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Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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I just finished reading a post from my good friend and co-author of The Relevant Educator, Steve Anderson. His recent post, “Why Formative Assessments Matter” got me thinking about assessments in general and how often they are misunderstood and often abused by well-meaning educators.

We have all been taught that there are two categories of assessment, Formative and Summative. Formative assessment is done during a particular lesson to gauge student learning and understanding as the lesson progresses. This often takes the form of quizzes, but there are less formal forms that are as effective. The summative assessment is usually, but not always an exam of some type. It is to determine how much the student learned and understood from the overall experience. This could be a unit exam with various types of questions, or possibly some type of report done by the student.

With my education students I would explain assessments with a cooking metaphor. As a chef prepares a meal he or she would taste it along the preparation process. Based on those tastings adjustments are made. Spices may be added. Cooking time may be lengthened. Some components of the meal may even be eliminated. All of this is formative assessment. This assessment is for the chef to read the results of his or her preparation in order to adjust for the best outcome.

The summative assessment has nothing to do with the preparation, and everything to do with the final outcome. The summative assessment happens when the diner experiences the dish by eating it. How successful was the preparation in the final outcome?

Now, how can such a simple concept get corrupted? Grades! We are all held accountable by some measure. We have determined that grades are what we will use to hold students accountable. We will measure their every effort to learn and assess it with a grade. I guess if the chef assigned a grade to the dish with every tasting and averaged the grades it would not be an outstanding average. But then again how can the dish be measured when it has not yet been completed in the preparation process. Similarly we hold students responsible for quiz grades on assessments, which were originally intended for the teacher to consider in order to make adjustments to a lesson. If the kids do not get it, is it their fault or could it be a shortcoming in the lesson? Yes, students do have a responsibility to bring something to the table as well, but the bulk of the responsibility lies with the teacher.

Grading formative assessments to measure students understanding makes little sense. They all learn in different ways and arrive at learning specific things at different times. To use formative assessment to grade a student is a misuse of the assessment. It is expected that some will get it others won’t, but that is for the teacher to understand and adjust accordingly. That is the purpose of formative assessment.

Of course grading the summative assessment might have some value, as long as the summative assessment is assessing the learning. Too many unit tests however are nitpicking questions for content recall. I guess that lends itself well to Scranton testing. We all know how quickly we can bang out those Scranton test results. It is as easy as ABCD. Essays take too long to grade.

Of course not every teacher does this, but how many is too many? We need to better understand why we do things as educators. Often times the only reason for doing something is because that’s how others do it, or that’s the way it’s always been done.

If we better understand how to utilize assessments, maybe we can better our delivery of lessons without penalizing kids for things that they have little control over. Formative assessment comes in many forms and none really require grades. Summative assessments come in many forms as well. We need to choose those forms that show what individual kids have learned overall. To aim for the low hanging fruit of content questions is missing the mark. They have their place, but they should not be the focus of any test.

This should be a topic of faculty or department meetings. These are the things that need to be addressed by educators more than the usual fare of such meetings. We need to better understand what we do, and why we do it as educators. We need to be more reflective and critical within our own profession.

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Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?

Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay

The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.

I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer-delivered standardized tests.

I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.

Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.

Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen. If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?

We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.

Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great effect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.

Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.

This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.

We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.

 

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I recently put out a tweet that was meant to be provocative. I often do this to stir things up in order to benefit ye olde creative juices. I tweeted that I recently had a heart procedure done, (which I did) and I did not ask the doctor to use any 20th Century methods or technology to complete the task. I thought it might stir up a discussion of relevance in education as an offshoot of that tweet. That did not happen. Someone asked, based on that tweet, why I thought educators could not be good teachers if they were not connected. My intent was to point out relevance. The idea I attempted to convey was that any profession, especially medicine, can no longer employ technology and methodology of the 20th Century, since we are well over a decade into the 21st. It was the tweeter who attributed a value on a teacher who was not connected. It was the being connected part which that tweeter took as being relevant, but there is more to relevance than just being connected.

