A Conversation with Heidi Hayes Jacob

 conference, education, reflection  Comments Off on A Conversation with Heidi Hayes Jacob
Mar 292012

photo courtesy of Joyce Valenza on Flickr

When I picked up the book Curriculum 21 a couple of years ago it was very refreshing to hear what I considered at that time a voice of reason in education. I was particularly struck by Jacob’s metaphor of upgrading the system completely rather than tweaking it. I also found the website full of great resources.

I was very excited to find out that Heidi would be at the press luncheon at the ASCD conference this past weekend.

As I sat down at the table, I found that Heidi was sitting right next to me. She turned to me and asked my name and who I was representing. I told her about my blog and what I write about and a little about what I do. She asked the same of my colleagues sitting at the table. What ensued was a passionate, fast-moving and inspiring conversation about schools, innovation, connected educators and the future of the textbook.

First, I have to say that Heidi blew me away with her friendly, relaxed and passionate personality.

The conversation started with Heidi describing the three literacies that all students should have: digital, media and global. She talked about her work with Silvia Tolisano in creating globally connected classrooms. It was inspiring to hear her describe her Global Forum session in which the attendees were able to visit various countries to engage with learners.  She is a strong believer that all educators should be globally connected. It was definitely preaching to the choir. I explained how nearly all of us at the table had known each other on Twitter before ever meeting online. As connected educators, we definitely have a leg up on our colleagues.

Another reoccurring theme throughout the conversation was the new kind of teacher that is required for the new kind of learners that populate our classrooms. This led to a discussion about teachers as learners and differentiated professional development for teachers. This is obviously something that Heidi is passionate about. As she expressed the importance of self-selected PD, I was excited to hear that Heidi is familiar with the edcamp model. She emphasized that forcing everyone to receive the same information in the same way for a PD day is nonsense.

One part of the conversation that really interested me was her new Livebook.

As many of you may know, I was recently part of an inspiring Beyond the Textbook forum hosted by Discovery Education. I took part in a day of brainstorming and pontificating on what a textbook should look like, what it should contain and whether or not we even need textbooks anymore. From what I have seen (from screenshots and detailed descriptions), Heidi’s Livebook is still a book, but it’s like a book on steroids. It includes avenues for social reading, collaboration, note-taking and content that is easily updated by the author. I have not had a chance to request an advanced preview, but I definitely interested to see the interface. While I am still not 100% sure that a new kind of textbook is what educators really need, Heidi’s work on this project is an important piece in a larger puzzle.

Hearing Heidi speak about the work that she does with teachers was equally inspiring. She described scheduling a Google Plus hangout or webinar with the leaders of the staff she would be working with. This shows her commitment to getting to know the communities with which she works before stepping in to help. She also talked passionately about differentiating professional development for teachers and distributing leadership so that school leadership is a collaborative effort. She also helps school leaders eliminate meetings and turn to virtual platforms for both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration to save time and use time efficiently.

I was also struck by her statement that we should never be trying to sell anything in education. This reminded me of the term ‘buy-in’ that so many of my peers (and myself!) use on a regular basis. We need a shared vision, a compromise of sorts. Something that requires answering hard questions. I wonder how many schools are actually having those hard questions.

I was glad to have had a chance to connect with Heidi, whose work I have admired since I first read Curriculum 21. It was an inspiring conversation and I look forward to following her Livebook project.


Mar 252012

As a member of the press here at ASCD’s annual conference, I was lucky enough to sit and talk with Liliana Aquas and Matt McClure, the Outstanding Young Educators over lunch. It was an inspiring dialogue.

Liliana, who works at Leconte Elementary School in Berkeley, CA, did not start out wanting to be an educator. She was in school to be a scientist, but after visiting a school and teaching kids, she was asked by the principal to come back and teach 5th grade at the school.

In other words, Liliana is smart and highly educated. Just listening to her talk, you could hear her passion and enthusiasm for science and for watching her kids discover and uncover content. She was worried, at first, that she couldn’t be a successful teacher because she didn’t attend a teachers’ college, but the principal who hired her saw something in her and told her that she would be fine. And she was.

