Educational objectives: A definition

Every teacher has heard of what’s commonly called “Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.” I’ll bet you’ve never heard anyone say how the Taxonomy defines an educational objective.

Here’s what the text says on page 26:

By educational objectives, we mean explicit formulations of the ways in which students are expected to be changed by the educational process. That is, the ways in which they will change their thinking, their feelings, and their actions.

What are your educational objectives for your writing courses?

How do you expect your writing course to change your students’ thinking?

How do you expect your writing course to change your students’ feelings?

How do you expect your writing course to change your students’ actions?

Note: You will be tested over this material every day for the entire course.

Today’s educator needs a broad repertoire

In a design thinking course just wrapping up, I ran across the term repertoire used in a way that was new to me.

I’m used to seeing the term used to refer to the musical pieces a performer is prepared to play or to the whole catalog of music of a particular type. Less often, I’ve seen repertoire applied to the set of skills needed in a particular field.

In “Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector,” offered on Coursera by the University of Virginia, repertoire was used to refer to an individual’s set of life experiences.

Repertoire includes one’s educational background and work experience, but it’s not a CV. It’s actually a description of the mindset and skill sets a person can bring to a complex problem.

I’ve been thinking about repertoire in this sense for a long time, but I didn’t know that’s what I was thinking about.  (I also recently discovered that I’ve been using single-point rubrics for a half century and didn’t know that either. Shades of M. Jourdain.)

The broader the person’s repertoire, the better equipped someone is to work in an unstable world.  We certainly live in an unstable world.

Ignore (if you can) political instability.

Think about the changes that are happening in the world economy with the increasing deployment of artificial intelligence and robots taking over many repetitive jobs.

Think about the technology that’s increasingly used in education — technology that’s been invented since this year’s high school graduates started kindergarten.

Narrow, specialized experiences don’t help people — or their institutions — cope with an unstable, uncertain environment. A narrow range of life experiences leaves people vulnerable when the world around them changes.

Even more frightening is that when someone with a narrow range of life experiences teaches, that person transmits their narrow mindset to the students they teach.

It concerns me when I read local teachers’ autobiographies and don’t see any of them mention working anywhere other than education. Do they not have work experience outside education or do they have such experience and not value it?

If they don’t have, or don’t value, work outside schools, how will those people be able to teach students to work in a world where every three-to-four years they need to re-skill for a new occupation?

What about you?

Do you have a repertoire that will enable you to survive in the next 30 uncertain years?

Do you have a repertoire that will allow you to teach students to survive in the next 60 years?



How far is the future?

Everywhere you look, there’s an article about preparing students for the future.

Read those articles carefully: They almost never specify what time in the future they’re talking about.

The timing is important.

Laura Arnold, the associate commissioner of Kentucky’s Department of Education who is cited in a recent article in Education Week, hinted at why it’s important to know how far into the future someone is thinking:

In helping turn Kentucky into a national leader in career-and-technical education, Arnold has used data about local labor-market trends to guide decisions about what workforce-development programs schools should offer.

But it’s hard work: Employers tend to be focused on their immediate needs. Schools have a hard time developing courses around medium-term opportunities, like robot maintenance. And the long term is just so uncertain.

“We don’t have reliable data on jobs 20 years out,” Arnold said. “The best we can do is create strong career pathways and hope they evolve.”

Resources for seeing into the future

Here are a few articles that educators and community leaders may find useful in preparing for themselves and their students for the workplace of 2017 and beyond:

Could a robot do your job? This 2014 story in USA Today looked at the likelihood of jobs being replaced by robots. Their conclusion of was that half of all jobs—and 70% of low-skill jobs—may be replaced by robots or other technology by the decade between 2024 and 2034.

That means half the jobs available for the students who entered kindergarten in 2012 will be gone by time they graduate.

Can a robot do your job? This 2015 article by John C. Goodman in Forbes dips into three books that discuss the future from technological, economic and sociological perspectives. The quotes Goodman selects should scare you.

From janitors to surgeons, virtually no jobs will be immune to the impact of robots in the future.  Whether someone retains a job will depend on whether their skills “are a complement to the computer or a substitute for it. ”

Will a robot take my job? (2017) Plug in your job title and learn the likelihood your job will be done by a robot. The predictions are take a long-term vision of the future, looking ahead to thirty, forty or fifty years from now.

©2017 Linda Aragoni

Lessons about school improvement from a business book

dust jacket of Smart Growth by Edward D. HessI recently read Smart Growth: Building an Enduring Business by Managing the Risks of Growth by Edward D. Hess.

