Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Book You Must Read!

In one of my administrative leadership classes recently, a teacher used a short passage from the book Five Levers to Improve Student Learning by Tony Frontier and James Rickabaugh (ASCD).  It intrigued me, so I purchased the book which just came out this year.  It may be the most impactful book I have ever read about educational reform.  I bet your administrators have read it.  I bet you are hearing ideas that stem from this book in your district , even if you never hear about the book itself.  You need to read this book!  (I am receiving nothing for this blog and have never talked with the authors.)

The advantage of a lever is this:
If you apply pressure at just the right point, you get maximum effect with minimal effort.

Just like different types and sizes of levers, the results we get in education often have to do with the tool we choose to use.
Bigger changes take bigger levers to be successful.
The wrong tool will make you feel like you are working hard, but your changes will ultimately be minimal and frustrating.

Frontier & Rickabaugh offer five types of educational levers:
• Structure - school governance, initiatives, and schedules
• Sample - how we manipulate the placement of students
• Standards - what we are going to teach
• Strategy - how we are going to teach it
• Self - self-efficacy that leads to independent learning

How many times have you heard these sample and structure ideas:
"If we could just change the schedule, everything will be fine." (structure)
"If we could just have fewer students in a class, students will learn more." (sample)
"If we could get everyone a device, achievement will increase." (structure)
"Perhaps single-gender classrooms would help students learn better." (sample)

The authors point out that sometimes, the lower-gear levers of structure and sample are the correct solutions, as long as they match the problem requiring resolution.  But in order for these levers to work in bigger problems, they need to be combined with higher-gear levers (i.e., changing to block schedule requires teachers to change how they instruct if achievement gains are desired - a strategy lever).

The decisions made at these levels are easy to grasp and look like quick fixes, especially for non-educators.  This could include smaller class sizes, 1:1 computing (without a change in strategy), charter governance, modified scheduling, and yes - even the battle over Common Core Standards.  How we teach (strategy) and how our strategies inspire ownership of learning (self) are hard to rally behind, even though they are the most powerful levers in our toolbox.

Why do I bring this book up in the midst of a discussion on standards-based learning?
Any teacher, department, or system that aspires to use standards-based learning or standards-based report cards without addressing the higher-gear levers of strategy and self will be frustrated when they don't get the achievement results desired.  For standards-based learning to be effective, teachers must change the strategies they use (especially the role of assessments) and influence students to become fully engaged in using the standards to guide learning and set goals.  Teachers who use strategies that increase student self-motivation to achieve or surpass the standards with some sort of independence and ownership will have succeeded in the transition.

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