I, myself, did not attend a teachers’ college, and took education courses while working full time in the classroom. Over the course of my career I have met many educators who had similar paths. Which makes me reconsider the role of teachers’ colleges in the first place.

What was really refreshing for me was to hear her say that “Science is the ideal platform to teach everything.” This is something that I have been saying for years. I believe that schools can make Science the glue that ties all learning together.

Listening to Matt McClune, a Superintendent from Cross County Schools, AR was equally inspiring. He described the journey his district made toward what he calls “process based learning” from a more traditional model.

His district went from being an ‘at-risk’ district to slowly proving themselves toward more independence. He sat down with his teachers to talk about what kinds of skills they thought their students would need outside of the NCLB content. After the brainstorming, the group reflected on how they weren’t teaching these things in their classrooms.

The district set up an exploratory committee made up of all stakeholders visiting schools, looking at whole child & current practices in classrooms. They decided to move toward project/problem/process based learning to meet the needs of the whole child. Learning is spiraled around a problem and collaborative work.
Kids, he says, are responding extremely well to the shift. Older kids are having more trouble adjusting than younger kids because they are used to playing the game, but they have embraced the new model as well. Part of the shift also included educating the community on how jobs that exist now might not exist for their kids.
Matt described a classroom in his school with two teachers in a room and up to 60 kids in the classroom. He talked about how they knocked down walls and put in glass storefronts that faced the hallways. At first kids goggled, but now it’s part of life. He compared it to the way a corporate office is structured.
I was struck with how easy Matt made the journey seem, though I know that it wasn’t. It’s important to remember, as my friend Eric Sheninger was quoted as saying in his session this morning, that change doesn’t need to happen as slowly as people say it does.
Great job, ASCD for picking some really inspiring and deserving educators!
Mar 252012

As I reflect on my day at ASCD’s conference, I will be thinking and reflecting on a lot of topics and discussions. The one that really struck me, however, I feel I must reflect on first.

My last session of the day was one that I was really looking forward to. I am not one to easily be drawn in by big names, but I felt that with so many of them here, that I needed to attend at least one session and have my starstruck moment at the conference. At the end of the day, Carol Ann Tomlinson, the queen of differentiated instruction, presented on the connections between brain research and differentiated instruction.

I have done some reading on using neuroscience to inform the way we teach (Brain Rules, The Architecture of Learning), so this session really interested me. While some argue that we don’t have enough information about the brain to truly correlate neuroscience and learning, I think that we are silly to not pay attention to the way the brain fires during learning experiences. As Tomlinson stated during her presentation, everything that teachers do in the classroom sets off chemical reactions in the brain. If teachers have a better understanding of these chemical reactions, then we do a better job and building experiences around how the brain actually works.

First of all, Tomlinson’s session was structured in a way that allowed participants in the huge ballroom to talk and interact with each other about the session content. We had discussion ‘buddies’ that we had to identify before the session really began and we were given time after each section of the presentation to talk to our ‘buddies’ about what had been shared. This was a really powerful part of the presentation for me, as I am not a fan of ‘sit and get’ presentations, no matter how talented or famous someone is.

As far as the content of the presentation, it’s hard to know where to start. It was an incredible amount of information and ideas to digest.

One quote that really set the tone for the hour was Tomlinson’s view on differentiation itself. She said, “Differentiation is the logic of the classroom.” For all of the hype around differentiation (for better or for worse) I wonder how many people actually know what it means. It has become one of those buzz words that everyone uses, but few ever reflect on. Part of that may be because it really is a logical aspect of any reflective teacher’s practice. No successful and talented teacher can ignore the practice of differentiation in their classroom because it’s just what needs to be done.

I was also struck by the idea that students should think about class as much after they leave as they do in anticipation. My reflections here are an example of that. I was very excited to attend the session, and I left still thinking about what I heard.

While not all of the content of the session was mind blowing due to my own reading on the topic, (i.e., I already knew about the hierarchy of needs–survival comes first for the brain), Tomlinson was able to frame the research and the theory in an easy to digest, yet thought-provoking way.

