the best career choice!

I encourage you to Consider all the questions! In fact, discuss them with your PLN!!! And if you are (sadly) considering leaving teaching, reach out to your colleagues that see teaching as the best decision they could have made. Please know if others are accomplishing exciting outcomes in your school, you can CHOOSE to do the same; and they will help you! If your ‘leadership’ mandates stressful teach-to-the-test, maybe you can still do facilitating (forgiveness is easier to get than permission; and test results will likely still be good)… Work with your PLN to soften the mandates!

Lets all agree to fight for meaningful Effective Learning!




Maybe it’s me but I’ve noticed lately a growing trend in published / posted articles – you’ve seen them, ones along the lines of ’14 Reasons Why Dairy Queen Is the Best Dessert.’ (While I’ve never seen such an article, I do personally believe there’s a lot truth to the claim!) I have raised this trend in a few comments I’ve added to posts lately. I subscribe to the daily email, “Inc. Wire” and immediately in one of them I noted the following first four article titles:
10 Daily Habits of the Most Confident People
7 Skills You Should Master Before You Turn 30
10 Toxic People You Should Avoid at All Costs
30 Awesome Last Minute Gifts for $100 or Less

In no way am I endorsing, promoting, or taking issue with the Inc. series, their editorial staff, the article authors, or the messages within the articles – necessarily… But I do want to raise a situation that would concern me; without the articles ever saying so, some readers (in a rush maybe, young maybe, wanting to be ‘right’ maybe…) may in fact take the suggestions the author(s) intended as required for their success, happiness, advancement…

Why do I suggest this can happen? I have talked and witnessed too many people at conferences, workshops (including mine), seminars, that say things and ask questions that strongly suggest they came to get THE solution / approach that will address their situation. In my 29+ years of teaching, I never had any student actually say “Tell me what I need to know / learn to do to be a successful” but there are many over the years that surely want that and reveal their wishes by the questions they ask and the way they approach their classes.

Confused as to my thinking? Consider the titles listed above: “10 Daily Habits of the Most Confident People” might lead to people deciding the 10 habits are required for a person to be confident. “7 Skills You Should Master Before You Turn 30” might lead to people deciding their success is doomed because they don’t have all the skills and they are in their 40’s. You get the idea, I’m sure.

BUT this is not an issue those series, editorial staffs, authors should do much about. Sure it would be great if they reminded the readers that everyone / everything is in some part unique, having specific constraints, criteria, needs. That the likelihood that the advice / suggestions will work well is very small. But we educators and leaders as well must remind our students / employees that Considering (shameless plug: carefully is always important. During formal education, teachers must facilitate development and use of effective learning skills so important to that Considering. Every person addressing any situation must know that that situation will almost certainly require a non-repeated approach. At least that’s my belief.

The good news: Those pieces such as the four noted above are of great value in Considering situations. As you will see when you read these and most pieces, they do represent other research / consideration and thus inform that Considering. Just don’t allow yourself to see any one piece having ‘everything you need to know.’ What’s your thinking?

Work for Home, Not Homework


My thinking on assigned homework:

There is very little value in assigning homework. The only way a student will learn anything unless their understanding of the HW topic jells because of the practice – highly unlikely!!! If they can’t do the homework, assigning more of the same is wasted in terms of learning. If they know how to do the material assigned, they will finish it quickly with very little learned. And if those not knowing find a student to copy from (or an answer book or some other source), no learning there.

So what happens if the homework is graded? Whether feedback is given or not, most will see only the grade. Those copying are rewarded for cheating themselves of learning. Those knowing how to do the work will get a good grade and probably not see the feedback, not review for improved understanding. Those totally lost will only get more desperate, cheat themselves more, and give up – slamming the course and/or teacher. ELIMINATE GRADES!!!

What is needed is NOT HW but WORK FOR HOME (WfH) – not the same thing! Students need to learn to assess their needs for effectively learning a topic: From teacher-facilitated work, teacher feedback, personal and study-group learning efforts (WfH?), personal gathering and considering of extra material (WfH?), assess what’s understood and what help is needed. Then the teacher can recommend extra efforts the student can do to improve – again, WfH!!!

