OneThing47: model modeling

Barry Richmond on learning

Barry Richmond - creator of STELLA and systems citizen

Barry Richmond – creator of STELLA and systems citizen

The last few postings on my School Change model have generated some discussion over on the System Dynamics K-12 list-serve that focused less on the structure and more on some philosophy of education and specific pedagogies, things I am somewhat less interested in than the deep structure of change.  While there is a philosophical bent in my model – I am asserting something, after all – my intent of publishing is to focus on the structure to the extent it effectively narrates my ideas about school change.

And this brings me to Barry Richmond, the STELLA creator, who exuded a profound passion for education and learning.  He was an inspiration to me and many in the emerging community of teachers using system dynamics.

Barry's full model integrates all aspects of the learning process

Barry Richmond’s full model integrates all aspects of the learning process

And I want to reprise his Learning Model because I have leaned on it for some of my thoughts about change.  You would likely see the parallel to Barry’s “Constructing a Mental Model” section and my “Curriculum” section (OneThing45).

A few things about Barry the Model-Builder:

  • Simplicity – tell the story of your thinking as clearly and simply as one can.
  • Elegance – the iconography has a beauty in its connectedness, and the rounded links help with the mental model of feedback
  • Grammar – Barry was fond of saying that Stocks are the nouns of the system, and the Flows are the verbs.  This syntax helps the modeler compose.
  • Co-Flows exist in the world – two things happen simultaneously all the time; e.g., the act of simulating also generates decision-making
  • Coining icon titles – language is meant to bend to need and use; Barry coined new words all the time, exemplified here in the Conveyor Ramifying
  • Flows tell the story – in this, as in others of his models, the Richmond preference is to the actions within the bounded system.  There’s the story!

In my School Change model, I am using Barry’s models as a kind of style kind, as a journalist might use the Associated Press Style Guide or a writer Elements of Style.


OneThing46: when students learn, what’s going on?

I have been thinking a lot about student learning.  Not at the single student – single teacher level, but at a high-aggregate level; that is, how do all students in a classroom learn things, forget things; how do teachers’ instructional capacity have impacts on both flows; how do students’ own sense of their learning gaps impact them.

This zoom into STUDENT KNOWLEDGE depicts three key ideas:  students can forget things, teachers impact both learning and forgetting, and students own sense of their gaps impact their learning and forgetting.  An obvious assumption here, since this is a school model, is that all learning is curriculum driven.  Mark Twain, of course, would take issue with that.

This zoom into STUDENT KNOWLEDGE depicts three key ideas: students can forget things, teachers impact both learning and forgetting, and students own sense of their gaps impact their learning and forgetting. An obvious assumption here, since this is a school model, is that all learning is curriculum driven. Mark Twain, of course, would take issue with that.

First, there’s a lot in this . . . and I am leaving out a lot.  A LOT!  And that is intentionally so.  I want to build in a thoughtful, layered way; see what holds up to reason and scrutiny (thank you to all for feedback); and then ever so slowly ascertain a boundary in this system. Second, you have to imagine that the rest of the model (See OneThing45) is attached: Instructional Efficacy emerges from Teacher Learning, which comes from Professional Development.

The most obvious addition here is the outflow from STUDENT KNOWLEDGE (more on this in a moment).  Students flat out forget things.  At the UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab, substantive work has been going on for years focusing on retention and various methods of increasing students’ capacity to remember.  Only recently have these methods filtered into schools of education.  Ideas such as interleaving and deep practice are relatively new ideas in education, even though the evidence of their efficacy is substantial.

Now, a vexing question for me is this: what is the accumulation happening in the heads and musculature of students through schooling?  Go back a few iterations of this model, and you’ll see I’ve changed this title a few times:

  • Student Achievement
  • Student Learning
  • Student Understanding
  • Student Knowledge (today, anyway!)

Recently, Tracy Benson commented to me that Learning has always seemed an activity, in other words, a flow.  Barry Richmond, as a few commented, always leaned on Understanding as the accumulation.  However, in the education realm, the mantra now is “it’s all about student learning.”

I’m not too concerned about what the curriculum is or what the pedagogy is.  I am trying to capture a change process that occurs everyday in classrooms.

OneThing45: the Teacher, the Student, and the Work

Three things make a classroom hum with learning

School Change Model 4.0.  This version includes curriculum.