In it I found something I wasn’t expecting: Principles from business that apply to school settings.

Hess’s thesis is that the Wall Street model in which successful businesses grow smoothly and continuously with increased dividends every quarter is just plain nuts. (He phrases it more politely, but that’s the gist.)

Here in bite-size chunks are a few observations Hess makes in Smart Growth that struck me as applicable to schools as well as corporations. Unless otherwise indicated, the visuals are direct quotes from Hess.

Growth depends on people having time and learned knowledge to grow.

Substitute “school improvement” for growth and you have an often-overlooked fact about school reform: It depends on school staff having time and learned knowledge.

Schools can’t improve overnight, nor can they improve based on nothing but intuition.

People "act inconsistently and unpredictably, failing to learn…"

Much of school reform work is based on the assumption that educators will act consistently, predictably, and learn from instruction and mistakes.

That’s an unwise assumption.

Organizational growth is far from a smooth process.

Expecting 2016’s test scores to be better than 2015’s, and 2017’s to be better still?

Don’t count on it.

No matter how you measure it, student learning isn’t a smooth process.

Neither is school improvement.

People make growth complex and difficult School improvement can’t happen without people.

People don’t always cooperate in making school improvement happen.

You’ll save yourself a great deal of frustration if you don’t expect them to.


Change may carry unexpected negative consequences as well as the expected positive ones.

Innovation often brings something new, which we may find we didn’t really need, at the expense of something old, which we may later find we undervalued.

Quote: For companies to grow, their people must grow.For schools to improve, their people must grow.

Staff must experience intellectual, social, and emotional growth—none of which occurs in orderly, linear fashion.

Quote: People can change only so much, so fast, and so often.

School improvement depends on people. Administrators should remember people have limited ability to change—especially while they are being expected to carry on with other tasks that aren’t changing.

Quote: Any change will generate mistakes.Mistakes happen.

They happen every day while we’re doing routine things.

It’s foolish to assume mistakes won’t happen while schools are trying new procedures, new programs, new curricula.

Quote: Small changes can add up and have a big impact.

To avoid wasting time on trivia, schools often attempt big, broad, across-the-board changes.

All too often staff are not adequately trained for the big, broad, across-the-board change. (Remember New York State’s roll-out of Common Core?)

Time and resources for implementing the big, broad, across-the-board change may also be missing.

Small changes—even one teacher in one classroom implementing a better way of teaching—can add up to a big, broad, across-the-board improvement in a school over a period of time.

As you settle in to your fall teaching routine, which of these observations will help you avoid the frustration of trying to change your school by next Friday?

Common Core influence on instruction negligible

In a piece posted at EducationNext recently, Tom Loveless asks whether the Common Core State Standards have had any influence on instruction in the schools.

Loveless examines test scores and studies which seem to show little change in instructional for good or bad since the standards were adopted, with the exception that there is more nonfiction reading material being used today than pre-CCSS.

I came to the same conclusion via a totally different type of evidence: keyword search terms.

Sign: To Teach is to keep learning forever.

In 2008, before CCSS was unleashed on American schools, I began a website aimed at teaching teachers of grades 8-14 how to teach nonfiction writing.  I used keyword search data to determine what kinds of information teachers were looking for. The greater the number of searches for a term, the greater the likelihood that the associated concepts or skills were in high demand in classrooms. The high-demand keywords became pages on

Teachers who visited my site told me about their challenges.

The vast majority of visitors to my site were teachers with at least 10 years’ teaching experience. Few had had any instruction in how to teach writing before they entered the profession. Most said they still felt unprepared to teach writing.

Even English department heads confided that they didn’t know how to teach nonfiction writing to teens and adults and couldn’t help other faculty.

After having the site up five years, I took it down in 2013. (Google was changing its algorithm faster than I could update a fraction of my 400+ page site to comply with the standards of the week.)

This past September while doing keyword analysis for a client, just for kicks I redid the keyword search on teaching writing that I’d done in 2008.

Surprise: The key terms and the number of keyword searches for each term in September 2015 were almost identical to the key terms and search figures in January 2008.

I’ve taken enough professional development workshops to know those PD workshops rarely provide enough help that a teacher can go from to implementing a new practice in her classroom. The teacher usually has to do some more serious study on her own.

The lack of searches related to Common Core emphases such as summarizing, writing in content areas and writing arguments suggests to me that although there may be a great deal of professional development presentations being delivered to support the Common Core, teachers on their own are not attempting to update their skills.

Or, to put it another way, teachers are not taking control of their learning.

