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Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

“I’m going to be as forthcoming as I can be, Mr. Anderson.”

Forget prison; school is the Matrix.

When you look at a kid, what do you see? A genius? A business person? An artist? A leader? Someone to lift up? Someone who lifts you? Someone to limit? Someone to control? Someone you love? Someone who fills you with dread? Someone who could be doing so much more, just not here, not at school? Do you see what I saw – what I sometimes still see – a scrolling cavalcade of assessment data? A balanced scorecard? A bar graph? A line graph? A scatterplot? Do you know a kid’s chance to pass a test better than you know him or her? Is this how you are, or is this how the system has trained you to be? What is the first thing you look for at the beginning the year? At the beginning of a school day? Of a class? What are you asked to look for at school? What is the meta-game? If it’s turtles all the way down, when do you and I step off the ride and really wake up? When do we resist harmful practices instead of decrying them? When do we make back-to-school night fair-assessment night? When do we make parent conferences abolish-grading briefings? School isn’t education; our brains just think it tastes like education.

Kid Data

What do you see?

In many ways, despite all I’ve learned, I feel like I’m at play inside the Matrix. I want to exit the pod. Here’s my challenge to myself for 2010-2011:

  1. We have daily community meetings.
  2. I negotiate content with my students.
  3. Every kid iterates an excellent work of art with peer critique.
  4. Every kid publishes a piece of excellent work for an audience outside school.
  5. Every kid receives feedback from an audience of community members from inside and outside school.
  6. Every kid learns a skill outside school, makes something excellent outside school, and shares her experience with her community inside and outside school.
  7. Every kid completes an excellent service project and shares it to inspire others.
  8. Every kid understands why we don’t use grades and willingly endorses our assessment practices to parents.
  9. Every kid self-assesses daily and every kid gets feedback from me daily.
  10. I do everything every kid does.

I need help; please sign on.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


11 thoughts on ““I’m going to be as forthcoming as I can be, Mr. Anderson.”

  1. Michael Kaechele (@concretekax) asked me to elaborate on a few of the items above, so here goes:

    • 1. Morning meetings can do a lot to establish community and community norms. I would like for my school to begin each day with a morning meeting in each class. I think brining our whole school together to begin with would be too chaotic and risky for those of our kids who have a hard time interacting pro-socially. We have small classes, so if we can pull it off in each class, that would be great and give each teacher practice with community-building approaches that could trickle down into our other classes.

      I don’t see the meetings as being administrative in nature. Rather they would be about whatever participants wanted to share or discuss – from sports scores to passion-based grouping for PBL. Early meetings would be about having fun together and establishing norms for safe sharing.

      Here’s a video that captures some of what I’m want us to realize, minus the assassin game at the start, and with more student-direction, eventually.

    • 2. I’m going to write a more in-depth post on negotiating content soon. In theory I mean to foster a community of self-directed learning loosely bound by essential understandings students and I write together from the state curriculum and what they want to learn. In practice I want to offer enough choice in content and process so that students share responsibility for their own learning designs and buy-in to their chosen class content enough to produce excellent work. Shawn (@ThinkThankThunk) at Think, Thank, Thunk write about choosing what kids should learn via standards-based grading; I want to extend the agency he exercises over his curriculum to students.

    • 9. We adopted a self-directed learning process this year through which students wrote 2-3 week project plans regarding what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn it, and how they wanted to receive feedback and be assessed. To chunk the plans’ projects into manageable bits of content, we used daily entrance and exit slips to set goals like “learn how to make a cone in Google SketchUp” and assess our progress towards meetings those goals by the end of class. I’d like to refine that process and make it paperless this year.

    Thanks, Michael! Visit Michael’s blog – I especially love this post on Earth Ships, standardization, and education.

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 28, 2010, 1:13 pm
  2. Chad, Can this be done in SCHOOL?

    What do you say?


    Posted by Kirsten | June 28, 2010, 1:39 pm
  3. I would love to arrange a community education film-fest run by kids. I think if we showed a variety of films about American education and got kids to respond to them and somehow editorially organize them after evaluating/reviewing them, then we’d be past any challenge against promoting partisan activities at school.

    I love teaching through film, especially films paired with other media. I never got such reflective, personal writing about Anne Frank as when we paired it with Life is Beautiful. Next year I should be teaching some 8th grade classes again, which frees me up a bit to ask parents for permission to show more challenging films than I’m comfortable showing in 6th and 7th grade. I’m hopelessly old school in that way.

    What are your favorite films about American education? I need to see The Lottery, Waiting for Superman, and The War on Kids. Country Boys
    is my favorite, though I can only watch it once in a blue moon as I tend to tear up episodically for weeks after a viewing.