Note the following: This approach to effective learning requires a number of efforts: (1) students helped to understand and accomplish effective learning; (2) teachers facilitating the skills of effective learning and self-assessment of accomplishments: (3) teachers providing useful and honest feedback; (4) teachers facilitating student skills for documentation of efforts made, analyzing those efforts, determining level of accomplishment, and knowing what additional teacher assistance is needed; and (5) working patiently with parents in order that they support this approach that is so different from their experiences.

No grading for this WfH – for the same reasons still applicable. I suggest the use of a student e-portfolio. Each student documents all efforts made to effectively learn the topic AND how the student self-assessed to determine that the learning has occurred. That e-portfolio (for all topics of course) is then utilized by the student to justify her/his proposed course grade – with grade determined by the teacher of course!!!

What We Do/What We Get to Do


One of the blogs I hate miss, learn from, and quite often post comments to is “Leadership Freak” written very capably by Dan Rockwell. Today’s post was particularly interesting to me. I clearly agreed with the topic of the post, gratitude, and its importance to effective leadership.

But my attention was drawn to another sequence of short statements transitioning from what we do to what we get to do next – the opportunities we are offered. As I considered it further, I understood the attraction to this portion of the post and posted the following comments:

“No question that gratitude EXPRESSED is so important to trusting relationships. But there’s another part of this post that grabbed my attention and Consideration:

“You become what you repeat.

Repetition is consistency.

Consistency is predictability.

Predictability is reliability.

Reliability creates opportunity.”

Thoughts and concerns (these ALL fit together):

1. Your REPUTATION is from what you repeat. To me, at least, there is only ONE repetition that leads to that produces the consistency that at least I would find worthy of predictably: considering new and previous options when dealing with situations.

2. Consistency is predictability. Really?? Not always. Favorite Einstein quotes: ‘We can’t solve the problems of today with the same knowledge and skills with which they were created.’ And ‘Insanity: Doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.’

3. Predictability creates CONFIDENCE (most times). That impacts reliability but reliability should require more – e.g., considering new and previous options when dealing with situations.

So how about a rewrite on the part of your post copied above:

You reputation comes from what you repeat.

Reputation for repeated sound problem solving is valuable consistency.

This consistency is useful predictability.

This predictability is worthy reliability.

Reliability creates opportunity to address meaningful situations.

My key point (and the reason I repeated  these thoughts here) is the process we use to deal with situations faced: Everyone must expect new approaches will be necessarily considered. And only then should what is done previously lead to additional opportunities.

Parallels Between Success in Sports & Effective Learning


It has been my thesis that successful sports teams (having excellent coaches) have much in common with effective learners (having excellent teachers). Here is an example that I believe illustrates this quite well.

From the Manchester Journal Inquirer of Thursday, November 12, 2015; article by Carl Adamec titled “WINNING FORMULA” on Page B4:

“So many times teams that put the focus on ‘Refuse to lose’ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to win,’ ” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to lose. Who goes into a game saying it’s OK to lose? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to win.

“Some have a greater will to win. To do that, you can’t be afraid to lose. Sometimes teams are their own worst enemies. Coaches are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about losing. We know that losing is part of the game. Any time they keep score, you might lose. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to be successful?’ It works for us.”

[Aside: For those of you who don’t follow NCAA Women’s Basketball, Geno Auriemma is the head coach of the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball program. They have won ten national championships since 1995 and will be seeking their unprecedented fourth national championship in the season beginning for them on Monday, November 16, 2015.]

Let’s take the excerpt from the Jounal Inquirer and change / add just a few words (italicized and underlined):

“So many times schools that put the focus on ‘Refuse to make mistakes‘ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to learn,’ ” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to make mistakes. Who goes into a situation saying it’s OK to make mistakes? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to learn and get the best outcome.

“Some have a greater will to learn and get the best outcome. To do that, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes teams of learners are their own worst enemies. Teachers are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about making mistakes. We know that making mistakes is part of the learning / doing process. Any time they assess learning, you might make mistakes. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to learn from our mistakes and be successful?’ It works for us.”

Two thoughts: First, Coach Auriemma could talk about his team and his coaching style using the alternate version I concocted and his players might wonder about the lack of basketball terminology; but they would understand the message I think. Second, I believe this alternate version should be the goal of all schools and teachers for their students: take risks, learn from your mistakes, don’t focus on not making mistakes, and you’ll have greater success.