School Change Model 4.0. This version includes curriculum.

In this latest iteration of the School Change Model, I have included the final key ingredient required for an effective classroom: the curriculum. Or, as noted educational researcher Robert Marzano calls it . . . “the guaranteed and viable curriculum,” the single most important factor in student achievement.

Therefore, the three things needed for high impact instruction to occur are students, teachers, and content.  That’s the work.  When there is a change any one of those variables, the other two will necessarily be impacted. If there is a curricular change, teachers need training and the students will consequently do different work; if the students change, then teachers and curriculum may need to change, especially if there is cultural shift in the school.  If teachers change, there will be impacts to the delivery of content and student learning. A change in any one requires attention to the other two.

The Instructional Team Capacity results from teachers having both pedagogical skill (often called “high-impact”) and knowledge of teenagers (a capacity to know what makes teenagers tick).  It is this combined capacity that drives instructional efficacy, an instructional team’s rate of delivering content and engaging student learning.

In this model, then, are the foundational ideas of an adaptive school.  While there are remain some corners of detail that need flashing out, the deep structure of a Learning Team is there.

Simple Capacity Model.  One might focus on the current LEVEL of the stock, or one might focus on the RATE of change.  These will be two really different things.

Simple Capacity Model. One might focus on the current LEVEL of the stock, or one might focus on the RATE of change. These will be two really different things.

Of course, there is never a point when a school has it down, when it should rest when it attains a certain level.  The focus of a Learning Team is on the flow, improving a school’s capacity to deliver highly qualified citizens to its community.  You can imagine the political discussion:

  • CITIZENS: our school’s are not graduating enough college-ready students
  • SCHOOL: we are improving our instruction every year

It would help both to know that they are talking about the same system, just different parts of it!

OneThing44: Team Capacity means what?

Building Instructional Team Capacity is about Skill and Knowledge

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team's capacity to instruct young people:  acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers.  These are two quite different things.  One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, very little learning will occur.

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team’s capacity to instruct young people: acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers. These are two quite different things. One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, not much learning will occur.

As I think about my School Change Model and build its components, more elements open up to detail.  Admittedly, what is here is but an 80,000 foot view of only one component of school change: how teachers respond to gaps in student learning and improve their craft.  My thinking in these areas flows out of 25 years in classroom instruction and 12 years as an administrator (there’s a six-year overlap in there!) . . . and I am still learning!

The focus on the School Change Model this week has been on the critical stocks that constitute Team Capacity:  Pedagogical Skill and Knowledge of Teens.  

Considerable research in the last 15-20 years (Joyce, Marzano, Lemov, Danielson) and even more so in the last five years (ASCD, Gates Foundation MET) have resulted in clearly effective High-Impact Instructional Strategies that sustain ordered and respectful classrooms where teachers engage students in learning.  Researchers throughout the world  have verified the efficacy of various strategies and tools.  And teachers can (and should) learn these strategies to improve their capacity.

Likewise, what we know about teenagers has grown in the last decade in a few key areas:  cognitive science provides insight in not only brain development but also brain function –  how people learn, how and why people forget things, what happens neurally when children learn (Bjork, Coyle, Dweck).  In addition, cultural competence (West, Singleton, Gay, Payne)  is a critical set of conscious awareness and strategies that help teachers (everyone, really) build empathy for the students entrusted to their care.

Students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

A few of the resilient, beautiful, aspiring students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

At De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, the staff is about 80% white whereas nearly 80% of students are ethnic minorities, life experiences that generate quite different world views and aspirations.  As Cornel West’s famous book asserts, race does matter.

I am trying to map a system of change:  what are the key stocks within our bounded system, and how can we leverage them to improve student learning?  Maybe you can help me think this through.

OneThing43: let’s hear it for the Instructional Team!

The School Change model includes vital feedback

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team.  In the argot of education, the gap is often called the "problem of practice."

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team. In the argot of education, the gap is often called the “problem of practice.”

So . . . I’ve asserted a key relationship in the School Change model:  the Capacity of the Instructional Team increases  Student Learning.  But how might that actually occur?

In this model iteration, I’ve added a series of thoughts specific to that question.  Names in the parentheses are educational researchers whose work, among others, substantiates the claims.

