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Archive for September, 2011

I was always intrigued by the saying, “I taught him everything he knows, but not everything that I know!” I always thought that was a pretty clever saying. It was also true of educators in years gone by. They were the content experts. If you wanted knowledge, these experts had it. People paid good money to travel to the places where these content experts delivered their wares, universities, colleges and monasteries. Knowledge was a commodity and, if the expert held anything back, a student’s only recourse for more, was to search the libraries. Ah, the simplicity of the bygone days. As public education came about we had many more content experts and many more libraries. That was the model, listen to experts and read content in books housed in academic or public libraries. Since all of education was based on print media every teacher was media literate, if they could read and understand.

Media began to change first with TV, and then with computers offering other means of content delivery. Television was easily understood and adopted quickly by educators. VCR’s were more easily handled than threading those ratchety, click-clickety-sounding 16 mm projectors. Video cassettes made everything user-friendly. I always thought that Social Studies teachers were the quickest to use video to deliver content. It was suited for them. Some teachers even allowed students to create content with video. That was innovation back in the day.

What threw the monkey wrench into the sprocket works of education was the damned internet and all of the stuff that it delivers. It comes in mass quantities and things are always changing, or evolving, or, in some cases, disappearing altogether to be replaced by something else. Being a content expert is easier if the content doesn’t change. Commit to it once, and you are done. The idea that there might be constant change and additional information happening on a frequent basis changes the dynamic of the content expert’s job. If content changes faster than the expert can adapt, maybe the expert needs to change the strategy. Teach students what to look for, and what to value in content, so they can access it in whatever form it is being delivered. More importantly, allow students to use those tools of technology and information to create new content and share it with others.

In order to do this, Educators, who are still the content experts, need to be literate in the area of media. They need to be aware of the means of delivery and learning tools for creation of content for their students. Gutenberg’s printing press innovation carried education for years. However, it is now a new digital era and Gutenberg technology is beginning to fade. I am sure someone told Gutenberg that they would never read his printed text because they loved the feel and smell of hand written scrolls. Guttenberg would probably feel delighted to know that people feel that very same way about his printed text today. They don’t like digital and prefer the printed text. Not so much the younger generation living with texting on 4 inch screens, digital readers, iPad and tablets.

I recently read a post defining Information Literacy, Digital Literacy, and Digital Citizenship. Information Literacy, Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship by Maggie Hos-McGrane.  It was also a Topic on a recent #Edchat discussion. After considering all of this, as well as a presentation that I am working on dealing with the subject, I have made some personal observations. I really believe that, as content experts, most educators are information literate. That would mean: To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and has the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.

Where I begin to have my doubts however, is in my day-to-day contacts with educators throughout the year. I supervise student teachers requiring me to travel to many different schools contacting many different educators. I have not accumulated data, or even done a survey, but in my many encounters with educators they have often expressed objections to the use of technology tools for learning in education. It is not necessarily the actual use of technology that is being objected to, but rather the need for the educator to have to personally learn the technology. This may be the result of many things such as: bad professional development experience, lack of support to try new things, control issues, or simply not wanting to have to learn anything more. This is where I begin to be concerned. It is my OPINION that there are too many educators falling into this category. They have little chance to meet the next requirement of Media or Digital Literacy. Digital literacy is the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate and analyze information using digital technology.

How many digitally illiterate teachers in a school does it take to begin to affect the way kids are learning? This definition does not call for technology mastery, but rather simply an ability to use technology. YES, you can be a good teacher without using technology. Your students however in order to be Lifelong learners, as we all want them to be, will need a knowledge of these things to access and create content as they move further into their future. No one will be resurrecting Guttenberg technology to support outdated methods of teaching. Technology tools are no longer an option left to a teacher’s discretion. Students without a digital literacy will be handicapped as learners in their own lifetime.

How we teach often reflects how we learn. New learners have new tools. Many teachers learned and teach with old tools. They are comfortable with old tools, but a teacher’s comfort is not the goal of education. Additionally, the variety of tech tools for learning offer great opportunity for success with differentiation. Educators need to be aware. What good is it being a content expert if no one is getting the message?

Good educators need to model learning. Not being media literate in the 21st Century is a very POOR model. A teacher’s content expertise is a small rival to the internet. Teaching and guiding kids to harness that content should be the goal. Projects and speeches on paper, display boards and podiums have been replaced by many tech alternatives. Kids get it, some teachers don’t! We shouldn’t teach kids to be keepers of content, but learners of content, better yet, creators of content. It needs to be a lifelong process and tech tools are required.