And if that isn’t happening, I’d say Common Core State Standards have had very little influence on instruction in the schools.

Pell Grant experiment needs rural scrutiny

The Department of Education recently announced an experiment in which it will make Pell Grants available for up to 10,000 high school dual enrollment students in the 2016-17 school year

The DoE wants to see the effects the needs-based Pell Grant funding has on the college attendance rates and college college success of lower income students.

The experiment is one that rural schools and rural communities should watch closely.

Rural areas have more students living in poverty than in urban ones, which gives them a proportionally larger stake in the outcome than metropolitan areas.

Most of the articles about the experimental program, such as these from The Washington Post, The Atlantic and ECampusNews, seem to focus on programs in which high school students from lower income groups attend classes on college campuses.

(Chester E. Finn Jr. says in an article on EducationNext that the Pell Grants would be restricted to students who take courses on a college campus or online. I was unable to locate any other source that mentioned that location restriction.)

When college-level courses are offered on college campuses, the college outcomes are significantly better than when the courses are offered on high school campuses.

We know, however, that the majority of dual enrollment students do not take classes on college campuses; they take classes in their high schools taught by high school faculty credentialed by a higher education institution (usually a community college).

I suspect that restricting government funding to only students who take college courses at a college or online would put rural students at a competitive disadvantage.

Rural students are often long distances from the nearest college campus. Coordination of class schedules and transportation could make college attendance an impossibility for rural high school students.

Taking classes online might not prove much more feasible than commuting to a physical campus:  High speed internet is unavailable at many rural schools and poor students may have no Internet access at home.

Less obvious than those considerations, but perhaps more problematic, is whether the Pell Grant rules will keep some students out of courses that fit their needs and interests.

For example, if Jason is a math and computer whiz but a disaster in classes that are reading and writing intensive, would his low GPA keep him from college work in the field that interests him? Such things happen.

In an urban area, Jason could probably find other nerds to work with, or get access to online training through computers and computer access at a public library. In a rural area, he may have no access to any of those resources which might make the difference between his graduating and not graduating, between a good job and no job.

Those of us who want rural young people to have as much access to education as their metropolitan peers, need to keep a close eye on the DoE experiment with Pell Grants for high schoolers.

The skills–grades gap

We’ve all heard gripes about grade inflation.

We’ve all heard gripes about college students’ lack of basic skills and study habits.

How is it that those two conditions co-exist?

Letter A made from a balloon illustrates article on grade inflation

That’s the question Donald Hurwitz, senior executive in residence at Emerson College, explores in an opinion piece in The Boston Globe this week.

I don’t think many people in education have stopped to ask that question.

If you read Mary Alice McCarthy’s recent  influential piece in The Atlantic about America’s love affair with the bachelor’s degree, you might have noted the anecdote about her nephew who  couldn’t march with his college class because he was three credits short.

His adviser pointed out that he had taken the same economics course twice—one year apart. My nephew hadn’t noticed. When his exasperated parents demanded an explanation, all he could offer up was that the class had been taught by a different professor, and held in a different room. He got a B both times around.

That anecdote illustrates the problem.

Both times the nephew took the economics course he got a B, but he didn’t learn enough to recognize the material the second time around.

The B for not learning is what appalls Hurwitz.  He says:

Undifferentiated grades suggest a failure to engage with students, to acknowledge differences. Very high, undifferentiated grades make it easy not to ask, why? If the fault lies with students’ attitudes or abilities, shame on teachers; in not demonstrating how discerning judgment is exercised, they fail to equip students to determine how seriously to take their schooling and themselves, to wonder what in the situation they are responsible for. They are deprived of the means and reasons to ask: Did I work hard enough? How much should I care? Does this subject matter to me?

In the end, the solution comes down to teachers.

Hurwitz concludes:

Failure to engage, to acknowledge differences, to own up to discerning judgments of others, permits students to do likewise, and it undermines the very idea of a community of learning.

Policy won’t lead change; teachers must

Seen from above, graduate's black mortarboards.

A piece by Mary Alice McCarthy in The Atlantic last week has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention. McCarthy’s thesis is in her title: “America Needs to Get Over its Reverence for the Bachelor’s Degree.”

She uses the experiences of her two nephews to show two equally unacceptable options for students who don’t want to move from the high school classroom to the college classroom.

One of her nephews went into a culinary arts training program at at technical college. Then he went to New York City restaurants where he did well and got great experience.

All his training and experience afforded him no credit toward the college degree he’d need to work in management, where he’d earn more and which could lead to operating his own restaurant.