Relevance is something that is important to the matter at hand. Of course in education, the matter at hand changes with every topic in the curriculum. Since educators need to be masters of content in their subject area that covers a great deal of ground in which educators need to be relevant. To complicate the teaching profession even further, educators need to be masters of the methodology and pedagogy of education as well. Educators need to maintain relevance in both areas. An understanding of this begins to offer insight into how difficult the position of educator can be.

Education however is based on relationships. There are student/teacher relationships, and collegial relationships. All of these relationships take place in an environment of learning. The idea of what is relevant is not something determined by the teacher, but it should be weighed and judged by the student. It is the student who needs the learning that will be used in the space that the student will occupy moving forward. If the student finds the teacher’s ideas and information irrelevant, it won’t matter how relevant the teacher finds it, the student will move on to something he, or she determines is relevant, leaving the teacher behind.

Will an educator be able to determine when he or she has become irrelevant? Does everyone become irrelevant? How does one maintain relevance? Do educators have a moral obligation to point out a colleague’s irrelevance? Is relevance something that is measurable? Is it fair to include “relevance” comments in an observation? What about irrelevant administrators? Is irrelevance always a generational condition? These are all the questions that are flying through my head that I would love answers to.

Of course being a huge advocate for connectedness, I feel an obligation to point out that collaboration and collaborative learning go a long way in keeping people relevant. It is only part of the answer however. We need to keep an open mind, as well as a mindset to continue learning. There are many, many ideas of the past that are relevant today, but we need to be able to exhibit that in relevant ways to new learners in terms that they understand, because if they don’t understand it, or question its relevance, they will not accept it.

I think awareness is a key to staying relevant. One needs to be aware of changes that happen so quickly in our technology-driven culture. Having a willingness and courage to step away from the comfort of the status quo is essential. Developing an ability to listen more than lecture should be a goal. It will take willingness to be more of a learner than an expert. It will require a flexibility to examine, question and reflect on what we know in order to see how it may, or may not fit in with what we will need moving forward. These are all traits of life long learning. Educators talk about life long learning for their students all the time. It should be a goal for all learners. Educators sometimes forget that they are learners as well. To be better educators, we need first to be better learners.

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I recently read a number of mission statements from randomly selected schools to see if there was some sort of pattern in what schools view as their mission. One thing that many had in common was a distinction between the learners and the educators. I guess that is fitting in the sense of what each shareholder’s position is, but maybe we would be better served if we thought of ourselves as a community of learners one and all. At least in that perspective when a mission statement refers to helping all learners reaching their potential, we are including the faculty and administration in that goal. Yes, it is all about the kids, but will not a more learned faculty lead to a more learned student population?

Then I thought about IEP’s and how they might apply to educators as well. Most schools reserve the IEP, Individualized Education Program, for students with special needs, since they are also a requirement of the law. In my imaginings I wondered:Would we all not benefit by having some sort of IEP for every learner in the building? As long as we are dreaming here, maybe we could even give each learner a say in their learning to help develop an IEP. Initially it would take up some time to do, but once completed it could be easily updated each year. If it was considered a priority, the time would easily be allotted, just as weeks of test-prep time is alloted for standardized tests which are today’s priority. The IEP idea however might have a more lasting positive effect.

If we consider our educators (Teachers and Administrators) as learners as well as our students, then they would also need to have IEP’s. Maybe we could call their IEP an IGP, an Individual Growth Program? Of course this is a big “what if?”, but as long as we are here let’s look at IGP possibilities. Each educator could help devise an individual plan for growth. It would mean creating a starting point with skills and knowledge already acquired. We would need to consider how much personal time and how much school time could be utilized for each learner. We could spell out the responsibilities and provisions of the district, which will be balanced with the responsibilities and provisions of each educator/learner. We would also need to have a means to assess the growth progress. Certificates are measurements of seat time, so maybe proof of accomplishment from observations might be a better indicator. At least it gives recognition and credence that a brain in action is more important than an ass in a seated position.

