5 Minute University

Saw this on Twitter…. too funny. Things haven’t changed much in the 30-odd years since Father Guido Sarducci blessed us with his wisdom.

Best quote:

It don’t matter how long you can remember anything as long as you can parrot it back for the test

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The Straight “A” Leader

Doug Johnson is always a source of excellent blog posts. However, this one about straight-A students is particularly spectacular.

Academia rewards the straight-A student. They are those that get the scholarships, the Latin honors, the Ivy League colleges. I’m not taking away from their achievements – they’ve worked hard.

Johnson asks — are these students learning to question and to be original thinkers? Or are they really good at the establishment of education? (Of course, this is not to downplay anyone’s achievement.) The ultimate question: ”

what happens when our straight-A students become educational leaders – principals, directors, even superintendents?

Are the kids who succeeded at an established structure the ones who can be rethinking how students learn? Can they think outside the box and create an educational system that meets the needs of the 21st century when we’re not creating factory workers?

I can relate. I was one of those straight-A students. I’m not proud of it. I was really good at school – but not sure I was good at all at asking questions. I was good at learning and spitting back on a test. To this day, I bet I could take a standardized test about just about anything and do ok. Learning how to take a test is not a life skill. When I was teaching, the system at which I excelled was the one I wanted to recreate. It wasn’t a good fit for the kids I was teaching. It was a reflection of a different era and didn’t necessarily meet the kids where they were.

It took raising two kids who are not traditional straight-A students to be able to peek outside my box. Why is testing the most valued assessment? Why is the 5-paragraph essay the goal?

Johnson says it best:

Or perhaps we should start giving A’s for something other than good test performance. What a concept.

Homework was a Cold War fad

I love Cold War history. It’s probably my favorite period of American history. Going to Los Alamos was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done – it’s a whacky place.

This article, How Sputnik Created Homework and Hurt American Kids, by Ryan Klein, just makes me love the Cold War even more.

…homework was a Cold War fad. Before then, Americans had always thought of homework as a bad idea because it distracted kids from families and chores. Many schools banned it altogether. But during the Cold War, Americans were desperate to get ahead, and a “we’ll try anything” mentality led to a new idea: Maybe homework does distract kids from good things, but if it makes them smarter—smart enough to beat the Russians—then we’re all for it!

 

Influencing Young Minds

I read other blogs because they make me think. Also because most bloggers are really good writers and they can often put into words what I am thinking but haven’t expressed – or don’t feel I can express because I’m not a teacher. Blogging allows a conversation when it’s not possible to have a real life conversation.

One of my favorite bloggers is a former high school teacher. He has left the world of K12 for the hallowed halls of higher education. I hope his philosophy can benefit many new teachers going into the world. Instead of directly impacting students, he can benefit more students by teaching new teachers to question the current state of education.

Snippets in today’s post were perfect reminders of why he is an excellent teacher – and why the current public school system drove him away.

Standardized tests are silly and do not account for real teaching. I am referring to the complex work of mentoring young people as they grow up in an infinitely complex, unsafe universe. Story is a better way to represent that work than test scores.

Seriously, how wonderfully insightful is this? Truly, does it matter if a student can remember the street some character in a book lived on, what year a battle occurred, or what equation you need to find the area of a parallelogram? Yes – a professor of literature, history or math might need these pieces of information at their fingertips, but not the majority of us. Do we need to be exposed to many types of information, ways of thinking and problem solving? Yes. Do we need to memorize all this stuff. No way.

A more important piece of a teacher’s job seems to be just what Sam says: mentoring people to grow into healthy adults. He was a creative teacher that did not rely on tests, extraordinary amounts of outside work or reciting facts. He asked students to think, apply knowledge to other situations, consolidate information and use their own experience. But he got a ton of flack for it. Personally, I am grateful my kid had a chance to be in his class. I know she got more out of that class — he made her think, he challenged her — than she did from those “advanced” classes that were crammed full of content.

I particularly like this quote:

First, I think teachers should not pretend to be transmitters of ultimate truths. Our truths might not work for somebody else.

Agreed. This respects diversity of thought, of opinion, of belief. Let’s encourage students to develop a belief system of their own instead of forcing them to swallow someone else’s. This does not mean students don’t work with content – it means truly there is too much content in the world to know it all. Learn to work well with smaller amounts so you are better equipped to work with it all.

How can teachers empathize with students and help them adapt to their circumstances with the understanding that realities are diverse, dissimilar, and require nuance to navigate? Throw out the tests. Most tests assume an arbitrary truth and then impose that truth at the expense of questioning.

This statement I find sums up the problem with standardized testing in a nutshell. There is no room for critical thinking or creativity in these tests. There is only room for spitting back material. What do we value more?

Way back a hundred years ago when I was teaching, I told my students (7/8th graders) flat out that I didn’t want them memorizing dates. I never used tests. All assessment was done using projects, often of their own choosing. Projects had to show an understanding of the issues and how it applied. It wasn’t a spitting back of dates. This was in the years before the rise of standardized tests and in an “open” school that left teachers a ton of flexibility. It was awesome….

I hope Sam’s current work in higher education teaching teachers allows him to plant this seed of thought in all these young people going into education. Maybe that’s how we start moving in this direction.

