Is Standardized Test Prep The Equivalent of Hitting a Panic Button?

6 Feb

Nationwide, publishing companies are making billions of dollars by marketing something that has little to no research behind it, test prep material. Yes, books full of worksheets that simulate questions from the big standardized tests (which happen to be written by the same companies) have been pushed onto the education world since the implementation of the tests themselves. The problem is, we are all too willing to spend money to scoop up these materials and completely shift what learning looks like to work page by page through these practice materials.

Why do we do this? Have we studied their impact, or have we just assumed it was a good use of our time and money? When talking to parents and teachers, I often hear how much learning changes in the month or so leading up to the test. Classrooms that were once full of conversation and student led inquiry are now organized in rows with a teacher up front, holding the hands of children through workbooks or sending students to prep websites (I’m looking at you Study Island). More interesting to me though is how learning seems to change AFTER the test. This is when many parents report that less learning happens and teachers try to cram in the projects and more “fun” stuff into the final months of school.  What message does this send?

What research shows is that the most effective teachers in the U.S. have classrooms that almost completely ignore the test prep model and are less dependent on particular curriculum materials, pedagogical methods, or “proven programs” (Allington & Johnston, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 1999; Duffy, 1997; Pressley, et al, 2001; Sanders, 1998; Taylor, Pearson, Clark & Walpole, 2000). Instead, effective teachers rely on intentional planning for student-led learning opportunities that included literacy embedded into nearly everything they did (Allington, 2002).  Edgar Dale’s work in 1969 also shows that active learning is a key to retention (see figure below). But how much of our deliberate engagement in test prep can be considered active?


I do understand that, in Colorado, teacher evaluation is based partially on student growth measured by scores on testing opportunities (NWEA, TCAP, etc.). However, I also know that the other 50% of our evaluation is based on what learning looks like in the classroom. Better yet, the evaluation rubric for this part happens to align with a more personalized model! Which do you feel more in control of?

I encourage parents, teachers, and students to question the methods we often use to prepare children for the standardized test. Dig a bit, use common sense.  Most importantly though, I would challenge everyone to ask the question; is this preparing our children for the real world? Are we creating our own culture of fear and anxiety around the test by pushing the panic button a month out?

Personalize Your School Supply List

3 Aug

This weekend I was lucky enough to be caught up in the chaos that is school supply shopping.  I must say, this process seems very different from when I was a child. SupplyImage lists seem to be getting longer (and more expensive), more detailed, and unfortunately less personalized for the learner.  Let’s face it; educators create these lists for the next year without knowing their students at all.  That isn’t a knock, just the way it has always been done.  But what if, in the name of personalization, we began to shift what supply lists look like? Is there a chance that you might begin to better know your learners just by what they choose to bring to school?  Shouldn’t the list reflect the types of learning we want happening?  Check out the sample below.  Your comments, suggestions, and lists of your own are welcome!

– Scott

Sample Personalized School Supply List

There are no required brands, colors, or amounts of supplies.  Learners will have a large amount of choice as to how the demonstrate learning (digitally, more traditional, individually or collaboratively, etc.).  Please bring what you think you might need based on the information below.

Students will:

  • Take and share notes
  • Brainstorm ideas individually and collaboratively
  • Design and build models
  • Watch/Listen to digital content
  • Create and deliver presentations
  • Write in every subject area
  • Communicate with others in and out of our classroom and school (other students, teachers, business leaders, etc.)
  • Solve problems both individually and collaboratively
  • Access information through books (digital and traditional)

 Access to the following will be available:

  • A limited number of computing devices
  • Wireless access school-wide
  • School staff to facilitate and support learning
  • Collaborative spaces that include whiteboards, chart paper, etc.
  • A district email account
  • Classroom content, materials, and schedules through the class website
  • District resources such as the media center, Discovery Streaming, Atomic Learning, etc.

All of the following are welcome for learning purposes:

  • Traditional supplies such as paper, pencils, notebooks, organization tools (folders, binders,), glue, markers, colored pencils, pens, etc.
  • Personal devices (laptops, tablets, smart phones)
  • Utility apps for note taking, organization, presentation, and scheduling
  • Cameras
  • Flash drives for saving and sharing work
  • Comfort items like water bottles, tissue, school appropriate snacks (please confirm any dietary or allergy needs), favorite reading material, and Mp3 Players with ear buds

A Day in the Life of a Future Learner

16 Jul

Day-in-the-life narratives are used to bring together and test change processes. education scenarios, and stakeholder interactions. Education scenarios and day-in-the-life narratives, used together, are powerful tools for checking that the vision and direction of the District/school will deliver a final structure that is consistent with the needs of learners and the educational goals of the community.

We’ve created a scenario with the goal of raising awareness of and spur thinking about what a day in the life of a student in D11 might look like related to personalized learning. Our future learner, Scott, and his teammates are working on a project with the Cheyenne Mt. Zoo to help create a new aquarium. They are collaborating with the Boston Aquarium, Toronto Zoo, and The Deep (Hull UK).

Take 5 or 10 minutes to read through our day in the life scenario and then consider the implications for this type of learning.

Reflection questions:

What aspects of your education system need to change to support this type of learning?

If this is to be possible in five years, what changes need to occur along the way, this quarter and each thereafter?

What are the possibilities for your school or district to create a scenario that your stakeholders can use to help envision the future of learning?

Have fun with this and let us know if we can help in any way.

Greg and Scott

Rediscover Your Passion!

27 Jun

ImageUndoubtedly you’ve seen cartoons like this posted somewhere.  The teacher who looks like she has been to hell and back all in the name of educating your child. Educators are without a doubt some of the hardest working and most dedicated people I know.  However, should we just accept that the norm is for us to be so weary and beaten down by June that we need 2 months off just to recover? I refuse to believe that we can’t all rediscover the passion and enthusiasm for our craft that we had when we decided to walk this path.

