Thursday, for me, was SXSW EDU, Day 2 … the day of our presentation, the day of the closing keynote, the day of a drive back from Austin to San Antonio, a flight to Charlotte, a long, but familiar drive home. For my students back there, it was a day of So Many Things. There was a special assembly featuring a Mystery Guest (I suppose I’ll discover, today, who the Mystery Guest was), and since it’s Severe Weather Awareness Week, the day was to begin with a scheduled tornado drill. After that, in the small amount of time available, all the different groups theoretically finished their Minor Assessment #1 products, which will theoretically be presented on Monday.
We’ll see what actually happens, though I have received a few Minor Assessment #1 submissions already, thanks to our friends at Edmodo. I’m also grateful to them for the way they continue to house students’ projects so that, for example, one can add a few screen shots and links to a presentation even when one is 1000 miles away from the physical location where they were created.
By mid-day Thursday, after our session and the closing keynote by Bill Gates, my mind was stuffed to overflowing. I’ll have a lot more to say about our session and the other sessions, I think, in days to come, but for now I’m still processing it all. We three panelists were overwhelmed by the graciousness and interest of our audience and our circles of physical and virtual friends, by the skill of the tech crew (we’ve never had a tech crew before for any previous presentations we’ve done!), and by the sheer amount of learning and community we experienced in such a short time. After the keynote, there was a closing barbecue (yum, Texas barbecue!) in the park across the street from the hotel and convention center, but we looked at the line, looked at each other, and headed to a quiet Mexican restaurant for a debriefing lunch instead. Then came, for me, an uneventful drive; a fairly restful flight; an interesting conversation with my seatmate on the plane; a crowded bus ride from the terminal to the parking lot; an unexpected delay as the folks two cars in front of me struggled to understand and operate the automated, unattended payment system in the lot; the long slow drive home; and some much needed rest. Meanwhile, my Boston-bound friends were – unexpectedly but yet expectedly – delayed by the effects of the huge snowstorm that pounded the Northeast yesterday and today … but they’re home, and resting, and none the worse for wear.
And today is a peaceful day – no school for them, of course, as vast amounts of snow continue to fall, and a staff-development day for me. I’ll be leading a session for my Latin colleagues this morning, then participating in one “about data” this afternoon. I’m curious to see how far we, as a school and a district, have moved along the continuum of understanding (and defining) data that Bill Gates and his guests addressed during that plenary session yesterday. There’s a difference, after all, between data that’s easily collected and truly helpful information … and there’s also a huge, unresolved question in many educators’ minds about who the real customer is for the data we painstakingly gather. Ms. X, who always “gets behind on her grading” and has “so many grades to key in” – who would she say is the customer of those grades and that keying? Herself? Her students and their parents? The Student Information System itself? And when she carefully marks this paper as a 74 and that one as an 83, what do those numbers represent for her and her students? And what does “the grade” itself represent in her mind … and how does it relate (or does it relate) to the specific cluster of knowledge, skills, and understandings she wants her students to develop by the end of the course?
In one of Wednesday’s sessions, I got a copy of Clark Aldrich’s book Unschooling Rules, and by the time we landed in Charlotte last night, I’d finished my first reading. It’s a quick, compelling read … and over and over, he addresses the differences between authentic assessment, the kind that’s embedded in the learning itself, and the testing regime we educators have developed over the past 120 years under the influence of Industrial Age, factory-model quality-control thinking. I’m not sure Ms. X and Mr. Y are quite ready to read it yet … but I think we’re all ready for an important conversation about what “the grade” means and how it relates (or doesn’t relate) to the learning our students do. I wonder if that conversation will begin this afternoon.
And whatever happens, expected and unexpected, what will I do to respond in the moment in a way that enhances joy, learning, and community?