Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Student teaching’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.

The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art at one time, are now DVR’s, even more state of the art. The world has been changed and continues to do so at a rate never before imagined. Technology continues to expand and catalogue all knowledge. The methods we use to access, curate, communicate, and analyze all of this information have undergone continuing change in the last few years.

We have come to recognize that technology has expanded our access to so much information, in so many different forms, that there is a need to recognize many other literacies beyond just reading and writing. In a technology-driven society being literate enough to only read and write may be enough for our kids to get by, but will they be able to compete, thrive, and succeed? Digital Literacy has blossomed with this digital age. It provides an understanding and ability to adapt and use digital tools to access, curate, communicate, and analyze information in this time of digital access. It also enables us to collaborate on a global scale. These are all necessary skills for success moving forward into the world that our kids will occupy.

Education has always taught literacy. Education’s function is to create a literate citizenry. In order to accomplish that, we have always used educators with credentials of proven literacy to educate our children.

That may not be the case today when one considers additional and necessary literacies that may or may not be being addressed in Higher Education, or in the professional development of existing educators. That is certainly true of digital literacy.

Does the hiring process of teachers and administrators call for a proven demonstration of digital literacy? Are schools directing and supporting professional development to address digital literacy for all of their educators. Are Administrators digitally literate enough to recognize a digitally literate educator during the hiring process? Does a school have a model of what skills a digitally literate educator should possess if not master?  Hopefully, those skills exceed the ability to do a Google search, or a Power Point demonstration. Even the CCSS recognizes the need for digital literacy and requires that it be demonstrated within the curriculum. Are all of our teachers prepared for that component?

A literate educator in the 20th Century is not the same as a literate educator in the 21st Century. Our education system is loaded with many 20th Century holdovers. Most are great people, and good teachers, but they are illiterate in 21st Century terms. We need not cast them aside. They are valuable and revered sources and educators. We need to support them with methods to upgrade their literacies. It must be a priority.

Additionally, we need to update our hiring procedures. We need to better define the educators we want. They need to be literate in every sense of the word. They need to possess multiple literacies in order to accommodate the needs of today’s learners, our kids. If we continue to support illiterate educators to teach our children, we can only expect our children to be illiterate as well. That is not properly preparing our kids for the world in which they will live.

Read Full Post »

At a recent education award ceremony, a prominent education leader being recognized began the acceptance speech by saying “I am not a techie”. At first I was a little upset, because these awards were for educators, and not technology educators. I had to catch myself and hold back my criticism, because I often use that same phrase with educators, but for a different reason. It is actually a symptom of a decades old and continuing discussion in education.

We are now living in a world that is technology-driven, requiring a minimum amount of digital literacy from anyone who hopes to function, if not thrive, in that world. Many educators do not feel that they are sufficiently versed in technology to adequately prepare their students for the world in which the students will live. Much of this is a result of the way technology has evolved in education. Technology was not integrated as a tool for learning from the start, but rather it was almost a mystical, or a magical thing that had its own department and staff, as well as specially trained teachers to work with it. In the beginning it was an add-on. It also started in the wealthier schools. Colleges were not adequately preparing pre-service teachers in the use or integration of tech. Some colleges struggle with the very same issues today. Technology and education were like trains on two spate lines of track.

Some tech blended in immediately with little resistance. When the first electronic four-function pocket calculators came out in the seventies, teachers could not buy them fast enough at a time when report card grades were due. The cost back then was about $100. The other quickly accepted tech was the word processor. This was probably because it closely resembled an accepted form of tech, the typewriter. The methodology in using a word processor is very different from a typewriter. I am willing to bet however, that there are still teachers requiring kids to do a rough draft, final draft, on paper in pen, and then to type that into the word processor.

Being an educator today requires that we be digitally literate. Beyond that we also need to have a basic understanding of these technology tools for learning. The ultimate plan for education is to have kids learn to intelligently communicate, critically think, collaborate and create in their world. The very tools that they will use today to do all of this are technological. The tools that they will use in their future will be even more advanced technology. Educators have a responsibility to deliver a relevant education to their students. That requires digital literacy.