PD

In my work, I talk about professional development quite a bit. I do training with staff at my job, but a huge part of my work (and that of my colleagues) is teaching teachers.

In our experience, the PD for teachers when it comes to technology is lacking. Seriously lacking. Except for a few high flying exceptions at any school, it is more common to find teachers that aren’t getting the support they need to use the 1:1 technology they’re given (or had forced upon them). Many have trouble with the basics – turning it on, etc. This means they are not even close to using the tools in a real productive way — there’s little in terms of teaching pedagogy, classroom management, 21st century skills and how to move up the Bloom’s taxonomy ladder with the tools.

I was recently asked for some input on PD for a district. It may seem presumptuous of me to give any input, and I suppose it is. However, we benefit from seeing this tech PD from a broad perspective. I know the kinds of questions I’m asked, I know how often we get them.

Please note, I am in no way being critical of the teachers asking these questions. Just because I gravitate to tech tools very naturally and it comes really easily to me, I know it’s not that way for everyone – nor should it be. Nor should every teacher be expected to be a master of this. Some of the best teachers my kids have had have been basically luddites. It’s all about the attitude and pedagogy.

Anyway, here is are my thoughts about what a successful tech PD plan should look like:

  • embedded: there is a instructional technology person — not a network person — in the schools and accessible. It’s not a special thing.
  • frequent: happens as needed as well scheduled
  • leveled: lets the rabbits go quickly and the snails move at their comfort level
  • modeled: administrators embrace the tool, show excellent digital citizenship and use the tools when communicating with students, teachers and parents
  • paradigm shifting: includes more than just the hardware/software. It’s a mindset, and it takes time
  • flexible: it is responsive to changing tools and changing needs
  • student focused: both in terms of why districts do this – meets kids where they are, uses tools they know outside school. AND allows students to be part of the process. Embrace these kids. Let them be part of the solution, create student tech teams.
  • 4 Cs: it’s not really about the tool. It’s about empowering us to communicate, to create, collaborate and to think critically about our world. The iPads (whatever) are just a way to get there.

Broken Child

I have to reblog this. It breaks my heart. It hits so close to home.

This is by one of my favorite bloggers. I have tremendous respect for her honesty, her approach to life, her love for children and her love for books. I have tremendous respect for her teaching. She had the courage to completely change how she structured her class. She empowers students in a way not seen frequently.

This is a post about one of her children. I wish I could tell her that no, her child is not broken. Her child is lovely, wonderful, creative, caring. It’s not her child who is broken — it’s the school system. It is hard to tell a teacher that the school system is broken, but she knows it. She changed who she is in the classroom to address the very issues she’s seeing now in her child.

As one of the commenters said,  a world where kindergartners, first graders, etc., are expected to sit still is unnatural. Some kids thrive in it, but certainly not all. We crush the spirit of those who don’t fit that expectation. Why is that the value? Why do kindergartners need to read? Why is it that the only valuable learning occurs at a desk?

I saw this happen in my house. I was stubborn — too stubborn — and thought if my child only tried harder, if she only cared. I watched her spirit get crushed. I watched her frustration. I watched her self-esteem plummet. I watched her level of anxiety increase to the point of being incapacitating. All this for similar reasons — she couldn’t focus no matter how hard she tried. If I could do it all over, there are so many, many things I would do differently.

I wish I could just say to this blogger to follow her heart. Do what you need to do to honor your child. That’s what’s important – not what the expectations are of society, or of school.

 

She’s got my eyes, you know.

Blue mixed with gray depending  on the weather.   She’s got my long legs, arms for miles, and a laugh that comes from her heart.  Her hands look like my grandfather’s who gave her her name.  And those feet of hers are just like mine, growing too fast for her shoes to keep up.

She’s got her daddy’s sense of humor, always ready to make you smile.  And also his artistic eye, declaring one day she will be an artist.  She will paint the sky with every color she knows.

But she doesn’t have my skills of sitting still.  Of staying quiet.  Of focusing in.

She doesn’t smile easy or understand when others are kidding.  Friendships are sometimes hard to find.

Some would say she is a broken child.  Some would say she is a broken child.

We come up with fixes to help…

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Schedules

Fantastic idea about how to help high school students get ready for college — and I think it would help them STAY in high school!

Nick Stoneman writes about his school that schedules seniors in a way that gives them more autonomy over their day. In Nick’s words, this so-called “fifth grade schedule” is a problem: “Complacency is a risk when students have their time managed for them, as are both absenteeism and a lack of engagement.”

Even the brightest, most successful high school students have trouble when faced with the unstructured schedule of college.  This approach with a phased-in schedule would be a great way to give kids a safer place to experience this schedule, as well as keep kids engaged. Seniors are DONE with school by their last year, and giving them more responsibility and freedom could be a great way to keep them engaged.

Would some of them abuse the privilege? Of course. Guess what: they already find ways to sneak out of class and even if they are in class, they aren’t always present.

Will this happen? In most schools, no way, at least not for most kids. You’ll hear about transportation issues. You’ll hear that kids need to be in school. The transportation issue is real, although there must be ways to work around it.

Figure it out.