If you are both a parent and a teacher, you probably have noticed a certain discomfort as the deeply held philosophies and attitudes you hold as a parent sometimes clash with those you hold as a teacher. I think a lot about this, and I feel that more and more often my feelings in these two roles are drifting ever further apart. Here are a few examples:
I, parent, do not care about his test scores. Unless they are low. Then I care, but not if it shows growth. As long as he’s in the middle of the pack. No, I don’t want you to teach to the test, just show me numbers that make me proud.
I, teacher, hate to teach to the test. I loathe it, actually. I try to embed the standards well enough that the students do well on the test, which I really don’t care about. Unless the scores are low. Then I need to teach that standard MUCH more. But it’s only a test.
I, parent, do not want there to be lots of homework. I have my own job and we have work to do at home. We have many other rich, important things to do in our home time, except when we don’t, in which case it would be great if there were something she could work on. But for sure no projects. There is nothing worse than the drama that goes with projects. However, we would like to see many more real-world projects and engaged learning. Is there anything we can work on at home to help her learn?
I, teacher, want the richest possible learning environment possible, so I try to institute project-based learning as often as possible. I love seeing the way the approach the projects. Except the ones they actually finish. Those are horrible, rushed, and often done by parents. If only they could be done fully in class. I hate sending homework home, because most kids don’t do a good job on it, but yet I still send plenty home because we can’t get it all done in class. I would love the parent to help her, but make sure she does it all on her own.
I, parent, want him to be a great citizen in class and to be generally pleasant around others. I want you to help reinforce manners and friendly behaviors, except when it’s my job. I would like my kids to behave well at school, but if they don’t, I hope you will help them learn, except that I don’t because I’d rather you helped them with math. I can handle the social stuff at home, or not. It really depends.
I, teacher, want to assist you in helping your child to be a great friend and school citizen. Except when he isn’t, then we should talk about your part in this. We can reinforce the positive behaviors, but you have to teach those. Except when we do it. That’s important.
This mass of contradictions is an important part of the concept of home/school relationships, and a conversation I don’t think we have often enough. Do we as educators have a specific understanding of what parts of education are fully on the shoulders of the parents? Do parents understand the areas of education they have the most influence?
I see a fairly wide disconnect between what education asks of parenting and what parents ask for from education. I also feel a heartfelt sadness for those students whose parents don’t, can’t, or won’t do the things that are inherently expected of them. Does the student pay the price for this? Is it fair that they do? Is a parent who works two jobs a bad parent because they don’t help with the glue and paste project? Can reading be taught well without the parent?
Perhaps this conversation needs to be had more often. It seems that the more complicated a child’s home life is, the more the system in school is stacked against them, and I think that is a problem. I’ve been on both sides. I understand the frustration of minimal support of my students from their parents, yet I, too, have been a busy parent trying to hold together the complicated life we sometimes lead. Sometimes I ask parents to study spelling with their child, or to help with a project, and in the same day forget to go through my child’s backpack and help him study his spelling because we ran out of day.
Is there a solution? Perhaps. A greater empathy between parents and the school would be a great building block. What would probably make the biggest impact would be the idea of an IEP for every child. In that agreement, parents could honestly indicate how much time and resources they have available for at-home learning, and a plan could be built around that. I think an accord could be struck for almost every situation. Individual family needs should dictate this conversation, not a single expectation. I’d be interested to see what that kind of compassionate conversation might produce, and how it would value the child at the center of the learning.
I have grave concerns about the Common Core movement and the doors CCSS opens toward pushing a test-dominated, packaged-curricula world for our students. The initial promise of alignment and common sense standards has already evolved into a texting frenzy, as states and districts aim to prove the new reforms are bearing fruit.
I offer a recent open letter to parents of the students of New York State by the administrators themselves. I applaud these brave leaders who are willing to stand up for what is best for students, even though it may directly oppose the wishes of NY state and regional boards of education and the NY state government itself.