I often had to debate some of my higher ed colleagues as I incorporated more and more technology into my education courses. Colleagues telling me that I was not teaching a technology course, but rather an education course often challenged me. I would insist that I was teaching an education course, and using technology tools for learning that the future educators in my class need to understand. However, in the minds of my colleagues technology and education were two separate entities.

If we are to accomplish the goal of educating our educators about digital literacy, we need to stop apologizing out of embarrassment for shortcomings. For an educator to say, “I am not a techie” and consider that ample reason not to use digital devices, or not to permit Internet access in a 21st Century classroom is depriving students of skills and sources that they will need for better understanding and a better ability to compete in their world.

That Award winning educator found herself in an auditorium of connected educators and made claim to not being a techie. She wrongly assumed that connected educators in that room were all techies. In fact although some were techies and some were geeks, most were just digitally literate educators; a goal that should be held by every educator who wants to be relevant and effective.

When I tell people I am not a techie, it is not because I fail to use technology as a tool. It is because at my age I learn about whatever it is that I need to know to stay relevant. I emphasize that digital literacy is not a generational thing; it is a learning thing. I am a life long learner and that requires digital literacy to maintain. Technology and education have merged in many ways. We cannot separate them out any longer. Educators should not need a degree in education and then another in Educational Technology in order to be a digitally literate educator.

Beyond the mindset we need to change the approach to professional development. We do not need to be teaching the bells and whistles of a technology application. We need to ask teachers what they are doing first, and then see if the introduction of an application will benefit that goal. Chances are good that it will. We need the Technology staff to understand pedagogy and methodology in order to incorporate technology into education more seamlessly.

We will not be effective as a profession of techies and teachers. We will succeed if we are all digitally literate educators. An illiterate educator is an ineffective educator. To better educate our children we need to better educate their educators.

Read Full Post »

When it comes to education reform, there are in general two major camps, but there are also several variations of each. The first camp would like to blow up the system and start all over. The other camp wants to continue the status quo while working to change it in directions governed by whatever dominant force of change has the ear of the public at the time. I find my own inclinations falling somewhere between the two camps. I want to blow some stuff up while improving upon some existing stuff. Like most educators, or any people with a basic understanding of authentic assessment, I do want to blow up any notion or hint of compliance with high stakes, standardized testing. The area of improvement that I think will get us the biggest bang for the all-important, tax buck is professional development.

It has long been my position that to be better educators, we need to be better learners. Since I have worked in higher education now for a while, many teachers have said to me how they love having student teachers in their building, because they can learn so much from the “young people” about all the new stuff in education. Some variation of that phrase has been repeated by more than one educator every year since I have been working with student teachers. To me that is a big RED FLAG. It causes me to ask, “Why does a veteran teacher need to have a student bring them up to date on the latest methodology, pedagogy and technology in the field of education?” If our students are to get a relevant education, should we not have relevant educators? Why on earth would experienced educators need students to provide that which every school district in the country should be striving to provide teachers within their system?

We need to examine the way we approach professional development in education. Too often it is left up to the educators to seek out their own PD. That is good for some, but not all educators have an understanding of what they do not know. If you don’t know about something, how would you know to seek PD in that area? This is especially true of learning with technology. I have a master’s degree in educational technology. The fact is that not any of the applications or computers that I learned on, as well as the methodology in the use of those components, exists today. Very little of that degree would be relevant, if I did not continue to learn, adapt and progress with what I know. The same holds true with any degree in any profession. From the day one gets a degree, things in that area of expertise begin to change. With the influence of a technology-driven culture, things move at a much faster pace than years past causing a more rapid rate of change. Therefore, the pace at which things change has increased exponentially, while the way we provide PD to deal with these changes is relatively unchanged from years past in many, if not most schools.

PD is offered by many schools in an annual or semiannual teacher workshop day. The other method is to allow teachers to seek out their own PD on their own time, often at their own expense. Technology training for teachers is often addressed in schools. The method of choice, however, by many schools is what my friend Brian Wasson, an IT guy, refers to as the “Home Depot Method.” The district goes out and buys all the cool tools from the vendors and then tries to teach, or force feed them to the teachers. That is a sure formula for failure.