Of course the IGP would need to be revisited and updated each year, but that could also be part of a year-end review. Maybe a day of developing, or updating IGP’s could replace the day usually dedicated to an inspirational speaker followed by almost meaningless “sit and get” workshop presentations that educator/learners sit through in so many schools across the country each and every year.

Imagine a school with IEP’s for every kid, and IGP’s for every educator making it a truly learning community. Of course the IEP’s for special needs students will continue to be highly regulated according to the laws, but IEP’s for the general population of students need not be as regulated. Of course the IGP’s will also be tailored to each educator/learner, so that any special needs for specific skills, or adjustments in attitude may be specifically addressed. This will require closer relationships, more collegial collaboration and a great deal of support from all stakeholders.

Of course this is my own mind fantasy and people will come up with hundreds of reasons not to do it. I could only offer one reason to do it. It is better than what we do now. Yet, for many, it will be a bridge too far. The status quo is easier and safer. It may be less effective, but people live with it without complaint. “No need to reinvent the wheel.” I wonder if that would hold true if the invention of the wheel was oval or square-shaped. That might require some reinvention.

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I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.

My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.

Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.

My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees?  The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.

This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone?  Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.

Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.

If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose.  A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.

Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?

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At what point in time did schools obtain the power to suspend a teacher’s constitutional right to free speech? I know that social media is relatively new to our modern history, which is reason to give some institutions a little breathing space to catch up to all of social media’s ramifications on our society, but it doesn’t give any institution the power to suspend the constitutional rights of an individual, or to punish in any way an individual who exercises a constitutionally guaranteed right.

I read a post today about a teacher in a New Hampshire school district who was forced into retirement for refusing to unfriend students on Facebook. This is not an isolated incident. As a connected educator I have had many discussions with educators from all over the United States who are fearful of retaliation from their districts for involving themselves openly in social media communities.

I lived in the community in which I taught for 25 years. This is not unlike many educators in our country. At no time during my tenure in that district did anyone call me into an office and instruct me on how to interact with the children of the community. No one told me I could not be friends with children in the community. I was never told where I could, or could not go in that community. I don’t think any administrator would have even considered such a discussion. Yet, these are the discussions some administrators are having with teachers today about their social media communities.

I understand the need to protect children from a range of inappropriate adult behavior even to the extreme, contact with pedophiles. This however is not a reason to suspend every teacher’s right to free speech. Just because there are some inappropriate adults on the Internet, we can’t jump to a conclusion that all adults on the Internet are inappropriate, especially, those who have been vetted and entrusted with children face to face every day. Statistics tell us that our children are more in danger from family, close family friends, and even clergy, much more than people on the Internet. If we really want to protect our children on the Internet we need to educate them early and often, not ban them from what has become the world of today. They need to live in that world. I heard a TV celebrity say recently that parents need not prepare the road for their children, but they must prepare their children for the road.

Social media communities are open to the public where everyone sees all. It is transparency at its finest, and in some cases at its worst, but that is what we have come to expect from social media. We need to learn how to deal with that. There is no fixing stupid. Some people will be inappropriate, but the community will deal with that as it develops and matures. People are still adjusting and evolving in these social media communities. Having educators participating and modeling within these communities is exactly what is needed. The more they participate, the better the communities will all be. We, as well as our children, benefit.

Administrators are quick to use social media as a public relations tool to shout out the accolades of their schools. They have control over that. They do not have control over what others might say about the schools in a social media community. The blemishes are often exposed. If administrators are fearful that their image, or that of the school will be tarnished by people speaking publicly about the school, then maybe these administrators should look at themselves, or their policies. It may be indicating a need to assess a few things. Instead of trying to shut people down by limiting their right to free speech, they might try asking them to speak up. This is where listening skills become very important. This is why transparency is important.