“An Open Letter to Parents of Children throughout New York State
We are the principals of your children’s schools. We serve communities in every corner of New York State — from Niagara County to Clinton, Chautauqua to Suffolk. We come from every size and type of school, with students from every background. We thank you for sharing your children with us and for entrusting us to ensure that they acquire the skills and knowledge they need to achieve their dreams and your hopes for them.
This year, many of your children experienced the first administration of the newly revised New York State Assessments. You may have heard that teachers, administrators, and parents are questioning the validity of these tests. As dedicated administrators, we have carefully observed the testing process and have learned a great deal about these tests and their impact. We care deeply about your children and their learning and want to share with you what we know — and what we do not know — about these new state assessments.
Here’s what we know:
1) NYS Testing Has Increased Dramatically: We know that our students are spending more time taking State tests than ever before. Since 2010, the amount of time spent on average taking the 3-8 ELA and Math tests has increased by a whopping 128%! The increase has been particularly hard on our younger students, with third graders seeing an increase of 163%!
2) The Tests were Too Long: We know that many students were unable to complete the tests in the allotted time. Not only were the tests lengthy and challenging, but embedded field test questions extended the length of the tests and caused mental exhaustion, often before students reached the questions that counted toward their scores. For our Special Education students who receive additional time, these tests have become more a measure of endurance than anything else.
3) Ambiguous Questions Appeared throughout the Exams: We know that many teachers and principals could not agree on the correct answers to ambiguous questions in both ELA and Math. In some schools, identical passages and questions appeared on more than one test and at more than one grade level. One school reported that on one day of the ELA Assessment, the same passage with identical questions was included in the third, fourth AND fifth grade ELA Assessments.
4) Children have Reacted Viscerally to the Tests: We know that many children cried during or after testing, and others vomited or lost control of their bowels or bladders. Others simply gave up. One teacher reported that a student kept banging his head on the desk, and wrote, “This is too hard,” and “I can’t do this,” throughout his test booklet.
5) The Low Passing Rate was Predicted: We know that in his “Implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards” memo of March 2013, Deputy Commissioner Slentz stated that proficiency scores (i.e., passing rate) on the new assessments would range between 30%-37% statewide. When scores were released in August 2013, the statewide proficiency rate was announced as 31%.
6) The College Readiness Benchmark is Irresponsibly Inflated: We know that the New York State Education Department used SAT scores of 560 in Reading, 540 in Writing and 530 in mathematics, as the college readiness benchmarks to help set the “passing” cut scores on the 3-8 New York State exams. These NYSED scores, totaling 1630, are far higher than the College Board’s own college readiness benchmark score of 1550. By doing this, NYSED has carelessly inflated the “college readiness” proficiency cut scores for students as young as nine years of age.
7) State Measures are Contradictory: We know that many children are receiving scores that are not commensurate with the abilities they demonstrate on other measures, particularly the New York State Integrated Algebra Regents examination. Across New York, many accelerated eighth-graders scored below proficiency on the eighth grade test only to go on and excel on the Regents examination one month later. One district reports that 58% of the students who scored below proficiency on the NYS Math 8 examination earned a mastery score on the Integrated Algebra Regents.
8) Students Labeled as Failures are Forced Out of Classes: We know that many students who never needed Academic Intervention Services (AIS) in the past, are now receiving mandated AIS as a result of the failing scores. As a result, these students are forced to forgo enrichment classes. For example, in one district, some middle school students had to give up instrumental music, computer or other special classes in order to fit AIS into their schedules.
9) The Achievement Gap is Widening: We know that the tests have caused the achievement gap to widen as the scores of economically disadvantaged students plummeted, and that parents are reporting that low-scoring children feel like failures.
10) The Tests are Putting Financial Strains on Schools: We know that many schools are spending precious dollars on test prep materials, and that instructional time formerly dedicated to field trips, special projects, the arts and enrichment, has been reallocated to test prep, testing, and AIS services.