If relevance requires continuous learning and it is necessary for acceptance, how do educators keep up without knowledge of media literacy? It is a professional responsibility! Media Literacy requires people enter a world that gives up a great deal of control. Many educators are not prepared for that. Comfort and control issues however, do not excuse educators from being media literate. Even one illiterate educator in a school is one too many. An even worse offense is a media illiterate administrator. We all need to model learning, especially our leadership, and moving forward, technology will be a part of that learning.

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For the first time since I have been supervising student teachers, I have a group at the start of the year, as opposed to my usual assignment at the latter half of the school year. This has brought to light a subject that I often fought against as a teacher, and now have to counsel student teachers on how best to approach the subject. Summer Reading: how do we assess it?

New York State’s recommendation for reading is that each student completes reading 25 books per year. Most adults don’t even approach that goal, but adults have to work and their time is committed  to other stuff. It is understandable that adults’ time must be dedicated to other stuff. Kids have more time to read than adults. In a 24 hour period a kid’s time is taken up by: one hour preparing to get to school, seven to eight hours in school, two hours extra-curricular (depending on the sports’ season), and one to two hours of homework. Let’s allow an hour and a half to eat dinner and chill. That has accounts for Eleven to Thirteen hours. If we consider the ten to twelve hours of recommended sleep, that would leave one to two hours per day that a kid could be, and should be reading to get to 25 books per year. It all works out on paper. I always loved the expression, “Man plans, and God laughs”.

For all of the reasons mentioned it is difficult to get all 25 books done in the school year. Of course, if you ever went into a Border’s Book’s during the summer when there was a Border’s Books, you would see an awesome display of Books for the Summer Reading Lists for your school. Summer reading is highly recommended to keep those young brains sparking away. Many districts assign multiple books to really charge up those summer-lazy brains. Hopefully, thought was given to those  book lists to be high interest level books of brevity, so there would be at least a chance of accomplishment. War and Peace is not a beach book. It has been my experience that those who make up these lists are often people who love reading and actually read 25 books per year or more. In their day, they must have been the best students, if we are to consider  the New York State recommendations as an indicator. I do believe that reading is important, and we should, most definitely, provide suggested lists to students for summer reading.

That being said, I need to talk a little bit about my understanding of assessment. I always approach assessment as a tool for the teacher. Formative assessment tells the teacher how well the teaching is going. Is there a reason to re-do something, or is it time to move on? Summative assessment is the final result. After all is said and done, how much was learned? It is like a chef who needs to taste the cooking until the diner gets the plate (formative). The diner tasting the meal is the final assessment (summative).

Now we move on to the point of all of this. Students are told that they MUST do the summer reading. This may be in more than one reading and in more than one academic subject. They are also told that there will be a test within a short period of time from the start of school which will go into their average. By the way tests are one form of assessment, so this test should be formative or summative. If the teacher is using it as formative assessment than it is testing how effective the lesson was, but there was no lesson. Therefore, it must be a summative assessment. How much learning was accomplished from the activity?

One would hope that in an ideal situation, we could get most of our students to at least an 85% achievement level. If the entire class did not get there, it might be necessary for the teacher to revisit a number of things to clarify and expand on some ideas. After all a good chef does this to complete the course for the summative assessment of the diner. Sometimes, if at first you don’t succeed… There is always a re-test after fine tuning. This would be wonderful if that was done.

This does not always occur in the real world of education. Some teachers give the final test and what  a student gets is what student gets. “You should have completed the reading.” “You had every opportunity and all the time of the summer to get it done.” “ You knew the rules going in.” “ This is the way our department does it.” “ That is what summer reading is all about.” “ I don’t make the rules, I follow them.” Does any of this sound familiar?

What does a failing grade on the summer reading test indicate? After all it is a summative assessment so it should tell us something. Does it indicate the student has a reading problem? Does it indicate that the student fails to make connections. Is it an indication that there is a problem with higher order thinking skills? Does it indicate a need for remediation? Are there emotional problems interfering with learning? These are all possibilities. This is what teachers should be asking of any summative assessment that identifies a student’s failure to learn.

Of course if these are not the questions being addressed by the teacher, there might be another reason for this assessment grade to be averaged into the student’s average. It is not assessment, but PUNISHMENT. The student did not do what he or she was told, and the student needs to pay a price in the form of a lowered average. That should require an asterisk on the grade at the end of the year stating that the average is not a true account of the student’s ability to learn. It has been skewed to account for punishment for not reading over the summer.