Eventually, someone will take this issue to some court of law. After all, we are a very litigious society. It will be litigated and maybe even travel up to the Supreme Court. I cannot see any court supporting the idea that a person gives up a constitutional right, just because they are employed by some backward thinking school district.

Schools need to better understand the world our children will be living in, as well as the world that we live in today. Social Media communities are not going away. Technology is not moving backwards. It will always move forward bringing us new problems to deal with. We need to deal with the problems and not tell people they can’t use the technology.

It amazes me that I am even writing about this. It is very clear-cut to me. I know however that not everyone looks at this the same way. Before the comments start coming from protective parents and teachers, I need to say that I am the father of two girls. They were brought up using technology. They were taught the good and the bad, as well as how to deal with it. I live what I preach when it comes to kids and technology. I understand every parent has the right to bring up their kids as they see fit. I also believe that every person has the right to free speech. We need to find a way to respect everyone’s rights without denying anyone’s. The world is continually changing and we need to adjust and adapt if we are to survive and thrive.

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My career as a teacher began way before the introduction of Rubrics to education. As an English teacher I was required to assess students’ writing and convert that assessment into a grade for the student. Back in the 70’s the most progressive grading method I was exposed to was giving a grade over another grade  (85/95). The top grade was for the piece and the bottom grade was for the effort exhibited. The entire grade was almost totally subjective, and dependent on the good will of the teacher to attempt to be as objective as possible. I always considered the effort grade a way to clear the conscience.

I thought that this subjective method of grading was pretty much gone until I had a recent conversation with my daughter about her college writing class. It would seem her professor was old school and assigned grades on assignments using the holistic method of just reading and assigning a grade. Little explanation, or justification for the grade was presented. I began to wonder how many educators still employ these methods. I have seen research that indicated most kids do not read or respond to comments on papers left by instructors, but whatever was the basis for any assessed grade should be explained somewhere. We often tell students it is more about the learning than it is about the grade, yet we give the grade without an explanation, so how can learning take place? Of course time, or a lack of it, is often the reason for this, and that is a factor to be dealt with. As a former English teacher I know my visceral reaction to those who argue that class size should not matter; the more kids we have the less time we get.

Again, back in the day, I would underline mistakes without comment. My intent was to have students attempt to figure out why segments were underlined on their own. I even provided collaboration time so they could check with a “study buddy”. I would then meet with them for a brief face-to-face meeting for feedback and comments. This was time-consuming, but effective for some, not all. It was still difficult to objectify what was, so obviously, a subjective assessment. Can tone outweigh a few grammatical mistakes? Are two simple sentences worth less than a compound, or even more a complex sentence? Does the grasp of the content overshadow the poor sentence structure? Was I being consistent for every paper from each of my students? Were all papers being assessed equally? I was rarely satisfied with the answers to these questions that kept popping up in my head with every graded assignment.

I remember the first time I heard the term “Rubric” in a department meeting. I had no idea what it was, but I did not want that to be found out through my questioning, so I sat quietly until the conclusion of the meeting. My mistaken impression was that we were to break down the components that we were grading for, and assign a rating scale for each. That seemed simple enough. I have come to learn that many educators hold this simplistic view today. It is not truly what I came to understand as to what a Rubric is.

We were, as a department, giving a grade level assignment, so to make sure that the assessment of the assignment was as fair and objective as possible, we were to develop rubrics that all concerned teachers could live by. That would also enable anyone in the department to grade any paper with consistency.  We discussed what was to be graded. What each section was to be worth. We described in detail what the top of the scale should include for each section, as well as the middle, and the bottom. We even defined what specifically constitutes a zero paper in the event that we got one.

I found the process in developing these Rubrics eye-opening. For the first time, I had a clear understanding of what it was I was looking for with specific guidelines and values. It was no longer a gut thing. We developed the entire list of Rubrics, arranged them in boxes, and placed the entire elaborate display horizontally on a single piece of paper. This was going to be great. I would include this with each of the assignment packets, and all would be clear to each of my students.