11) The Tests are Threatening Other State Initiatives: Without a doubt, the emphasis on testing is threatening other important State initiatives, most notably the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Parents who see the impact of the testing on their children are blaming the CCSS, rather than the unwise decision to implement high stakes testing before proper capacity had been developed. As long as these tests remain, it will be nearly impossible to have honest conversations about the impact of the CCSS on our schools.
Here’s what we do not know:
1) How these Tests will Help our Students: With the exception of select questions released by the state, we do not have access to the test questions. Without access to the questions, it is nearly impossible to use the tests to help improve student learning.
2) How to Use these Tests to Improve Student Skills or Understanding: Tests should serve as a tool for assessing student skills and understanding. Since we are not informed of the make-up of the tests, we do not know, with any level of specificity, the content or skills for which children require additional support. We do not even know how many points were allotted for each question.
3) The Underlying Cause of Low Test Scores: We do not know if children’s low test scores are actually due to lack of skills in that area or simply a case of not finishing the test — a problem that plagued many students.
4) What to Expect Next Year: We do not know what to expect for next year. Our students are overwhelmed by rapidly changing standards, curriculum and assessments. It is nearly impossible to serve and protect the students in our care when expectations are in constant flux and put in place rapidly in a manner that is not reflective of sound educational practice.
5) How Much this is Costing Already-Strained Taxpayers: We don’t know how much public money is being paid to vendors and corporations that the NYSED contracts to design assessments, nor do we know if the actual designers are educationally qualified.
Please know that we, your school principals, care about your children and will continue to do everything in our power to fill their school days with learning that is creative, engaging, challenging, rewarding and joyous. We encourage you to dialogue with your child’s teachers so that you have real knowledge of his skills and abilities across all areas. If your child scored poorly on the test, please make sure that he does not internalize feelings of failure. We believe that the failure was not on the part of our children, but rather with the officials of the New York State Education Department. These are the individuals who chose to recklessly implement numerous major initiatives without proper dialogue, public engagement or capacity building. They are the individuals who have failed.
As principals of New York schools, it is always our goal to move forward in a constant state of improvement. Under current conditions, we fear that the hasty implementation of unpiloted assessments will continue to cause more harm than good. Please work with us to preserve a healthy learning environment for our children and to protect all of the unique varieties of intelligence that are not reducible to scores on standardized tests. Your child is so much more than a test score, and we know it.”
A brilliant math teacher walked in to my room yesterday and said she thought she may have found the answer to her struggles with her flipped advanced math courses: knowing who viewed what, and for how long.
She has been fully committed to the flipped concept for most of the past two years, but she still faces struggles and pushback.
Some students claim to have watched the videos, but complain that they didn’t learn anything, so they don’t want to do them anymore. Others claim that the videos go too fast. Some others simply refuse to do them. While this is only a small portion of her classes, is a group large enough to take notice. This isn’t an access issue, mind you, it is about a withdrawal from traditional sit and get instruction. Being forced to interact with the material directly for understanding is an effort some students simply are not yet willing to step to.
One of the problems is accountability. The teacher uses YouTube, which doesn’t offer much for feedback beyond a hit count. Were those 50 hits from 40 kids or 10?
She also does not grade notes. I know many others do this, but she believes note-taking and other such work is a natural part of learning and shouldn’t be graded on a scale. She’s going for authentic grading. It’s a good thing.
The solution she found was a product called EduCanon. Though we only tinkered with it for a little while, the promise is golden: Upload your videos to the site, and get stats on who viewed, how long, how long per page, and as a bonus, can embed questions, files, and other documents to specific pages. She was excited to try it out.
I haven’t messed much yet with this or any other such product yet, but I’m interested to see if the feedback helps the teacher connect a student’s efforts to their understanding, and helps them build more intrinsic motivation in those students who just want to hand in a worksheet.
I would be very interested to learn more from others who use similar strategies and software for student accountability in high school classes.
