ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence (Day 2)

It’s always interesting to see what kinds of session topics are given at a conference as I think it can tell you a great deal about current trends in education. Some of the dominant topic themes I’ve noticed at Teaching Excellence are whole child, formative assessment, growth mindset, brain-based teaching strategies, equity, rigor, project-based learning, relationships, gamification, personalized learning, and observation. All sessions seem to be focused in some way on direct classroom application which is refreshing. There does not seem to be an overemphasis on computers and software which can sometimes dominate conferences such as these. I like that this conference is focused almost entirely on what happens or should happen in a classroom. Almost all of the strategies I’ve encountered during this conference are free to implement. That’s pretty cool.

After spending two days here, it also appears that there are few sessions on data analysis and this is disappointing. Many presenters discuss assessment strategies but do not address how these assessments should appear in a grade book or how they should be monitored by teachers to chart student progress over a marking period or year. I would love to see a presentation or two on this. It always seems to me that presenters skirt the issue of grades–even when talking about assessment. I would also like to see sessions on how to best use district-level data in efforts to improve student academic achievement. With such an emphasis nationally on standardized tests, it would be interesting to see how districts or researchers are using the data they acquire to inform the decision-making process (or not).

Anyway, day two at ASCD is another full day with some interesting sessions scheduled for the day. Below is a snapshot of what I was able to attend.

Session V: The art and science of teaching 10 years later: A conversation with Robert Marzano

This session was led by the famous Robert Marzano who has done much over his career in the fields of observation and supervision. Bob’s book The Art and Science of Teaching was published ten years ago. This talk dealt with how his work has transformed education and how it might continue to influence the field in future years. Bob shared many stories about his career, things he got right, and things he got wrong. I’ve always been a fan of Robert Marzano as he is a thoughtful person and an advocate for effective teaching and leadership.

Session VI: Improving school culture and climate to support student achievement

This session was presented by Charles Woods and Robin LeClaire, two elementary principals in Indianapolis. Charles and Robin shared a great deal of behavioral data they collected about students as building principals in efforts to tackle problems they felt were impacting school culture. Both principals work in schools with high levels of poverty and they explained how they use positive approaches to improve school culture and ultimately to get students to improve their behavior. Charles and Robin focus on the climate in their buildings as they believe it impacts everything that goes on during the school day. One video series they have used with students to promote positive learning environments and good behavior is by the YouTube star PrinceEa. These videos seem interesting and I had never seen them before. Here is an example of one of PrinceEa’s videos Charles and Robin recommend:

I liked this video and there are many more on YouTube. Both presenters shared data that supported that their focus on culture did likely impact student achievement. As behavioral referrals to the main office declined in both buildings, student assessment scores improved. It was great to see data being used to help support the success of school improvement efforts.

Session VII: Using escape room methodology to promote meaningful learning

Gamification is certainly an important issue at this year’s Teaching Excellence conference. In this session, two educators from California shared their passion for using escape rooms to teach executive function or specific curriculum standards. If you are unfamiliar with what an escape room is, this Newsweek article will help. Jon Cassie and Tracy Wazenegger shared how they have used escape rooms to gamify lessons to improve critical thinking and to teach perseverance. They explained how escape rooms work, how they are designed, and how to begin building them for students or staff. Our administrative team went to escape rooms last summer, having an absolute blast in the process. It was such a great experience and was the best team building exercise I have been a part of. Using more games in the classroom, like escape rooms, can go a long way in creating a stimulating classroom environment. I think any opportunity we can take to vary what we do with students can help keep them active and interested. An escape room or scavenger hunt-type activity can be a welcome opportunity for students to work together to solve problems and participate in a shared experience. Jon and Tracy are clearly experts in gamification and I enjoyed some of the innovative approaches they have used to bring this to their students.

The sessions at ASCD are longer than most conferences with some lasting up to two hours. A few sessions makes for a long but productive day. I’m looking forward to a few more sessions tomorrow.

Please excuse errors as I have typed quickly during conference sessions.