The other nephew went, reluctantly, to college, eventually graduated, but without having developed any true college-level skills. He’s unemployed, unqualified for white collar jobs, and untrained for blue-collar ones.

McCarthy points out that, unlike America, many other developed countries have career pathways that start with impressive vocational training programs.  She writes:

The issue isn’t that a career that starts with technical training can’t lead to more advanced learning and skills. It is that our higher-education policies simply don’t allow for it—and that’s just a failure of imagination.

I agree with McCarthy that America’s love affair with the bachelor’s degree is absurd.

I entirely agree with her that the traditional BA program makes no sense for millions of students who need experience to ground their academic study. I’ve had hundreds of them in my freshman composition classes.

I also can see how the “upside down” bachelor’s degree, which has the career training component  before the general education courses, would work for some students who are not classroom oriented.

I just don’t see it working for sufficient numbers of students.

I think there are just too many students for whom traditional general education courses remain unconnected to their vocational interests. The bulk of students I’ve had wouldn’t see any more value in college composition after completing two years of vocational training than they would have seen their first semester of college.

I don’t disagree with McCarthy’s point that American education policy is out of whack; however, I don’t believe policy changes alone are the answer.

Policy changes don’t necessarily result in practice changes necessary for successful implementation of the policies. The whole Common Core debacle is testimony to that.

No matter where the academic  gen ed courses fall in students’ post-secondary training, if post-secondary teachers are not equipped to teach the masses of students who need a college degree solely for the financial reasons McCarthy describes, conditions are not going to improve any time soon.

Post-secondary teachers in America are split between “vocational types” and “academic types.”  Both types would need experiences to enable them—collaboratively, if not individually—to craft assignments that guide students to discover connections between general education and their careers.

When such assignments are given today, it’s mainly by accident.

Unless academic faculty are encouraged (encouraged is the politically correct term for required) to build assignments for the career and technical education students, those assignments won’t be created.

Unless vocational faculty collaborate with them, the academics will make a mess of the assignments.

And if all faculty don’t create assignments that encourage (that PC term!) students to figure out how the career courses and the gen ed courses complement each other, students won’t see any connection between the two.

Even without policy changes, an imaginative faculty could begin the process of collaborating on new assignments that give career oriented students a basis on which to learn more advanced skills and develop new interest areas in the future.

Such collaborative experience might even spark  significant changes for students, faculty, and their institutions.

Photo Credit, David Niblack,

Should we train or educate?

One of the central debates in education circles these days is about what teachers ought to teach.

The pragmatists  favor training students to get along in the world as we know it, the business world dominated by the likes of Amazon and Google. (The pragmatists may go so far as to appear to limit the world as we know it to the world that’s described on standardized tests, which is too far, in my opinion.)

Another group I’ll call futurists argues that we can’t know what students will need to know by the time they graduate from  high school or college so we need to focus on “meta” skills, those that can be applied to changing situations throughout their lives.

The debate has changed little over centuries. What has changed is the pace of change: The future arrives much sooner than it used to.

The best path lies between the two extremes.

runner prepares to race on track

Train students for the known.

To ensure they can prepare students adequately, teachers need to familiarize themselves with the skills their students will need to be successful workers at area businesses and non-profit organizations. Not only will that knowledge make it possible to show students how training is relevant, but it is wonderful for school public relations.

Upper middle school and high school students must be able to read, write, and figure well enough to be successful volunteers at the local library or animal shelter

High school students and college undergraduates need to learn thoroughly whatever basic skills they need now to work in Pete’s Pizza Shop or Gayle’s Gadget Garage.

College students must learn skills that will let them put their degrees to use after graduation at business in the region around the college.

Educate students for the unknown.

Teachers and administrators can’t predict what students will need to know five years from now, but they can expect students will need to train to use new equipment and apply new skills.

Educators need to teach students not only how to learn information stuff, but how to work with different kinds of people in different environments and cultures.

Lacking information about what students will need to know in the future, teachers have to prepare students to be comfortable with—or at least not be overwhelmed by—change. The arts and humanities can offer opportunities for students to develop an awareness of cultures and environments unlike their own.

What’s not going to change in schools by 2025?

Calendar says 2025. Student says "why do we have to learn this stuff?"
Some things never change.

A quote from Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, caught my eye this week:

I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. … When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it. (See more at Passive Voice blog.)

Now change the focus from business to education.

What is true in education today that will be true tomorrow?

What are those things?

You can build your education policy and education strategy around the things that are stable in time.