I have been long been in favor of the idea of exploiting the power of digital technology to help students learn. In fact, I have been a great proponent of the idea of the flipped classroom, so it may be odd that I am writing a post about why one should not implement the flipped classroom. But here we are.
The fact of the matter is that for every one good flipped learning model, there are dozens with fatal flaws. Forgive the hyperbole, but I think fatal is the reality. The death of learning, the death of hope, the death of the love of discovery.
Here are 4 of the many reasons why you should NOT flip your instruction:
1. You are looking to jazz up your instruction. This is a horrible justification for a major learning shift. If the instruction needs jazzing up, chances are that making a video is going to have the opposite effect. Brilliant, dynamic lecturers can come off as stale and boring on film, so imagine what lackluster instruction might look like.
2. You do not have a 1:1 environment. If you are not SURE that every. single. one. of your students has easy access to the type of digital device required to access the flipped lesson, take a step back and reevaluate. Most times, those students with the least access to technology are also those with challenging home lives. Ask yourself whether the addition of this learning tool will actually make some students’ lives even more challenging. In traditional instruction, the lesson content is taught in class and the review happens at home. Even if the student is not able to do the review at home, at least they got the core instruction. In the flipped model, it’s the core content lesson that is missed if the student is unable to access the lesson at home. It’s reasonably safe to say that students in a 1:1 environment have access and opportunity. Even then, what of students who refuse to access the content outside class? If you are flipping your instruction or considering the shift, you will need to think long and hard on these questions, and come up with strategies that serve all of your students.
3. Everyone else is doing it. As much as we would like to believe that bandwagon thinking wouldn’t enter the conversation, the truth is that education trends are often misguided by the notion that if many others do, so should we. Check that. Flipping instruction is a major shift. It requires planning, research, and some sense of infrastructure. “I’m going to try it for a few weeks,” could turn into a few weeks of lost learning. First, ask if there is a need or distinct advantage. If not, perhaps your situation could simply benefit from an expanded online connection to materials. A true flipped instruction model is a commitment. It requires data collection, evaluation, and constant evolution. Trying it for a week or so and remarking that “the kids seem to like it,” is big trouble.
4. You want to do twice as much. Ok, this is a somewhat noble goal, but too often this becomes the recipe for covering more, and actually learning less. The flipped instruction model is about deeper understanding, by allowing students more time for practice, experimentation, and reflection. Simply using it to try to double the material is a fool’s errand.
Of course the flipped instruction model is marvelous when used by teachers who understand the scale of the undertaking, and implement with mindset of helping students who might otherwise struggle first. There are a variety of fabulous resources available, both in print and online to get a better feel for how really successful flipped instruction works. My advice is to spend time learning and collaborating first, and if the flip is right for your students, do so with the confidence that you are making a change that is great for all of your students.
Ever really watched a kid look something up online? Have you noticed the same trend I have? That to most kids, YouTube is on the same par as Google when looking something up?
For example, if I take students into a lab or check out iPads, and ask them to get some information about Elizabeth I, the behavior is about as you’s expect from adults. They type Elizabeth I into the Google search bar, and then read the first two posts, one of which will invariably be a wikipedia article. And this is all fine and good when it comes to kids looking to learn a fact.
But look at what happens when kids are not looking for facts but processes. When they need to know how to DO something, they look to YouTube first, and use it like a search engine. Ask students to come up with new ways to lace up shoes, and they will not search Google, as many adults would, but go straight to video. How to change oil in a car: YouTube. How to draw Spiderman? Yup, YouTube.
I think this is a relevant shift in the way young people use the internet. YouTube remains, for many adults, a place that has funny videos. Many of us still view it as largely about entertainment. Even teachers who use flipped videos and such may think of YouTube as an entertainment site that can be co-opted as a learning tool. The students, however, see if for what it really is: a repository of information. They understand that if you can wonder about it, someone has probably made a video about it. They understand that watching and listening is easier than reading about something, especially when the content is complex.