That clarity never came to my kids. I failed to recognize that what took me time to analyze, digest, and appreciate with understanding, only occurred over a period of time while developing the rubrics. That experience could not translate to reading a document, no matter how elaborate, or eye appealing it might be. I realized after the first class which I tried this in, that I needed a better strategy. I needed to spend more time up front, so I could use less time and get better results on the back-end.

My plan was simple: I was going to develop the Rubrics with my students. I reasoned that the process that worked for me, should work for them as well. I knew where I wanted to take them, because I worked out the rubrics already. I needed to guide them through it, taking their ideas, while explaining not only my expectations, but also what my means of assessment would be in determining their grade. They became part of the process and took ownership of the rubrics. I made some small adjustments based on their suggestions.

From that day forward, they had an understanding of Rubrics that lasted. It actually gave some means of control to the students. I was as limited to adhering to the Rubrics as the students were. It was a pact to be honored by all parties. The Students had a clear understanding of expectations on the assignment. They understood what would be graded and how it would be counted.

Some might argue that Rubrics enabled students to do less work to attain a minimum-passing grade. Rubrics might limit a few students in some ways to go beyond the rubrics. I did not find that to be true.

I know as an adult I want to know what is expected of me in given situations. As an adult, if I am to be judged on something, I want to know on what am I being judged and in what way. Kids should be afforded the same answers and it should not matter what subject in school this happens. This is how we learn. Is learning not what education is about?

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Of course the end of this year is about to slam us in the face with the fact that all of those well-intended resolutions, both personal and professional, for 2013 will no longer have the time to be fulfilled. Undoubtedly, we will feel really bad about it this year, because they were all great resolutions. As far as the professional resolutions go, many of the ideas may have come from connected colleagues and blogs, so they were very relevant as well, and specifically designed for 2013. Maybe there is a possibility that we can repackage a few for 2014.

Having an intention to do something is different from accomplishing that as a goal. Resolutions only require the intention to do it. If we want to increase the odds for success, we need to keep the resolution simple and limited. I am a big believer in the KISS method, (Keep It Simple Stupid). The intention of creating and implementing several new great ideas in the coming year may be more than most of us can handle. I would suggest that we resolve to design and implement ONE new thing in our world of influence. To accomplish more than that would be a bonus, but not necessary to complete our resolution list.

There are so many ideas that are flying around the connected educator hangouts, that selecting but one to act on should be a simple task. A difficult task to arrange would be to have everyone in the world jump as high as they could at the exact same time to see what effect gravity would produce as a result. That is a real challenge.

To ask every educator to select one new idea and implement it in the coming year pales in comparison to the mass jump. The total effect of such a singular accomplishment could take education closer to where it should be in addressing the real needs of students. The other consideration is that other educators often adopt successful, new ideas. The snowball-rolling-down-the-hill effect could result in that unattainable “Paradigm Shift” that we have heard so much about over the years.

In order for this to work, we need to make a selection for the right idea. That may require that we connect with other both connected and unconnected educators to find what new ideas have worked for them.

We can collaborate with other educators for specifics. We may need to connect our unconnected colleagues for help. We may want to keep up with Education Blogs for relevant posts because they are often the result of our thought leaders in education. We must be sure to connect our unconnected colleagues with those blogs as well. We can also access webinars that are becoming so prevalent on the Internet and share them as well. We can seek out education chats for relevant ideas for change.We can even take along an unconnected friend to a chat. Education communities on Ning sites are another great way to gain access to these new ideas. There may be a need to share those sites with the unconnected. If we are lucky enough to attend an education conference, we could access new ideas face-to-face with other educators. The digital Face-to-Face method would involve Skype, or Google hangouts. Both are easily shared with unconnected colleagues.