    Any parents or young adults at AERO willing to join the Coöp?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 28, 2010, 2:03 pm
  4. Hey Chad, I just posted about The War on Kids. I’d love to know what you think. You kind of have to watch the whole thing to get its full impact. I am thinking of showing it to a group of high schoolers in September to see if it’s a galvanizing tool.

    I like the funny films about school: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I once did a paper for AERA about these–concluded with a sci-fi one where teachers ate the kids. Teachers had become aliens. Very metaphoric.

    Will get Country Boys.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | June 29, 2010, 8:01 am
    • What I like about Country Boys (be prepared; long form PBS doc) is that it shows how hard kids struggle to live and learn even with schools dedicated to them, like Kentucky’s David School. The tension isn’t so much about kids taking on the man as it is kids taking on life and how learning, opportunity, and inertia are parts of that conflict.

      I’m off to read your post –

      Posted by Chad Sansing | June 29, 2010, 9:31 am
  5. “Country Boys” is a great film. Shows the realistic struggle even when you work in the alternative system.

    I like your goals. One of my teammates and I have been talked about these same ideas all last year. This year we’ve been allowed to loop with the kids. We have already set the stage for this type of community based thinking. I’m signing on my team and we’ll see how we’re able to pull it off in hostile territory. I think a major factor in making it work will be ensuring the community extends to the parents. That’s going to be the hard part because they are so invested in the system themselves and worry about the consequences of disconnecting their children from their pods.

    Posted by Matt Guthrie | July 1, 2010, 2:18 pm
    • Thanks, Matt –

      I just replied to Mary Beth about parent engagement and my need to get better at it. I hope to push myself by going for a grade-free waiver next year, which entails a lot of community education around assessment. Should be fun –

      A logistics question: in planning your loop, did you loop with all kids, or did you suggest alternative placements for kids with whim you were less successful than you would have liked last year?


      Posted by Chad Sansing | July 2, 2010, 6:59 am
      • Keep us updated on the grading waiver. I’m curious to hear how it goes.

        RE: looping, there were a handful of kids with whom neither my teammate nor me clicked with. We also have the dynamic of about 10-12 kids who receive EC (exceptional children) services. Their placement is up in the air due to some changes being implemented by the district. Our initial step was to send home a letter to parents giving them the choice to loop or not. Of course, the usual suspects did not return their letter, but we are probably going to put them on our team anyway. Those we did not click with have opted out on their own.

        As of yesterday, we have received just under 60% responses, all positive. We can’t take all our kids because we are moving from a 4 person team to a 3. Really looking forward to getting started this fall.

        Posted by Matt Guthrie | July 2, 2010, 7:59 am
        • Thanks for the explanation, Matt – I’ll be entering year 3 with my students at our tiny school. I definitely have relationships I need to improve, but it’s rewarding to see growth in students and in my own teaching and learning because of them.


          Posted by Chad Sansing | July 2, 2010, 9:24 am
  6. Here’s my self-assessment:

    1. We negotiated a lot of how we used our advisory time, but we didn’t have daily meetings that looked like something from, say, the Olweus anti-bullying program.

    2. We negotiated content increasingly throughout the year.

    3. The kids who enjoyed the most arts-infused work showed off their paintings to peers and adults inside and outside the school, but without structured critique. Not all students choose arts-infused options for work.

    4. A few students showed me how they published outside school, but we did not accomplish this as part of class for all students.

    5. Students publishing outside school got feedback from readers outside school, but we did not accomplish this as part of class for all students. We did have a school-wide Expo Night that shared a piece of work from every student with guests including parents and school board members.

    6. I did not protect time for sharing outside learning in class.

    7. I did not find a way to inspire kids’ service projects.

    8. Grades were not given on individual assignments, and they were not an issue. Kids generally took feedback and ran with it. I’m not sure kids could articulate to their parents how the feedback helped them or how our system worked. I wound up issuing narrative interims and A/B/Not Yet Mastered report cards in compliance with staff consensus on quarterly reporting.

    9. Every kid got feedback from me daily – usually oral, written, or sent via Edmodo. Some kids also got feedback from computer programs. Students often self-assessed in response to questioning from me and design documents for projects, but not every student self-asssessed every day.

    10. I did just about everything students did from painting to cooking to gaming to reading to writing and more.

    Making systems transparent to kids and connecting our classroom to the outside world seems to be good goals for 2011-12.

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 2, 2011, 7:59 pm


  1. Pingback: Would you survive the FAYZ? « Reading Power - June 25, 2010

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