I am a very connected educator, and yet I have not fully embraced video as a primary means of addressing the world. I like to read to myself. Students today often do not. They want to see the video. I wonder if this is troubling or simply a sign of our ever changing times. What is encouraging is that students know how to learn how to do something on their own, and I think that’s pretty cool.
Last week I used Skype* to bring some Shakespearean actors into my 9th grade classes to connect with our Romeo and Juliet unit. It was fantastic. The students loved it. The actors loved it. I loved it.
So why don’t I do this more often? Really?
I think that despite being a daily user of technology in my classes, directly with iPads, labs, or other devices, or indirectly with Schoology and KidBlog, I just don’t always think of it.
I think what Skyping people in to the classroom offers is invaluable, but I also think that the fact that it actually opens a portal from the safety and comfort of my classroom into the real world it seems like a really big deal. And it is. But not in the way we might imagine.
Using Skype in my class more frequently gets to the core teaching transition I write and speak so often about: transforming the learning experience itself. Overall, I am very good at this, and yet, in some ways, my old habits still steer me more than I would like. Setting up a Skype session is really fairly easy.
In light of these recent ruminations, I offer a few points about Skype experiences in the classroom that I have written down to try to remember. I hope they help others remember that this kind of experience is why technology in the classroom is such a crucial component.
- People like to talk to students and play the expert. Their ordinary job may not offer that experience often. The investment on their end is pretty modest.
- Skype is very user-friendly, and at this point, most people have the skills to make a Skype connection.
- Video chatting with an expert makes both a cognitive and emotional connection to the material, solidifying retention.
- Part of being the guide on the side is to lead them out of the classroom.
- It is easier than it seems to set up the appointment and facilitate the call.
- Everything doesn’t need to be perfect. The guest Skyper will understand if there is a fire drill, or if the internet tweaks. It’s no different than what anyone deals with on a typical day.
- Guest Skypers love getting the feedback from students. A simple online form can collect comments easily.
- There is a potential guest Skyper in just about any lesson.
- A little goes a long way; no student expects to Skype with someone every day.
- It’s cheaper than a field trip, takes a fraction of the time and planning, and in some cases, can be just as valuable.
- It models connection-making behavior that students may use in a professional setting someday.
There are certainly other points to consider, but that’s what I wrote up most recently. I want to make a priority to do this more often, and in more significant ways in the future.
*While Skype is the most universal of the video-chat tools, Google Hangouts serves the same purpose in much the same way. There are actually some functional advantages to Hangouts, but fewer average adults have used it.
A few years ago, my teaching of Romeo & Juliet changed. No, the play hadn’t changed, and the actual instruction was more or less the same. The only change is that I encourage cheating.
A few years ago, it became clear to me that despite working on the language and the story in class, many students were logging into SparkNotes (No Fear) online and reading the side-by-side text on their own. I was irritated when I realized this was pretty widespread. I thought of it as the easy way out.
The reason I felt it was the easy way out, is because I knew I would be evaluating them on their understanding of the play. Why should they read the original text if they can get synopsis help online. I forgot what I was doing.
I have build my Shakespeare study on the premise that if you can learn to read Shakespeare by learning how to use context clues, understanding unfamiliar sentence structures, and asking the right questions, those skills would transfer to medical forms, tax code, and just about any other reading task where unfamiliar words and language would be used.
But here I was, pretending that the story mattered. It really doesn’t. Sure, it’s great if they get into the story, but it isn’t the point of the instruction. It’s about context reading strategies. So why didn’t I evaluate them on that?
These days, I encourage cheating. I post all of the help sites on Schoology, and even assign for them to read passages on these sites. However, I give them a pretest containing several unfamiliar passages of Shakespeare, and ask them to read them. We discuss how we will be honing our ability to read unfamiliar texts, and that the story is somewhat irrelevant.