Once we determine the best new idea that we can embrace, understand, and implement, we need to put our energy into it. We need to commit. If it doesn’t work the first time through, we need to assess why, and make adjustments, and repeat as necessary. Once we have fulfilled our New Year’s resolution, we need to examine the process that got us there. If it worked successfully once, chances are it will work again. The best part is whom else we involved and benefitted in the process, even beyond our students. Happy New Year!

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On January 15, 2014 my Blog will be three years old. With this post included I have written 223 posts just for my blog. In addition, I have done several dozen guest posts for other blogs. On a week-to-week basis I strive to write something new about education, or at least a new take on an old subject, but there are some subjects that linger with very little change.

Social media’s influence in education is a great example of slow change under the influence social media itself on education. The acceptance of social media in our culture has allowed social media’s slow acceptance into our school system as a source of branding, collaboration, and communication. The idea of blanket banning of students and teachers from all social media, although, unbelievably, still existing in some less enlightened districts, has been a declining practice. There are far fewer posts about that narrowly considered practice. At least this is progress.

Technology’s acceptance in education however, seems to be a never-ending subject amongst bloggers. Many refer to the fear factor involved with educators and technology. I do not understand what there is to fear from technology. It is what we all depend on to drive our civilization at this point. It is part of our world, and will continue to be so into the future. Our kids will use it and rely on it more than we do, as we used it and relied on it more than our parents did.

There is no longer a choice as to whether or not educators should incorporate technology tools for learning into education. That boat has sailed, that train left the station, that genie is out of the bottle, and that horse got out of the barn. Time to close that barn door and get on with it.

If there is nothing to fear about technology, why are so many educators fearful of it? I have often read that there is a technophobia among some educators. Could it be a fear of being replaced by a computer? I doubt it, because educated adults, especially educators, should be able to recognize that as a myth perpetrated by science fiction. Computers cannot replace teachers, but they can make teachers more effective and efficient.

I think the real pushback on technology from educators comes not from fear, but rather a reluctance to give up time and effort to have to learn something else. Teaching is not an easy job to begin with. It requires not only subject or content knowledge, but education knowledge as well. It requires mastery of two areas and that comes with a price. It requires more than a specialized degree, but additionally, an ongoing struggle to stay relevant in a society that is undergoing continual change at an ever-increasing rapid pace. Learning about technology and how to incorporate it into learning specific to one’s class may be a bridge too far for many educators.

This dilemma, as pervasive as it seems to be, is not totally the fault of the educators. Many educators have taken to learning on their own. They have personalized their learning to address their needs, as well as the needs of their students. As educators we know that self-motivation in learning is not a common commodity. It also holds true for educators who are learners as well.

If our education system requires that our educators maintain their relevance through education than the system should have a responsibility to provide the support and security to do so in terms of time and access to learning. Professional Development needs to be more than an occasional workshop that can then be checked off of an Administrator’s list of things that need to be done for the year. PD must be prioritized and supported on an ongoing basis. It must be part of the workweek. In addition to providing access to new ideas, technology, and methodology, time must be afforded for educators to collaborate on what they have learned. Educators need time and support to put into practice what they need to learn.

In an ideal world every educator would pursue relevance on their own as life long learners. They would seek out the latest and greatest methods and technologies to enhance their teaching and all would benefit. All would be right with the world. Unfortunately for us, we do not live in that world. Educators are strapped for time and money as much as anyone else. Fear of learning something new is far less a factor than time or inclination to do so. If we want to incent people to learn more, we need to prioritize it with time and money. It always comes down to this.

Professional Development for educators for the most part has been left to the individual educators. The hours spent on PD are often mandated by the district, or state and described in teacher contracts, but the learning often comes at the expense of the educator. This is a model that does not work. We are a system obsessed with assessments, yet we fail to assess many of the things that would really make a difference. Try assessing the effectiveness of PD in a district. Is it making a difference to the entire system, or are only a few educators benefitting? If your system’s method of PD does not do what PD is supposed to do, than maybe you need to change the way you are doing it.

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