Many of those students who receive punishment for not reading do not take it as a constructive criticism, for that is not what it is. It is intended to be a negative experience, as all punishment is. That does not promote reading. There are many ways to assess things beyond a test. Group discussions, and projects based on the reading give reasons to students to complete the reading. Teachers need to remember that we are here to promote and nurture learning and not to punish students into submission. Leave that for the behavior policy. Assessment is not for punishment.

I am sure there will be comments on this and they are welcomed. I am off to read book number two, the year will soon be over!

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As an educational blogger I would love to think, that once I reflected on an issue in education, and addressed it in my blog, everyone would clearly understand the error of their ways and fall in line according to my sage advice. Of course the reform movement would move forward, and I would expect a small plaque would be placed on a bench in front of the lobby of some school commemorating my great contribution to the system that we call education.

That being said, the reality is that many educational bloggers have to continue to reflect and continue to revisit subjects that are like festering sores on the body of education. As we move forward in time, we are confronted with new technologies and new ideas that force us to make changes in our lives. If we make no change, we are destined to live in a place that will no longer exist for the majority. The culture moves on leaving some behind. This may be okay for some adults, but it is not okay for the children we are educating for the purpose of not only living in the future, but hopefully thriving. It is always frustrating when answers to problems are so obvious to some, but a large number still don’t get it.

With that in mind, I am again writing about a subject that continually pops up in media, wherever media may be these days. I was prompted to write this post when I saw yet another blogger writing on this very same subject, forcing me to again comment, again reflect, and start my own post, again. The post was “When Should We Introduce Social Media?” by Brian Bennet.

As parents and educators, one thing that becomes immediately apparent dealing with kids, is that you cannot control, limit, or stop kids from growing up. It happens, and we must accept it as a fact of life. Along with that growing up, kids adapt to the culture to which they are exposed, and make it their own. There is nothing adults can do about that either. The best adults can do, is to try to prepare kids to make the right decisions and to be critical thinkers in arriving at those decisions. That will prepare their generation for moving forward without the adults’ generation which in reality will be left behind.

Unless we are Luddites,we have no chance of stopping the future development of Technology and all that it affects. Technology is a given in the future of our children. Social Media is one such effect of technology. It is here and it is being embraced by young and old. It is accepted and will continue in the future to be with us. We can debate its effect on society, its merits, its pitfalls, and its relevance, but we can’t ignore it, hoping that it will go away. The same can be said of most technology. If we can’t control it, we must certainly learn and teach how to deal with it. Blinders may work well on horses, but they look silly on people.

What individuals do on the internet, stays on the internet for the entire world to see. This is referred to as a digital footprint. Everyone should Google themselves to determine their footprint. Most people began leaving their footprints as they became involved with social media. They made that choice as adults. In this post however, I am talking about kids. Kids today begin leaving their Digital footprints on the internet at birth. Let that sink in, AT BIRTH! “You are crazy, how can that be?” you may ask. The proud parents of any new-born will predictably announce, for all to see, by the essential announcement tool at hand today, Social Media. They continue their storytelling of their never-ending adventure with their children with every new milestone or vacation recorded on Facebook, Twitter or personal Blog.

Of course, you say, but the kid is not involved with Social Media! Not so fast. The toy manufacturers were in this, and saw where it was going, and recognized its potential way before parents and teachers. Webkinz World has over 5 million members and Penguin Club has over 12 million. Surprise! They are Social Media Sites for toddlers and kids under 10. Chances are if your toddler is not a member, he or she knows someone who is, and that someone is telling your toddler all about it. Now here is a ridiculous question: When should we introduce kids to Social Media? A better question must be: When will we begin to teach kids to use Social Media responsibly? If they are social Media aware as toddlers, and they are watching their parents and siblings modeling the use of Social Media at home, the age of introduction is a moot point.

Now that that question has been asked and answered, we need to ask another more important one, so that we may address our responsibility. Social Media is here to stay. It is now, and will continue to be, in the lives of our children. When will we begin to deal with that? Blocking and filtering are just stupid. We will look back at those policies some day and ask; What the hell were we thinking? We need our kids to learn how to be safe, collaborate, interact, critically analyze content and most importantly create content. In order to learn that it must be taught. We do not teach by blocking and filtering. Leave the blinders to the horses.

I live on Long Island, New York. We are fortunate to own a second house on Fire Island. I know what that means to the future of my daughters. I made sure that they could swim before they could walk. I was responsible for their safety and ability to thrive in the environment in which they were to live. I also taught them about Social Media and the internet. They now teach me. When will this senseless debate end?

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