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Posts Tagged ‘portfolios’

It is hard to believe it has taken my 329 posts to finally have one about Paul Simon. On the occasion of his latest album, In The Blue Light, seemed like the right time.

I should preface this by acknowledging my extreme bias. Paul Simon has been my favourite artist since elementary school. I have grown up with his music and in recent years his concerts have taken me from Oregon to Montana to Nevada.

As has been widely reported, Simon is retiring from touring this month after a final set of concerts in the United States.  And just as he is retiring he has released his latest album. None of the ten songs on his album are actually brand new, they are rather new arrangements of songs (at times including new lyrics) which Simon has described as clarifying these songs, and sharing with the audience works that may have just disappeared (they are not typically in the 50 or so Paul Simon songs one hears on the radio or at concerts) but they have been given new life.

Randy Lewis described the project in the LA Times:

The project constitutes a rare instance of a pop musician engaging in a practice more common for visual artists, who sometimes return to a particular work time and again, adding a new color, shape or texture in the pursuit of some ever-evolving ideal. It’s the polar opposite of one fundamental aspect of recorded music, which freezes songs at a specific moment in time.

This quote, and really this project, got me thinking and connecting to some of what we are trying to do in education.  Listening to Simon talk about the project made me think what he has doing at 76 is what we want students to do with their work in school as teenagers and pre-teenagers.

We really freeze things in time in education.

Assignments are submitted and that is that.  A mark is given and everyone moves on to the next assignment.

I have written before about portfolios, capstones, passion projects and other similar experiences that pull together learning across disciplines and across time.  Another theme that I have also covered is the efforts to make grading less an event and more of an ongoing conversation.  These conversations are about doing what Simon has done with his music – learning does not stop when a song is written or an assignment is submitted, there is great power in the ongoing tinkering.  Teaching students to be curious about re-imagining something they have written before in English, or coded before Digital Arts, or played before in band is really powerful.

I still remember a speech from my first-year History professor.  He said that if we used any parts of essays we submitted in high school for our assignments in his class that was plagiarism and we could receive a zero on the assignment and in the course.  More than twenty-five years later that still strikes me as odd.  There should be a place for taking one‘s work and making it better.  And it was my own work.  There could be great value in redoing an assignment in subsequent years, taking new learning and new perspectives and applying them.

I find with my work on this blog I often take posts I have previously written and re-think them with new perspective and in a new time. When I look at some of the posts I am most proud of, many have been the ones that were published a second-time – they are a little more clear in thinking, a little more thoughtful and better express the message I intended.

If one of the greatest songwriters of our lifetime can find ways to bring greater clarity to his work, it seems we all can.  Hopefully the trends continue and students in our schools will have more of these opportunities of continual refinement.

PS – You can listen to the new Paul Simon Album here for free – well worth it!

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Shocking, but sometimes I am wrong.

Part of the job of the Superintendent, as I have described it, is to be looking around the corner at what is coming next. And I like to think I am often on-point with this crystal-ball gazing, but in case you might not know – sometimes my predictions have not hit the mark. As we start the new school year, let me share six examples of my mistakes:

1) Fencing – I got the idea to write this current post while writing a reference letter for Igor Gantsevich the head of our fencing academy.  I remember when Igor met me five years ago, and said he was going to build a fencing academy.  I was polite, but I was thinking “he is crazy”.  Maybe baseball, soccer, or hockey – but fencing?  Well five years later we have 31 students in our fencing academy and fencing is integrated into schools across the district.  The lesson here was to always invest in quality people.  We gave fencing a try because of Igor – he was a high character person with a great passion and drive.  Almost nobody could have done what he has done – and proved me very wrong. (HERE is a more complete post I wrote in 2014 on The Fencing Phenomenon.)

2)  Blogs – I have covered this one a bit before.  This is year 9 for the Culture of Yes, and I thought when I started, I love writing, and sharing and engaging with a public audience, so everyone else will as well.  Well, sort of.  We do have a lot of staff and students who keep a regular blog, but they have not become the “home base” as I might have thought they would for everyone in our district.  The lesson here was to be careful about absolutes – blogs can be a great way to connect with a larger audience, but they are not the only way, and not the way that make some people comfortable. (HERE is a piece from 2016 where I began to recognize that Maybe I Was Wrong About Blogging).

3)  Portfolios – When the 2004 graduation program was implemented, it included a portfolio requirement for all students.  Despite the initial excitement (I was part of that), within a couple of years, the portfolio requirement was removed.  I still think portfolios were a great idea (and are a great idea), but in 2004 I underestimated two key facts – the technology was not robust enough in schools to allow viable e-portfolio options and people were left to traditional binders which was cumbersome, and too little thought was really given to how best to integrate portfolios into the traditional high school program.  It was felt to be an add-on for students and staff.  Fifteen years later, and I think we are getting in right with elementary e-portfolio solutions like Fresh Grade – and the secondary efforts around Capstone projects. (HERE is a 2015 post on Bringing It All Together).

4)  Letter Grades –  I am more conservative on this issue than many people around me.  When we began to remove letter grades in grades 4-7 I expected a huge push-back.  It has not materialized.  Really, no letter grades has just become the norm.  My mistake here was underestimating the sophistication of our parents, and the trust they place in our teachers and schools.  Parents want timely, relevant feedback from the teacher and ways to support their child at home, and they trust schools are using the best research in making their decisions. (HERE in 2015 I described this conversation as A Healthy Tension).

5) – Discretionary Days –  I heard the push for discretionary days in the last couple rounds of contract negotiations.  I kept wondering where this was coming from.  While there is almost no flexibility in timing, those of us in education, have time at Christmas, Spring Break and in the Summer, which is a luxury many professions do not enjoy.  I thought the option of taking unpaid days throughout the school year is something nobody would take.  I was very wrong.  Apparently a lot of people will take days to attend a wedding, go on a trip with family or otherwise take time at a non-prescribed time of year.  I think I really underestimated the changing nature of our workforce – flexibility is something that is increasingly important – even if it means a bit less money.  As so many other professions are becoming more flexible, that is rarely possible in education, but administrators, teachers, and support staff share a mindset with those outside our profession that flexibility is a key driver for their work.

6)  Price of Computers –  I think it was 2002 when I was saying, within a couple of years you will be able to buy a computer for the price of a calculator.  Well, computer prices have definitely come down, but not to the point I would have hoped.  Most families are still spending at least $300-$400 for a computer that they use at school, and some are spending much more.  I think my error here was getting caught up in the hype around the One Laptop Per Child initiative and saw this as the start of a trend that never really took hold.  I do continue to believe that for students from about grade 4 up we need to find ways to get them regular access to a device whenever they need it, but unfortunately it is a more expensive proposition than I would have hoped.

We can’t always be right.  As I look at these six, it is interesting to see the biases I had as I looked at each of these ideas.

So, here is to another year of trying to look around the corner at what is coming next, and maybe being wrong once in a while, but like the students we work with – hopefully I will keep learning from successes and failures.

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