We need to change PD. It must be part of an educator’s work week, and that includes administrators. We need educators to connect with other educators to collaborate and maintain relevance. Educators need to explore their needs and address them with solutions of their choosing after exploring the options. Faculty meetings can address procedures in shared documents with educators, while using the time in meetings to discuss pedagogy, methodology, best practices and new ideas. Educators need to be supported in trying new endeavors. When we address PD as evolving and continuous, and not as a teacher workshop day, we will begin to bring relevance back to education. Schools that do this now will be the first to tell us this. Of course, we need to connect with them for that to happen. Connecting educators is a first step.

Read Full Post »

Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

Read Full Post »

I was fortunate and honored to be asked to speak at a recent conference for The Software Information Industry Association (SIIA). They are all wonderful people in a group that represents a major portion of education software developers and manufacturers. I had some great discussions with some very smart and driven education-minded, business people. As I stated in my last post, many of these people have come from the ranks of educators. My big take away from this conference however, was not about all of the great new products coming from the companies that these folks represented. What was most evident to me was the driving force behind all of the great stuff being developed: DATA. In this world of monetizing education data is King. It is what business understands.

Knowing that makes it easy to understand the point of view of many of our industrial, or business-background, educational leaders, who are leading the way in education today. They are data-driven leaders. They believe that we need Data to analyze, and adjust, so that we may move forward. Of course, if we analyze, adjust and move forward according to the Data, and change doesn’t happen, there must be a reason that requires us to think through that reason in order to adjust. If there is no improvement, someone must be held accountable, because the data is always reliable. All things considered the fingers of the data-readers begin to point to the variable in the equation; the teacher. Of course Business oriented leaders will additionally include the Bane of any business leader’s existence; the unions.

Now before everyone gets their backs up, let us consider another possibility. Let us consider that maybe the merging of the mantras of education and business are not working out together. Maybe “Content is King” merged with “Data is King” does not add up to a learned individual. Maybe the focus on content, so that education can be easily assessed by Data is really the wrong thing that we should be analyzing. Maybe, how we teach, is a much more important element in learning than what we teach. Maybe the data is totally correct about what it is assessing, but what it is assessing is not what we should be looking at.

I always go back to the way technology is assessed by some schools. They test kids out, interject some tech stuff, test the kids again, and check the results. If the results are poor, or if there is no difference, then it is deduced that the tech has failed to make a difference. Hence, Tech does not work.  The questions not asked are important. Was the teacher properly prepared to use the tech? How were the students trained to use the tech? Was the culture of the class supportive of the tech? Was the tech that was selected the best tech to achieve the teachers goals? Was the teacher involved with creating the lessons using the tech, or was it packaged lessons? How much support did the teacher receive during the project? Of course we could go on with even more questions. The point is that the right questions and conclusions need to be applied to the data.

I met many, very smart, and successful people at that conference. I did not ask one of them what the data said about their personal competence as a learned individual. I judged that for myself by their accomplishments, communication skills, social skills, and even appearance. Not one person had a name tag with their test scores evident as a means of introduction. I only hope they were equally impressed with the opinions I expressed as an educator who is more than somewhat opinionated. I am sure my Hawaiian shirts gave them some mixed ideas.

As teachers, we all have our specific content to teach. That has been our goal since public education was introduced. It is what we do with that content that makes the difference. We can put it out there and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in video form and have the kids commit it to memory. We can put it in a PDF form and have kids commit it to memory. That would all make it easy to do a data analysis. We could probably require specific things be covered by all teachers, so our kids would all get equal educations in every state in the country. We could even develop a single test everyone could take at the same time. That would help standardize education. Then we could compare apples to apples as well as oranges to oranges around the country.

Another way to look at it would be to use that content to teach skills of collaboration, communication, and the ultimate “ation” of all; creation. Memorization of content (although difficult for many) is the thinking skill requiring the least amount of thinking. As a skill it is needed, but not coveted. Having the facts is helpful, knowing what to do with them, and adapting them to any situation is priceless. If teachers focused on teaching learning instead of the more easily assessed content memorization, we would have a population of critical thinking, creative, innovators who continuously learn even after leaving school.

