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Edclicking

By Dr. Harry Tennant

Edclicking

by Harry Tennant
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Entries from February 2012
Posts 1 - 12 of 12

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What's wrong with what you do?

Take an example of your work product. It may be teaching how to multiply two digit numbers. It might be feedback that you've given to a teacher about how the number of her discipline referrals is unusually high. It might be a software program you've just written. Just select an example of the result of what you do that can be examined closely. If there is no tangible work product, such as teaching multiplication, set up a video camera or two and record the class.

Now, take that work product and examine it in detail. What imperfections can you find? Look again, more closely and find some more imperfections. Don't fail to list any because they weren't your fault or because they were excusable under the circumstances. Find as many as you can possibly find.

Next, go through the list of imperfections and attempt to determine why it is there. What is the root cause of each imperfection?

Finally, what improvements could you make in the way you work to eliminate each of the imperfections? It is essential to keep the reality of the situation in mind as you do this. What you're looking for is ways to change the work so that it is easier to give the lesson or the staff feedback or write the software so that it doesn't have the imperfections. Don't make the mistake of simply expecting greater perfection from yourself through greater effort or more intense concentration. Perhaps some additional training is needed or just a simple aide like a checklist. What you're looking for is perfect results from an imperfect system (which includes you). The goal is to make it easier to do the right thing.

Imperfections are opportunities to learn. Seek them out! Then figure out how to make perfection the easy thing to do.

 

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Keywords: continuous improvement

 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Find 50 ways to improve your work

When a new management-level employee was hired by Toyota*, he didn't start working on a management-level job. He was given various tasks to do in the factory despite his decades-long experience in management in one of the Big Three car companies.

One of his assigned tasks was to observe a particular factory worker in a highly efficient Toyota factory and come up with 50 ways to improve the work process. Not only that, but they had to be changes for which there was evidence that would result in some combination of less time, less scrap and less strain on the worker. And he had only three shifts to observe the work and implement the changes.

Toyota is an organization that is serious about improvement!

When was the last time that you improved the way you do your work in 50 ways? Or 5 ways?

*from Spear, Steven J. The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition.

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Keywords: continuous improvement

 

Friday, February 24, 2012

What did you learn?

 

What did you learn? Isn't that the essential question of continuous improvement? Actual changes and improvements made, and their demonstratedvalue, are certainly important. And those changes are more tangible than changes in understanding. But what is more important? What will have more far reaching consequences? Probably what is learned.

Need it even be mentioned that learning without application is of little value? The value of learning must come from its application. So saying that learning is more important than application does not imply that learning without application is sufficient.

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Keywords: continuous improvement

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Problems with problem-solving

In my last post I talked about wasting two days on a programming bug. That experience indicates that I have problems with my problem-solving process. It is inefficient if it can stall my progress for that long. What to do?

  • The first step to improving a process is to make the process explicit. I must admit, I have no explicit process for debugging software. I analyze it, look at the outcome and try to figure out what went wrong. And usually that works well enough. But sometimes, like this recent experience, it doesn't. So, I wrote a debugging process.
  • Develop a checklist of things to check and a time to start using it. For example, if fixing a bug has alluded me for more than ten minutes, it would be beneficial to stop what I'm doing and start a more systematic approach. I wrote a short checklist. It was clear that it needs to be elaborated because there are many types of special things to check for different program constructs.
  • There would be a good time to get someone else involved. A code walkthrough is where two people go through code line by line explaining what each line is supposed to do. A second set of eyes often sees things that have become invisible to the author. With screen sharing technology, doing a code walkthrough is easy to do even if the people involved are across the country. You often make two kinds of discoveries in code walkthroughs: you find errors or you don't remember how the heck the code is supposed to work. Both are useful discoveries.
  • Look for best practice. How do other people approach debugging? With whatever task you're up against, chances are very good that others have done something like it before, and chances are pretty good that there is something online to read for insights.

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Keywords: Continuous improvement

 

Monday, February 20, 2012

How will I learn from this experience?

I've just spent two days trying to figure out why some software that I wrote wasn't working as expected. It wasn't particularly difficult code but of middling complexity. To make matters more puzzling, this code was very similar to two other programs I just wrote a couple of days ago very quickly and without problems.