I was struck by her statement that having clarity in our learning goals for students is not just for the learner, but also for the teacher. We can be as transparent as we want with kids, but if the learning goals are not transparent for us as teachers, then we won’t know what we are looking for and we cannot properly assess and educate our students.

She shared findings that the smaller amount of content that we ask kids to learn, the better, and that we need to teach big ideas because the brain needs patterns to link content. Some people call these ‘hooks’ that the brain ‘hangs’ information on. The hooks need to connect or retention does not occur.

She also referred to the teacher as a coach, similar to a football coach. The coach/teacher allows his or her students to practice, refining skills with guidance from the coach, in preparation for the big game. The better the practices, the better the players will do in the game. She argued that we need to make sure that we design the best practices for kids and that these practices use formative assessment and are not graded. Part of the grading process that hinders learning is the release of cortisol when the brain feels stressed.

I found it interesting that in the hierarchy of the brain, the main focus of the brain after survival is emotional data. According to Tomlinson, this explains why students in caring classrooms perform better than students in classrooms that tend to have high levels of emotional stress. She shared a chart that showed that there is a middle ground for the amount of challenge and stress we impose on learners and how it affects their learning.

Another interesting aspect of brain research she shared was the link between rote learning and convergent responses versus open ended, more problem-based learning that evokes divergent responses (just guess which one is occurring more often in schools). She stated that “we are legislating brain atrophy” by continuing to deny children the opportunity to engage in activities that promote divergent thinking. This kind of thinking, she argued is what is needed in the job market of the future.

For more of my notes on the presentation, you can click here.

Hopefully I will be able to reflect on my other parts of the day soon!

For more reading on the topic:

Judy Willis, Brain Friendly Strategies

David Sousa How the Brain Learns


Coming soon: lunch with the Outstanding Young Educators and Edcamp as professional development

Mar 252012

My first day at ASCD’s annual conference was excellent. I am still sifting through the day in my Evernote notebook. I have, however, looked forward to tomorrow’s sessions a bit and here are the ones that have grabbed my eye:

Session 2162 — Overcoming Deficit Thinking: Strategies for Working with Low Income Students 8:30-9:00am

Session 2245 — Leading the Way Toward Effective Project-Based Learning 1:00-2:30pm

Session 2323 — Connecting Teacher Evaluation to Student Achievement in Nontested Grades 3:00-4:30pm

I have a lot to reflect on from today (which I can hopefully do tonight). This is my first ASCD conference, and so far I am really enjoying the conversation as well as the star treatment that ASCD has given us as press. I had breakfast and engaging conversation with colleagues followed by a wonderful conversation with the inspiring Outstanding Young Educators as I ate lunch provided by ASCD.

I hope to be able to reflect and deconstruct the day before the next day starts!

Mar 242012

I am very excited to be attending ASCD’ s annual conference here in Philadelphia. I will be blogging about sessions and conversations I attend. Here are some sessions for today that caught my eye:

  • A lunch with ASCD’s Outstanding Educators
  • Session 1270 — EdCamp-Style Professional Development Engages and Empowers Teachers, 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.  (a little bias here since the presenters are my colleagues from Edcamp Philly and the Edcamp Foundation)
  • Session 1214 — Having Hard Conversations 1:00-2:30pm
  • Session 1272 — The Power of Reflective Inquiry as Professional Development 1:30-2:30pm
  • Session 1302 — Differentiation and the Brain: What Neuroscience Suggests about a Learner-Friendly Classroom 3:00-4:30pm
  • Session 1318 — If We Build It, They Will Come: Strategic Curriculum Planning for Student Achievement 3:00-4:30pm
  • Session 1331 — Changing the Culture of Grading 3:00-4:30
  • Edutopia/ASCD Tweetup at the Field House 7:00-9:00pm

I know I can’t attend them all, but they all look interesting!

I’m very impressed so far with the offerings, especially in the technology realm. Kudos to ASCD!