At the final presentation that I attended at this wonderful conference, I gained a little more insight into the direction of Tech in education today. This was a panel of some very impressive, forward thinking presidents of tech in education companies. My first insight was that there are a great many companies developing gaming for education. My second insight into the Edtech direction was not as hopeful, at least to me. The two phrases that really caught my attention  were “classroom instruction” and “BYOD (bring your own device)”. Both of these told me that the tech companies, like many people in general, believe that kids need to go to a specific place to learn, the classroom. If we are to be successful as educators, than how we teach kids better involve a way for them to learn outside the classroom. No student should be limited by the content knowledge of their teacher. If I taught all my students everything I know, it wouldn’t be enough for them to live in their world. What we are teaching will be irrelevant. How we teach kids to learn will serve them for a lifetime.

Read Full Post »

Today,  #Edchat’s first Topic was:  Which should we support first for the best result, a reform in student learning (teaching methods), or a reform in teacher learning (PD)? I did have a preference when I made up the question, but I saved my opinion for the chat. There were a few comments about this being a question similar to: which came first, the chicken or the egg? I didn’t see it that way. I was simply looking for the most immediate way to affect needed change in a system that by many accounts is failing to meet goals, as its shortcomings are exacerbated by deepening dependence on data driven decisions based on high stakes testing results.

I have a unique position as an adjunct in the Department of Education in a small private college. I am a supervisor of student teachers in secondary English. My position enables me to visit and observe students totaling 40 to 50 visits a year in middle schools and high schools on Long Island, in New York. In addition to doing observations I often engage with cooperating teachers in discussions about their teaching experiences in their schools. I have observed over a long period of time that each school has its own culture. Some are teacher centered, and some are student centered. Some are tech infused, and some are tech deprived. Some districts are affluent and some have large pockets of poverty within the district. The differences not only vary from district to district, but also from building to building within a district.

It is the combination of the culture of the school combined with the leadership that determines the direction that any new teacher will take. They begin the job with the methods that they have learned, but the application of those methods, and their practice, more often than not, will be influenced, if not determined by the culture and leadership of the schools in which these young teachers have managed to secure jobs.  The career span of an educator goes from 35 to 40 years in the system. The big question is: How do teachers stay relevant in their profession over that span of years? If our society was based on stagnant information that had little change over the years, teaching would be an easy profession. However, over a three, or four decades of teacher’s career in the Twenty-First Century there are huge changes. Changes in methods, technology tools, and even content.  How do teachers stay relevant in this ever-changing world.

Many schools are set up with mentoring programs. Even without official programs the older teachers often take the fledglings under their wing to teach them the way of the school. This all works well as long as there is a healthy culture and a vibrant leadership. If however, there is an unhealthy culture, teachers who are burned out, resistant to change, unwilling to experiment and just putting in the time, that tends to perpetuate itself.

Professional Development is not usually done on school time. The school week is for instruction. There may be workshops offered on a voluntary basis after school hours. Usually there will be some type of Conference day during the year where development is scheduled. Occasionally, a consultant may be provided by the district for a training session on a pet project that an administrator saw at a conference. If there is a technology or IT staff, they may provide occasional workshops, but that is often a bells and whistles presentation of applications. For the most part PD decisions are left up to individual teachers to secure for themselves. This can be done by approved courses or workshops provided by colleges or professional organizations.  Again we are talking about decades of professional development along these lines. This is not true for every school in every district, but I believe it happens in some degree more often than not.

The idea of educators needing to volunteer time and in many cases money to obtain professional development is also a losing battle. As new teachers mature and begin having families, both their time, and money become scarce commodities. There is less available time after school hours. Money is needed for the family before Professional Development. Once an educator falls behind in developments in the profession it is difficult to know what it is he or she does not know. Many view this as a generational gap. I see it as a learning gap, having little to do with age. After not learning new methods, or technology tools of learning for a long period of time, and considering the rate of change with technology, how can educators make informed decisions on what PD they need? This again continues the cycle of poor PD and a resulting lack of reform.

How do we break the cycle? How do we address the needed Professional Development in an ever-changing culture over four decades for each individual educator. The present system does not appear to be meeting the need. There are no simple solutions. What is obvious to me as a connected educator would be to get everyone connected using the internet. Of course for all of the reasons elaborated here most educators are not ready for that solution. Stagnant Professional Development promotes stagnant professionals!