  • The Instructional Team sets the learning target  (Robert Marzano, Mike Schmoker, et al)
  • The gap between the Target and what students actually know or can do drives the action of the team (Doug Lemov, Elizabeth City, et al)
    • Once the problem of practice is well known, the instructional team conducts research for effective practices
    • The instructional team conducts Professional Development sessions to learn those effective practices
    • The instructional team implements those new practices

This reinforcing loop establishes the key instructional feedback for any teacher:  having established what my students should know or be able to do, I research the most effective means of providing that learning and then I follow through.  There would need to be another reinforcing loop (or two) that includes teacher assessment of student progress, and administrative assessment of whole team efficacy with those new methods; but I purposely left that out for now just to underscore the primary feedback loop driving classroom instruction.

What to include and exclude in the model now starts to take on importance as my representation flowers into increasing complexity.  Even so, my core thinking about how all this works remains explicit.  What questions come to you as you consider this model for School Change?

OneThing42: it’s the Instructional Team that teaches

The Instructional Team’s Capacity is the stock to change

Team2I spent a week reconsidering a very small start: what are the key stocks in the system of school reform. And I changed my mind. It is NOT a single teacher’s capacity, but the composite Instructional Team Capacity that makes the critical difference.  So, at the very heart of a school reform is a team of professionals committed to the learning of a group of students.  And those professionals are themselves learning. 

The difference is they already know how they learn.  They have to figure out two things:  first, what is it they wish their students to know and be able to do; and second, how do their students learn?

The School Reform Model version 1.5

With the Connector I suggest a relationship between these two Stocks.  Notwithstanding a few model-building niceties that will need altering, the core assumption is explicit.  This helps us ask questions about my idea . . .

Some questions come to mind

  • What do you have to do to build up an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • Mustn’t there be an minimal and optimal effectiveness of an Instructional Team’s Capacity?
  • What could an Instructional Team do (or a Student do) to slow or stop the forgetting of what a student learns?

These are a few things I will address in next week’s version of the model.  I am hoping you might comment on these questions . . . and that would help with the model.

OneThing41: a model for school reform

Creating a community where everyone learns

De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon, was the first school in the United States to replicate the Cristo Rey model (see Cristo Rey Network) where every student works five days a month in a corporate setting while simultaneously completing a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.

I have been principal at De La Salle North Catholic High School in North Portland for three years. It’s quite a school with an extraordinary staff who work tirelessly and effectively to provide a college-ready curriculum for a diverse, urban community of students, two-thirds of whom qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.  Over 95% of our graduates go on to college and graduate at rates three times those of the national average for similar SES students.

But there’s no resting on these data.  Our students arrive as timid 9th Graders with reading and math skills one and a half to two years below the norm. In short, our instruction must be so direct and yet also compassionate that our students advance six years while attending but four.  There is so much for us to learn.

Building the model

School Reform 1.1Over the next several weeks, I will construct my model for how we learn.  Just so you know, it’s not yet complete; but I have enough ideas and sufficient disregard for being right the first time that I am ready “to make my ideas explicit,” as Barry Richmond would put it.

So, what are the key stocks in the system? I believe they are STUDENT LEARNING and TEACHER CAPACITY. In this model,  all staff and all students are learners . . . the experienced learners teach the young learners. We live in a world saturated with information and distraction, and where opportunity is limited.  A school, therefore, should be a place where young people learn the requisite skills of discrete retention and professional competence.

I’m curious to see how the model evolves.  I hope you are, too.

OneThing39: a summer for Common Core, STEM & Sustainability

Stepping away to learn so that we can find our instructional stride

The Creative Learning Exchange (CLE) and the Sustainability Education Summer Institute (SESI) sponsor summer conferences and institutes that help us all do our jobs just a little bit better – reaching out to teachers to prepare them for teaching about systems and sustainability.

The CLE sponsors the national Systems Thinking & Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education in Wellesley, MA, June 30 – July 2.  This conference features teachers and systems practitioners in a three-day Chautauqua of best practices from around the United States. This year’s focus is on the Common Core and STEM Standards, two profound threads of educational reform that have swept through school districts bringing change and new conversations.  This 10th Biennial conference brings together the systems community’s preeminent voices – Peter Senge, George Richardson, and Dennis Meadows.

Over the last two decades, I have participated and presented at this conference as it has criss-crossed the United States: Arizona, New Hampshire, Washington, and Massachusetts.  It’s the kind of conference where neophytes and experts gather to learn and share.  There are many great things about this conference:  teachers share best instructional practices in systems education, and system practitioners share their expertise with teachers.  It’s akin to writing teachers attending a conference alongside the best novelists in the country.