Recently, I was presenting at a conference and heard an educator get so charged up about an idea they had developed that they said what you rarely hear an educator utter in June; “I can’t wait to get back to school to try this!” Literally gave me goosebumps! In fact, I have heard this from more educators in the past month than ever before.  This is why I do what I do; to help people get excited about learning.

So how does one break free of the shackles of exhaustion and get excited about school in June?  Here are a few tips:

1. Focus on the positive:  This may seem simple, but there is no shortage of blogs, memes, and articles that focus on what’s wrong with education today. Commit to following positive influences like Edutopia (, Mind/Shift (, or The Dudes ( .

2. Dare to Dream:  Allow yourself to be idealistic again!  What could you do without the barriers? Unless we dream big, we will never be able to begin to make incremental adjustments that will help us reach that ideal vision eventually (or something close to it). Anyone can complain, be solution oriented.

3. Find Your Voice!: Tweet the positive, share positive messages and ideas on Facebook, focus conversations about education on the positive and what you can do to effect change, or blog (this is my attempt to be better at blogging this summer).

4. Experiment with Different Learning Environments: Whether it be a patio somewhere, your couch, a park, or another location; mix it up and discover how, when, and where you do your best learning (then apply the thinking to your learners).

5. Build In a Bit of “You” Time: Take time for you this summer!  Sleep in a little, catch a sunrise or sunset, hike more, socialize more, or explore your non-education related passions! Summer is a great time develop these things as habits that will help you keep perspective in the toughest parts of your school year.

Above all else, reconnect with why you wanted this job in the first place. Rediscover the passion. It’s contagious for you colleagues and learners!

– Scott

You Need a Personal Learning Network NOW

3 Apr

Do you have a personal learning network (PLN)? Even if you don’t think you do, you probably have one. PLNs are simply informal networks of  folks that you learn from and possibly share some of your own knowledge or experiences. Perhaps right now it’s just a work group or maybe its associated with you hobbies. For today’s learners – which is all of us – PLNs are growing in importance due to the connected nature of our modern culture, the rapid pace of global change,  and the technology that makes it possible to glean and share information anywhere, any time.

Two simple ways to start your PLN:

Twitter – When I want to catch up on the latest in personalized learning or find out what the top innovative educators across the globe are doing, the first place I head is Twitter where I am known as @GWilborn (Scott is  @TheScottFuller). I “Follow” many other educators, authors, thought leaders, publications, and organizations such as the Dept. of Education, Donnell Kay Foundation and the Colorado Legacy Foundation just to name a few. I also retweet and post interesting news or examples of personalized learning so if all you do to get started is “Follow” @GWilborn and some of the other tweeters we’ve linked here, then you will harvest a great deal of news,  information and pondering.

Facebook – Yes, Facebook! Research shows that over 80% of educators are on Facebook. In addition to the millions of online games, memes, and other annoying wall posts, there are actually some great pages on Facebook that can help you build your PLN.  Our favorite, of course, is The Personalized Learning Dudes. Other great pages to “Like” include Edutopia, Mind/Shift, TED, and Mission Monday. So, take a break from Words With Friends and start exploring PLN options on Facebook!

Share with us your experiences with PLNs.


Making Science Fair, Fair…

24 Feb


Photo courtesy of Richard Bowen via Creative Commons

It’s science fair season! That “sink or swim” time for parents and students to show what they know about erosion, robotics, which type of battery runs the longest, etc.  Wait….parents? Parent involvement in the science fair has always been a bit of a hurdle for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of students and parents working together to solve problems and explore new learning. However, that is not what I see during most science fair seasons.  Instead, I see a clear division of have and have not’s (you know that parent who is a robotics engineer and incredibly the child builds a fully functioning C3P-O??).  I see parents getting frustrated and even stressed out about their science project…ahem…I mean their student’s project.  In the name of making science fair a relevant event again I propose the following:

1.     Encourage science projects year round. Working inquiry based project time into the actual school day allows students to explore learning topics that interest them, and keeps the work in the hands of the student.  Let the learner become the maker!  Check out for a wealth of resources.

2.     Have learners keep an “I Wonder… “ journal (digital or paper/pencil). Model curiosity and what you do with it.  Allow students to stop and ask questions, take pictures, make sketches, search the web, visit the library, and seek out an expert all at point of need.

3.     Take yourself out of the equation a bit.  We need educators and parents that model exploration, but we sometimes forget that this isn’t about us. Play “dumb” and let the learner seek out the information needed.  Provide choices for pathways that include appropriately leveled research and access to experts in the field like architects, NASA employees, zoologists, and marketing experts. Technology allows this like never before!

4.     Make peace with the fact that sometimes the product won’t look all that great.  This is not an excuse to put out sub-standard work, but rather an opportunity for students to learn from mistakes in process, time management, and resource acquisition. Let’s teach about self-reflection and perfecting processes so that a goal for improvement is established.

Whether your student is interested in how long the flavor of certain gum lasts, about whether grass can grow on a sponge with the absence of soil, or in building an actual C3P-O robot, remember the opportunities that can be lost when we limit pathways and take ownership of the project ourselves are numerous. Encourage, support, and guide, but avoid making this your project at all cost.  Let’s make science fair a fun and meaningful experience for all!  


Personalization in the Classroom

16 Feb

What exactly does personalization look like? This is a question that we get all the time!  Although there isn’t a canned answer or program, The Dudes along with David Gregory from G&D Associates ( have come up with a list of things to look for in a personalized classroom. We hope this list gets administrators, educators, parents, and learners thinking a bit about the strengths and needs or their current learning environments.  Click here to view the list!

– The Dudes


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