We need to take a fresh approach to Professional Development. We can’t hold people responsible for what they do not know. PD must be included in the work week. We must provide the time and support it with meaningful development. I do believe in giving people choices, but I struggle with the idea that some educators may choose to stay in their comfort zones when we need them to leave those zones behind. The PD must be tailored to specific courses and in some cases to specific teachers or administrators. Education must be addressed and discussed as a profession. Trends should be examined. Experimentation needs to be encouraged. Administrators must lead the PD and not just mandate it. By continuing to educate our educators professionally, we should be able to expect a resulting reform. I don’t see this as a chicken or the egg thing. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

 

Read Full Post »

The latest trend in education may be to shift teaching and learning from the classroom to the internet. We are seeing more and more states tuning to this as an answer to their education woes. Colleges have been transitioning in that direction for years. Online course have exploded over the years. I served on a committee for the New York State United Teachers examining those online possibilities for the secondary level back in the turn of the century, about the year 2000.

My personal experience with online learning, beyond the theoretical, came with my daughter as an eighth grader participating in an online-writing program sponsored by Johns Hopkins University. This occurred in 2007. I have two daughters and they have grown up in a technology-rich home environment. We are most fortunate and are thankful every day for what we have. The experience of my kids however, is probably not typical for every kid in America. That experience is what my daughter brought to the table as her preparation for this writing program.

Two things impressed me about this program. First, I was intrigued with the approach and methodology of the teacher .It was not assignments and worksheets, but rather explorations and feedback. Second, I witnessed how effective it was in engaging and advancing my daughter in writing. Of course the obvious, to be stated, is that if it were not for the first, the second would never have resulted. It was obvious that the educator on the other side of the computer screen was trained and experienced in delivering more than material and worksheets to spark more than just involvement on my daughter’s part. She was participating with interest. As a “classroom teacher”, I was most impressed. As a father, I was very proud of my daughter’s accomplishments. As an educator, I began to think, is this the way to go?

Stepping back into the “Wayback Machine” and returning to today, I need to ask many more questions. There are many who see this as a silver bullet for education. It addresses the concerns of politicians and business people. Online learning can be cheaper and more cost-effective than classroom teaching. They foresee one educator reaching larger numbers of students than could be done with conventional teaching methods. Less overhead, more profit, lower taxes.  With the Kahn Academy and the popularity of the TED Talk Lectures how can online learning miss the mark? It is the one stop answer many have been looking for. That would be the many who are not educators, but seem to direct the reform discussions.

If we are to travel the path to online learning, we need people to lead the way. Most colleges are preparing teachers for classroom teaching. Technology itself has found it difficult to break into the teacher preparation mindset. The idea that a teacher can teach solely over the internet, or even for part of the day, has not yet been accepted by many of those who teach teachers. The blended classroom may be happening, but it is through pioneering and not engineering. We need more than a workshop to train teachers to teach over the internet.

The idea of the blended class on the secondary level, which is far less a goal than complete immersion into online learning, cannot depend on happening with just students coming from colleges as new teachers. With over 7 million teachers in the United States we can’t expect that all of them have the ability or inclination to self-teach themselves the skills necessary to support an online teaching initiative.

The other big obstacle to this online learning is the same thing that is an obstacle to conventional education that we continue to ignore, poverty. There are families that are not financially capable of supporting that which is necessary for online learning. They do not have the bandwidth metaphorically or literally to do this.

I also question the ability of the students to be prepared for such a change. Being educated in an environment that at best has mixed feelings about technology in education, are our students properly versed in, not only the skills needed, but the mindset required for online learning? We have schools that still ban the internet. We have teachers who will not give up the chalk board. We still budget for overhead projectors and textbooks. These are not bad things. They are however indicators that we may not yet be prepared for immersion into online education. As always, the use of technology for the sake of using technology in an education setting is doomed for failure.

As an adult, I am all for online learning. Adults however, learn differently than children. As an educator I support the use of technology as a tool for learning. I would use it anywhere that it fits into what I teach and how I teach it. I believe we need to teach our students for the lives they will be living, which is not the same as the lives led by us, their teachers. I believe we must move forward to stay relevant. None of this can be successful however without the proper preparation.

The agenda for online learning may be misguided by people whose motivations are guided less by quality education and more by cutting costs and taxes, or, in the case of private schooling, to increase profits. Online learning, to be done properly, will require educating the educators, and providing the poor with that which they must have to participate in education. Students will also have to be provided the skills to participate in the process. Colleges will need to prepare teachers differently. Oh, and here is the elephant in the room. Who stays home with the kids as they are receiving their online education?