The Learning Tree at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, WA

Across the country, near the northwest tip of the Pacific Northwest, SESI 2012 gets underway on Bainbridge Island, at a sustainability enclave called Islandwood.  This year’s event features three strands for sustainability educators:  start up teachers wanting to learn, best practices among current teachers, and a deep learning path for experienced teachers.  The first strand includes sessions in systems thinking.  And Fritjof Capra’s Center for EcoLiteracy is a one of the co-sponsors.

If you to step away from modern society and our urban landscape, then come here.  Islandwood will transport you into a sustainability dreamland where the rhetoric and hopes of environmentalism and sustainability are everyday practiced.  You can see what’s possible.  By the way, Washington state is one of the very states with requirements for sustainability education and systems thinking.  I grateful for the real honor to present and participate in SESI 2009.

Get out there!  Learn!  Teach!

OneThing37: Words to live by

Let the meaning choose the word

George Orwell

At a recent Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, the host asked each candidate to describe himself in a single word, and we got consistent, cheerful, to name a few.   Back in 2000, Saturday Night Live played off this very idea with fake Al Gore declaring “Lock box” and fake George Bush proclaiming “Strategery.”  To be sure, it’s a gimmicky kind of thing, but it can also be a good exercise in synthesis.

In his “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell famously called on writers and thinkers to practice the linguistic discipline of letting “the meaning choose the word.”  We do not need to think very broadly to cite examples of sloppy or exaggerated thinking where words seem to mean anything the writer or speaker wants.  I also recall Jay Forrester once proclaiming that a hallmark of system dynamics was that it made one’s thinking plain.

It’s what caused me to ask recently what are the ten most important systems words a middle or high school student should know.  So, over the last few weeks, I’ve read dozens of words people ascribe to Systems Thinking; and, while I disagree or am confounded by some of those words, I’ll leave it to others to check either the K-12 List Serve or Systems Thinking World to make their own judgments.

I thought here I’d go to renowned system dynamicist Donella Meadows (1941-2001).  In Thinking In Systems (2008, posthumous), she lists 18 words/phrases:

  • archetypes
  • balancing feedback loop
  • bounded rationality
  • dynamic equilibrium
  • dynamics
  • feedback loop
  • flow
  • hierarchy
  • limiting factor
  • linear relationship
  • nonlinear relationship
  • reinforcing feedback loop
  • resilience
  • self-organization
  • shifting dominance
  • stock
  • suboptimization
  • system

Eighteen words and phrases.  Learn them. Teach them.  And, in a few generations, we’ll all live a different world.

OneThing36: knowing “throughput” fundamentally changes how you see

Let’s start teaching a systems lexicon

Throughput is a slightly geeky word that ought to live in the everyday language of our middle and high school students in the same way that multiplayer or sustainable do – both common and fairly well understood by any ten year old.  Just ask any of them how many pancakes they might eat at a sitting or how much of a history lecture they can listen to and remember.  They can get throughput. Totally, dude.

As the idea appears in Beyond The Limits

Here, Donella Meadows tells us that throughput is simply all the capacity a system has, first, to take stuff from sources, use it, and, second, to put it in sinks.  In other words, we use raw materials and then put them somewhere – toss it in a pile, bury it in a landfill, pour it in a stream or ocean, or put in the atmosphere.  It all goes somewhere.

In a system dynamics model using STELLA, throughput looks like this.

Using STELLA iconography, two CLOUDS identify the source and sink, an INFLOW and OUTFLOW identify the throughput, and a STOCK identifies the accumulated or level of stuff. Of course, one might use stocks to specify the source and the sink.

Certainly, there’s much more to this than what’s rather simply illustrated here, but the concept of throughput is key to everything relative to sustainability.  Can we keep taking stuff from the earth at the current rate, expecting that the earth can also absorb the rate of waste from that use?  Seems like an obvious “No,” doesn’t it?

Cover of "Beyond the Limits: Confronting ...

As Meadows clearly put it, “many crucial sources are declining and degrading and many sinks are overflowing. The throughput flows that maintain the human economy cannot be maintained at their current rates indefinitely, or even for very much longer.”

The Donella Meadows Institute