They now understand that relying too much on the “cheats” will keep them from learning to read Shakespeare. They understand that it is a skill that requires challenging themselves and practicing. They can use the tools to help themselves check their own progress.
The summative assessment is more Shakespeare cuttings. They can read Titus Andronicus and The Tempest because they gained a skill, not just a story.
I think the “cheating” that started all of this lead me to determine what is important and what is not. Students deserve to be encouraged to find information, to use it, and learn from it.
The Twitter PLN is without a doubt the greatest resource for educators at any level today. Whether one teaches kindergarten or graduate studies, there is a rich and powerful network of caring, generous education professionals sharing insight, materials, and support. Here is a quick guide to some of the folks you will meet once you get involved in this awesome community:
1. The philosopher. The best example of this is @tomwhitby, who, like other great twit-osophers, dispenses a great many excellent questions to the general readership, while offering humble insights on all sorts of related questions. Twitter philosophers make you feel both smart and dumb at the same time, by challenging what you think you know, yet leading you to new understanding.
2. The sharer. Sharers are some of the most hardworking and generous people on Twitter. They toil tirelessly to share the best articles, materials, and strategies, in a steady stream, nearly all day long. @mzteachuh, @adambellow, @cybraryman1, and @coolcatteacher come to mind as great examples of great sharers.
3. The politiphile. Politiphiles are the ones interested and involved in the politics of education and education reform. Their posts help us stay aware of the complex world of government dealings in education, and help sort through the rubbish so we can better see the landscape. @dianeravitch and @alfiekohn are perhaps the best in this category. Beware, though. With politics comes bias.
4. The instigators. These awesome folks are the ones pushing the boundaries of education every day. They challenge the status quo, disrupt conventional thinking, and slay sacred beasts of all sorts. Keep an eye on what these folks are talking about, and your idea for how great education could be will be forever changed. @mcleod and @gcouros are great examples of positive instigators on twitter.
5. The gurus. There are all sorts of gurus on Twitter. They supplement not-so-everyday activities like writing seminal works on educational practice and presenting at national conferences by sharing the best of what they know on Twitter. @toddwhittaker, @danielpink, @sirkenrobinson and @drtonywagner are some great ones to start with.
6. The social butterfly. What would a great learning community be without gregarious, friendly, and approachable professionals who draw people in and make them feel welcome in any conversation. These folks almost always have their own particular expertise, yet they add to their online presence by being, well, just fun people to interact with. @amandacdykes, @sjunkins, @8amber8, and @thejlv all come to mind for this one.
7. The EdChat Elite. There are, among the education PLN crowd, certain participants who, by a mix of offering outstanding insights and ideas, frequently facilitating chats, and being generally omnipresent on Twitter, have managed to become the effective face of the education PLC. They humbly accept the peer leadership roles as a responsibility to bring great minds together, while challenging thinking. Many have already been mentioned, but @web20classroom, @kleinerin, @kylepace, and @stevehargadon are among the many who would fit this bill.
8. The Jedis. This one, of course, refers to people like @jedipadmaster and those like him, who have a particular skill-set, and have become field experts in specific areas of education or education technology. They are the ones you think of when you have a question about something specific. Whether the area is flipped learning, daily 5, advising, or Chromebooks, there is someone in the PLN who is the go-to person. Ask around, it doesn’t take long to find them.
9. The leaders. Not the leaders of government, or of anything on Twitter, but outstanding leaders in schools around the world. Their daily ruminations and discussion help everyone see what great leadership looks like, but also helps any of us to set higher standards for our own educational leaders. @justintarte, @principalspage, and @twhitford, among many others who have already been listed, are great examples of those who exemplify leadership on Twitter daily.
10. YOU. Yes, you are needed on twitter, regardless whether you fit nicely in any of these categories or not. The most common people you meet in the Twitter #PLN are caring, curious, and thoughtful education professionals who are looking for ideas, information, strategies, and professional relationships. Please join us!