If we are going to go in the direction of online learning, than we must prepare for it. I think if we do so, it may change not only the way we teach, but it will affect the way everyone learns. It cannot be done on the cheap. Professional development in our system is, and continues to be the weak link of education. We cannot again add-on something else without training and supporting those who must use it, and then blaming them when it ultimately fails. There are so many unanswered questions.  Even as we answer the questions however, we must keep in mind, that there is no single answer. There is no silver bullet.

 

Read Full Post »

I am often intrigued by the controversy surrounding the contraction, “ain’t” which, to the best of my knowledge, has been created by the American education system. Contractions are an informal form of the English Language and should not be used when formal language is required. We generally speak informally, but when it comes to writing, we employ the formal language. That being said, the acceptable contraction for “am not” is “ain’t”, therefore it can only be correctly used with the pronoun “I” as in I ain’t going to do that!” The problem occurred when people tried using it with other nouns or pronouns. “We ain’t going!” would then mean “We am not going!” “Jim ain’t here” would be Jim am not here, hence the misuses grew. The solution was easy. Rather than teach to correct use of that contraction, teachers banned its use altogether and made every attempt to have it stricken from every lexicon in the English-speaking world. Even as I write this post, the application, Microsoft Word is red-marking this paragraph like there will be no tomorrow. Of course I will need to ignore the rule, since it has now been established as a rule. The banning of this word from our language is so engrained in the minds of Americans that I will probably get comments from readers taking issue with this entire paragraph. Of course that works to underscore the success of the “Ban the word ‘AIN’T’ Campaign”.

Now that the stage has been set, let me get on to where I want to take you on this journey. This week I took my student teacher group to listen to a guest speaker. The speaker was a personnel director from a local school district who was discussing the ins and outs of securing a teaching position in today’s job market. After we got past the usual things about resume’s and panel interviews, the speaker delved into what she thought first year teachers should do to protect themselves as new teachers. When she told the group that they should not email anything to parents for their first three years of teaching, all of my students turned their heads to see if mine blew off my head. Some of my colleagues nodded and voiced their agreement. I said nothing out of respect for the speaker, but later told my kids that I totally disagreed with that strategy.

Our world is rapidly changing. I will not debate whether it is for the better or worse, but I will clearly agree that we are a culture that is connecting in many ways beyond the age-old face-to-face method employed for thousands of years. We talk, phone, email, text, tweet, Skype, post, and sometimes write letters in order to communicate. If involving parents in the education of their children is a goal for educators, we need to employ whatever form of communication that parents use to accomplish that. We can’t demand that parents conform to our limiting choices that are convenient for us. Email and texting are becoming the methods of choice for communication in our world today.

I fully understand the reasoning behind telling teachers to avoid emailing or texting parents. There are times when these things can be used against a well-intentioned teacher. Teachers live in a fishbowl and are held to a higher standard. They are also targets for people who need to place blame on anyone rather than accept personal responsibility. These are the hazards of our profession and they seem to be being amplified in a society which is growing more dependent on what social media and technology have to offer. The solution to the problem, however, does not lie in banning its use. As teachers, we should always rely on education as our first answer. Learning how to do something correctly is always a better alternative to not doing it at all.

Rather than condemning the use of tools that our society is embracing, we need to teach the correct way to use them. It is true that the written word can be used against a teacher, but any words written or spoken can be turned. Look at our political system where that happens every day.  We need to teach teachers to consider their words and communicate clearly no matter what form of communication they use. It is not the tool that makes teachers look bad; it is what they say that does that. A parent who is informed about his or her child’s progress and shortcomings has a fighting chance to affect change in their child’s education. The sooner they have that information the quicker things can happen. Of course if the parent has been informed and chooses not to act that is not the fault of the teacher. If email or texting is the preferred method for the parent to get this information then why are we trying to fight that?