After two days of trying everything I could think of (and retrying many of them) I finally found the answer. It was a dumb mistake that I kept overlooking. It was similar to this error:

Because I was low on milk, I drove my trusty black Honda CRV to
to the grocery store.

In the example above, it is easy to miss the fact that there are two "to"s. My bug was like that but I didn't notice it for two days.

Ok, a big waste of time for a dumb mistake, but how can I avoid doing the same thing tomorrow?

  • Give it some attention. Write about it (as you see here). Tell someone about it (if you want a reputation as a sparkling conversationalist). Attention aids memory retention.
  • Keep a journal of lessons learned. Journaling has two benefits. First, you will be more likely to remember because you're giving the experience attention. Second, if your journal is searchable, you can find and reread the entry even if you can't remember all the details immediately. My journal is just a large text document. I can search it for text strings. I also head each entry with the date so I can search by date too.
  • Another technique is to make a process change. For example, I might have a process rule that said, if I'm still mystified by some crazy bug after an hour, just throw out the code and rewrite it. This one is tough to do because you always believe that the epiphany is just about to come. But if I had had the discipline to apply a rule like this, I would have been done in two hours rather than two days.


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Keywords: continuous improvement

 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Improve the process to improve the people

When we look for ways to improve lesson plans or a discipline management process, we are likely to end up with better lesson plans or a better discipline management process. But is that all?

When we go through an exercise to find and make improvements we do more than the improvements themselves. We are also instilling in the staff the habit of looking for opportunities for improvement. We are demonstrating problem solving techniques that create the improvements. And we are practicing thehabits of verifying that a proposed improvement really does improve things in the real world situation.

While it is good to create and install a process improvement, it is even more important that the staff recognizes that opportunities for improvement abound and it is up to each of us to identify them, find the improvement and put it to work.

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Keywords: Continuous improvement

 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why do we focus on continuous improvement?

We offer database applications. Generally, database applications are built to keep an organization organized. They help keep track of stuff. One example is with our Discipline Manager product. It keeps track of the discipline referrals, what consequences have been assigned, their due dates, whether parents and the referring teacher have been notified of the consequence, whether the consequence has been served by the due date and so on. In addition it makes this info available to counselors, special ed teachers and others while not loaning out case folders that might get misplaced. And then all that discipline data is saved and archived, ready for state inspectors who might want to see it in chronological order or by student or by sub-population or by teacher.

That's the kind of thing that data management systems do. So why don't we just say that we organize your data? Well, our applications do organize your data which helps you do what you're doing more efficiently. But it also offers a new opportunity. Now that you have all that data organized, you have an opportunity to analyze it and think about it in ways that simply weren't possible before. You can now see trends and problem areas that weren't visible before. You might have had an inkling that things were getting better or worse, but that is far different from having data. The existence of the data gives rise to the opportunity for continuous improvement.

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Keywords: Continuous improvement

 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why plan?

We typically think of planning as a way of organizing activity. What needs to precede what? What are all the components involved?

But there's another reason to plan. It's a way of discovering what you don't understand. And that's discovered in two ways. The first way, planning may make you confront the fact that there are gaps in your understanding as you attempt to construct the plan. You find this out when you find that there are parts of the plan that you can't articulate. The gaps.

The second way that planning helps you discover what you don't understand doesn't happen during planning. It happens while executing the plan. The plan embodies your understanding of the situation you are planning for. It holds your expectations. When, during execution, you find that the plan is inadequate, aha!, you've discovered a flaw in your understanding. And that's good! Discovering a flaw in your understanding identifies an opportunity to learn and thus an opportunity to improve.

For this reason, it is beneficial to plan not just often-repeated processes but one-of-a-kind activities too. The plan articulates your understanding. Inadequacies in the plan indicate the need for learning. Learning leads to better understanding and that leads to improvement.

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Keywords: continuous improvement, planning

 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What do you think about reflection?

I've often written about reflection in these blog posts. I think it's an incredibly powerful and simple way to improve anything you're trying to improve. Think about it. On a regular basis. Reflect.

But while reflecting, just what should we be thinking about? Here are some suggestions.

  • What went right? One of the easiest ways to improve is to recognize what is already going well and just do more of it.
  • What was unexpected? When something unexpected happens it means that you didn't really understand what you were doing. The unexpected can occur in many ways. Did you find a better result than you expected? Did you find a worse result than expected? Did you expect something to change but it didn't? Did you expect something to not change but it did? Was the magnitude of change surprising? If something unexpected happens it's an opportunity to get a better understanding of what you're doing by chasing the surprise down and figuring out: why? 
  • How does my approach compare to others? Keep alert for how others do the things you do and how their approach works for them. What can you borrow, experiment with or manipulate to gain from the experience of others?
  • What went wrong? People often equate reflection with thinking about what went wrong. If something goes wrong, it bears investigation just as any unexpected outcome does. But be careful about allowing your regular periods of reflection to become examinations of every nit that wasn't perfect. Focusing exclusively on the negative can be demoralizing.

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Keywords: continuous improvement, reflection

 

Monday, February 6, 2012

How big is the goal?

A lot of schools require that teachers have lesson plans before the start of a class. Teachers should be prepared for what they are about to teach, of course. But that goal is too small. In addition to knowing what they will say that day, they should also be preparing for how that class will be better taught next time. What else is required for that? Not much.

  • The lesson plan must be recorded in a way that will be readily recalled next year. (I prefer a database but an orderly collection of files would be sufficient.)
  • A period of reflection after class along with notes for improvement is just as important as creating the lesson plan in the first place.
  • The key criteria for the lesson must be clear: that it follows the curriculum, the learning standards and aligns well with courses that come before and after this one.
  • It should facilitate debugging: if students do poorly on assessments for a particular learning objective, is it easy to pull up the specific lesson plans relevant to that objective?
  • Finally, once a teacher has gained a new insight from his experience and reflection on a day's lesson plan, how does that insight get shared among the other teachers?

It is essential that educators think beyond the scope of what they will do that day. To be most effective, they must understand how each day's lesson fits into the larger whole. That is the proper size for planning.

 

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Keywords: Continuous improvement

 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Get rid of problems

Any complex activity will come with problems. And teaching a classroom of kids while trying to keep the room under control is certainly a complex activity. But how those inevitable problems are addressed can have an enormous effect on the the effectiveness of teaching.

The thing about problems is that they are symptoms of how the process isn't working. If we simply put up with a problem, we will probably see it again and again. Trying workarounds instead of solving problems doesn't help either. A workaround just makes a complex activity a little more complex.

The most effective way to deal with problems is to address them and solve them. That's the only way to make the process simpler. That's the only way to get rid of problems once and for all.

However, in the urgency of the moment, solving a problem can seem like a distraction that cannot be tolerated. Maybe so. But that doesn't mean you can avoid solving the problem. It means that it is now a priority to come back to the problem as soon as possible and solve it then. Otherwise, you are likely to see it again. And again. And again.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

High value-add teachers

In an interesting study from Harvard, The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers, researchers estimated the impact on students of having one of the best teachers for one year in grades 4 - 8. They compare teachers by  value-added or VA, which is a relative measure of how much a student learns under one teacher vs. another. There are immediate benefits as well as significant measurable impacts extending years into adult life. Here are some of the results.

Teachers’ impacts on students are substantial. Replacing a teacher whose true VA is in the bottom 5% with one of average quality would generate cumulative earnings gains of $52,000 per student or more than $1.4 million for the average classroom...

Teachers have large impacts in all the grades we analyze (4 to 8). Teachers’ impacts on earnings are also similar in percentage terms for students from low and high income families...

Overall, our study shows that great teachers create great value and that test score impacts are helpful in identifying such teachers. However, more work is needed to determine the best way to use VA for policy. For example, using VA in teacher evaluations could induce counterproductive responses that make VA a poorer measure of teacher quality, such as teaching to the test or cheating. There will be much to learn about these issues from school districts that start using VA to evaluate teachers. Nevertheless, it is clear that improving the quality of teaching – whether using value-added or other tools – is likely to have large economic and social returns.

The authors mention replacing below-average teachers with above-average teachers. That's one  way. Another is an effective program of improving the quality of all teachers continuously.

 

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Keywords: continuous improvement

  Posts 1 - 12 of 12
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