We need to streamline the communication for quick results. For years teachers complained that they had no phones in the classroom to communicate with parents. In its day the phone was the technology tool for communication. Today, many, many classrooms have phones for accessing parents. The technology however, has developed forms of communication beyond the phone as we once knew it. For that reason most schools provide email accounts for teachers. What schools now need to do is teach the teachers how to best use that tool. Schools need to teach what to say and how to say it for best results, because this stuff is not intuitive. As I often say, we no longer have a choice about technology. It is what we use in our everyday lives. It does not matter that we can remember when we did not have it. We do not move backwards in time. We need to teach people how to move forward, because no one has been there yet.

Read Full Post »

I had a busy morning today. I observed a student teacher for her final observation, and I made it home in time to participate in the weekly noon #Edchat on Twitter. As I participated in the #Edchat I was struck by the fact that it had a great deal to do with a conversation I had with my student’s cooperating teacher in a high school that morning.

The conversation that I had with this high school teacher took place in the school’s computer lab. It was a very relaxed session, as all of the students were involved in a Web Quest in support of their recent reading of  Inherit the Wind. They were now learning first-hand about the “Scopes Monkey Trial”.  I observed that the computer Lab had an Interactive White Board installed on the wall. I remarked to the teacher that it struck me that this is not the most effective place for an IWB, since every student sat at a desktop computer. A simple, less-expensive digital projector could serve as well, and that would free up an IWB for a classroom. That started the conversation ball rolling.

The teacher told me that the school received a grant for the IWB’s and Boards were placed in many of the classroom’s two summers ago. There was little regard for where they were placed in the rooms, or what rooms were to receive them. Since, according to our discussion, it was not evident that teachers were consulted in the planning stage, or the implementation stage, so the teachers had little to say in what rooms or where in those rooms boards were to be installed. That is why the board in this teacher’s room is not at a focal point, but on the side of the room. No one ever asked! The teacher continues to be upset over this every time she uses the board. Students must be repositioned or redirected to use the IWB.

Of course, professional development always at the top of my list, I asked if the staff received adequate preparation before using the IWB’s in the class. The staff received an overview workshop was the answer. There was a second training workshop later in the year for those who attended. Obviously, someone must have thought that just the mere fact the district is installing technology in a classroom should be incentive enough for a teacher to self-teach him or herself in order to use that technology. Could you imagine the airline, or medical industries using the same strategies for their people to learn and be incented to use the technology in their respective industries? Here’s a 747 pilots. Aren’t you excited?  The overview will be next week. Here is Robotic Laser, doctors. Be careful when you use it. You can sign up for a workshop at our next training day.

So, here is what seems to have happened. The district got a grant for IWB’s. It had to move quickly to install them, since they arrived in the summer. They put the IWB’s where they could be easily installed in classrooms that gave good visibility to the public. Professional development was either not part of the grant or too expensive to pay for in addition, so they settled for the overview provided by the manufacturer. There is little time during the year to provide Professional Development, so teachers had to wait for a conference day.

The result could have been predicted. Teachers were never on board or even consulted. Teachers begin to resent the entire effort. They use the IWB’s as projectors and cite this as another example of wasteful spending at the expense of larger classes. The administrators say that they are providing cutting edge Technology to the teachers, who refuse to use it. Of course the New York Times could pick up the story and say Schools are spending too much on technology that teachers fail to use with any positive outcome for student learning.

Of course, there must be more to this than I was able to get from a brief conversation. I do know that I have heard many similar stories from many educators from all over our country. I do not think this scenario falls too short of the mark even with my liberal use of poetic license. As you read this, I am sure many similar cases are speeding through your head. Of course, I will get comments from some IT people and administrators who just don’t get it. That is to be expected since they view things through a different lens.

When I participated in the afternoon #Edchat the topic was:  What changes could be made to the present management structure of education to make it more effective for educators? Of course this topic had my head swimming with the ideas from the earlier conversation. Administrators need to lead not mandate, or dictate initiatives and policy. They need to engage their staff. Education has the highest percentage of educated people in its industry. They are education experts. They have degrees in education. Why not consult with them on affairs of education? The more that we involve teachers with the development of policies, the more they will buy into the success of those policies. The more teachers point out flaws and misconceptions, the stronger the policy becomes in consideration of those shortcomings. Administrators should not view teachers as a problem. They are not the enemy. Teachers have much to offer as education experts. Lead and work with them as consultants. Education administrators need more staff consultation and leadership and less control and reactive policy directives.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 905 other followers

%d bloggers like this: