Archive for November, 2010

I recently read in the Washington Post that the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education issued a report recommending that students preparing for a career in teaching should spend less time in course work and more time in real classrooms for clinical practice. According to the article, the report states that this would be more in the model used for medical Doctors. The report advocates less coursework and more practical experience for pre-service teachers. Of course the overriding theme of this article implies that the failure of our system is with the failure of the teachers, so it must be the failure of the way that teachers are prepared.

I see an additional problem in that the report in the recommendation for evaluating the student teacher on the performance of their assigned students on standardized tests.

“All programs held to same standards; data-driven accountability based on measures of candidate performance and student achievement, including gains in standardized test scores. Data drives reform and continuous improvement.”

This however, will require the attention of a second Post at another time.

Before any committee recommends less time in course work and expanding time in the classroom experience for teacher candidates, it should explore the in-school experience as it exists in today’s model. I do not know what other schools require for their student teacher programs. I do know what is required for my students. It is fair to say that my entire opinion on this subject is based on that background and may not necessarily apply to other student teacher programs or programs in other states.

Students seeking a career in education are not required to master one area of content, but two. They need to be experts in their subject area and they need to be experts in the area of education. To accomplish that, a reduction in course work might be counter-productive. The in-class experience might best be improved in quality as opposed to quantity. The way it is set up now is a “crap shoot” for student teachers, and the colleges have little control over the student-teacher experience.

The college controls the courses candidates are required to take. They are also responsible for holding candidates accountable for 100 hours of class observations of real classes as an eligibility requirement for student teaching.  Once the student begins student-teaching the bulk of that experience is in the hands of the Cooperating teacher. That would be the teacher to whom the student is assigned for the student-teacher assignment. On the secondary level that would be half of their time in a middle school setting and half on the high school level with separate cooperating teachers. The college is connected to the student teacher through the weekly seminar class to deal with the reflection of experiences and guidance through day-to-day problems.

The weak link in the chain of the student-teacher’s experience often lies in the relationship with the cooperating teacher. Most cooperating teachers are well-intentioned and want to do their best in their role as a mentor for an aspiring teacher. However, this is not true of all cooperating teachers. The flaw in the system seems to be more in the selection process of the cooperating teacher as well as the training for cooperating teachers.

The idea of student-teaching is to place a student with a working teacher as an apprentice. The student teacher is expected to teach classes as a teacher from the onset of the assignment. This takes place over the length of a college semester. The student teacher is responsible for teaching and assessing students under the guidance of the cooperating teacher. This all works well, if: the student is prepared, the teacher is prepared, the student is receptive, the teacher is giving, the student is professional, the teacher is flexible. This is a short list of the many “ifs” required for a successful student teaching experience. Little of this is controllable by the college.

Teachers are not trained to be cooperating teachers and it is not an ability that one is born with. They are volunteers or in many cases they are volunteered. They are not compensated by the school district and the compensation from the college usually comes in the bartering of course credits or small monetary stipends. Cooperating teachers are required to turn over the duties of teaching to a student teacher while still having the responsibility for their own students’ success. In today’s climate that may impact their own assessment for maintaining their position (job), if the successful performance of their students is not indicated on standardized tests.

To further complicate the situation we must ask: Are the philosophies and experiences of the student teacher and cooperating teacher a match? Do they see eye to eye on the integration of technology in education? Do they agree the needs and use of formative and summative assessment? Has the cooperating teacher remained relevant in the world of education? Is the student teacher given respect from the cooperating teacher or viewed as a teaching assistant? Will the student teacher be allowed to create original lessons or will he/she be required to teach lessons of the cooperating teacher?

Colleges try to offer guidelines for cooperating teachers on most of these concerns, but the primary goal of a cooperating teacher does not lie in the interest of the student teacher, but rather with the students of their own classes. I do realize and I do explain to my students that it is how one handles the experience that benefits one’s education. I do believe that, but even I need to question things when students relate some of the experiences they endured under less enlightened cooperating teachers.

Now, I must address the recommendation of the enlightened committee. If I understand this, they are recommending fewer courses to master two areas of expertise. They are promoting placing students into a mentoring environment with cooperating teachers who are not trained, not screened, not adequately compensated, and being held personally responsible for the effect that student teacher has on the assessment outcomes of their students. Is this the model our medical profession trains physicians with? Maybe we should consider quality of the program instead of quantity. More hours of a flawed system of mentorship does not necessarily create better teachers or physicians.

Most Cooperating teachers do the best job they can to help and mentor their student teachers, but there are many improvements which would help them in this noble endeavor.

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Relevance enables professionals to rise above mediocrity.  When I go to a professional for advice or service I have certain expectations. If I go to a Doctor I expect that person would be up to date on the latest procedures in their specific area of medicine. If I go to a lawyer, I expect that person is up to date on all of the recent laws that will affect my issue. If I go to an architect, I expect that person is up to date on all of the building codes, new materials and latest methods of construction. If I go to an accountant I expect that person to be up to date on the latest tax implications that will affect my investments.

There are several ways that professionals can keep up with the details of their professions. They may read journals; they may attend workshops; they may network at conferences; they may join and network in professional groups; they may attend lectures; they may give lectures; they may write articles, and some may even choose to write blogs.  All of these efforts are taken and are continued long after a degree is earned and a license is secured for that professional’s position. Any profession that relies on ever-changing information must keep up with those changes in order to be effective. I think of this as professional relevance. However, not all professionals employ these methods to maintain relevance. Some professionals see the degree and the license as the means to secure a position and that becomes the final goal. All of the learning and work involved by some professionals was for the sole purpose of attaining that position, and now, with that position secured, the learning and work can ease-up.  Taking the easy and comfortable path of non-involvement leads to being mediocre and irrelevant in competitive professions. Of course this is a generality, and there are exceptions.

Literacy has come to mean more than just the ability to read and write. Living on an island I often go to the ocean for metaphors. Watching the ocean every day, one learns how to read it. In order to engage the ocean in some way, one needs to read the conditions to determine how to participate. Body surfing is always a first option, but beyond that choice, there is boogey boarding, skim boarding, surf-boarding, kayaking, or just swimming. Each choice requires different conditions and success depends on the ability to correctly interpret that information. I guess this might be considered ocean literacy. Information about ocean conditions changes on a minute-to-minute basis, so an ocean-literate person must assess and reassess the conditions continually in order to maximize the experience, as well as avoid dangers.

Since Gutenberg evolved information from the scrolls and manuscripts of the dark ages to the media of mass-produced, printed text, the introduction of the digital age has taken us further in information delivery. Accessing, analyzing, understanding, creating and communicating information using the tools of our digital age has become the 21st century literacy. A major drawback to this new literacy is that the tools, or apps (applications) that deliver the information keep evolving, or changing altogether. This requires that in order to stay literate people need to stay relevant.

Now, you may ask, when is he going to mention teachers or education? That takes me to a tweet that I sent out this week. During a recent #Edchat discussion on Twitter, we discussed if class blogs, student blogs, or even teacher blogs have a place in our education system. For those of you who are unaware, #Edchat is a weekly discussion on Twitter which spotlights different topics concerning education, or educators. The discussion was quite informative as many offered their opinions based on personal experiences with blogging in education. I tweeted out something to the effect that it was unfortunate that we could not share this discussion with more educators. When I consider the thousands of educators that I am in direct contact with through social media, I understand that it is only a tiny fractional percentage of all of the educators in the world today. Why are not more educators involved?

I am not saying that all educators need to involve themselves with #Edchat. It is not for everyone, and as all social media tools, its time will pass as it is replaced by some other digital delivery system. That is the nature of using technology. The bigger picture however, is educators’ involvement with any social media as a means to be relevant using the tools of 21st Century, literacy tools.

More important than teaching content is the task of using content to teach learning. The content of those scrolls and manuscripts may still be relevant today, but we do not get that content by unrolling the fragile scrolls and allowing students to approach one at a time to read them. For year’s we counted on the Gutenberg method, using printed text in textbooks. Today and tomorrow however, the new literacy will depend on additional tools. Tools of a digital world will be used more and more to deliver content. Take note of all of the businesses and media programming tagging their ads with Social media icons of Facebook, google and Twitter to contact for added information. Take note of all of the print media icons that have gone away, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report. Blogs are replacing printed media.

As professional educators we do not heal illnesses, advise on the laws, provide blueprints, or arrange investments. We teach others how to learn the very skills needed to accomplish those things in their chosen professions. Professional educators model and teach lifelong learning. How do we as educators stay relevant and literate? Are we reading Blogs, engaging in collaboration with other educators through Social Media,and teaching with tools that our students will need to use in order to be relevant in their world? Or,are we as educators saying to Gutenberg, I like the feel and smell of scrolls and manuscripts, it gives me comfort, so I will stick with them.

This Link from the Educator’s PLN provides a Prezi presentation by Joshua Coupal  connecting Bloom’s Taxonomy in Digital terms to combine Relevance and media Literacy in Education:  http://edupln.com/video/blooms-digital-taxonomy-prezi

Your comments are welcome.


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Many years ago I attended an education Conference in upstate New York and saw, as I remember, a Keynote speaker who was a superintendent of an upstate district. He told the audience of an experience he had with a business owner in his region. The businessman told the superintendent that the students being graduated were not coming to him with the skills needed for his industry. He invited the superintendent to visit his plant and see the problem he faced matching the needed skills with the skills being taught. He then told the superintendent that he couldn’t even hire Lathe operators from the high school graduates.

The Superintendent visited the industrial arts teacher the next day, and asked if the proper use of the lathe was taught in his class. The superintendent even looked over the lathe that students used to do their work. It was an impressive piece of equipment and it all seemed in order. The students seemed to be doing a fine job with the lathe. This superintendent was ready to face the businessman in his plant assured that the school district’s students were certainly prepared with the skills to operate a lathe.

The next day after the social amenities were exchanged between the superintendent and the plant executives, they all took a walking tour of the plant ending up in the area of the plant where the lathes and the lathe operators did their work. To the superintendent’s surprise it looked nothing like the lathe area of the school’s shop. The touring group entered a closed-in, air-conditioned area. In that area the superintendent was introduced to a young woman in a white lab coat as she operated a computer that made all of the needed adjustments to operate the plant’s lathes. The superintendent was educated at that moment about relevance in education.

Now we are hearing from many of our leaders that in order for our country to recapture and secure its prominent position in our new global economy, we need to be innovative. Innovation will drive us to where we need to be. It was, after all, innovation that put our country in its position of prominence in the world initially.

When our public education system started out, we were way ahead of so many other countries with unlimited resources to work with; it is no wonder that we were successful. We may have conceived of the public education system to provide workers for the country’s workforce, but that, as a goal, was surpassed by many, as opportunity and innovation offered a path to security and wealth.

How do we now, in our present system, promote innovative thinking in order to produce innovation? When we look at the lathes that we are using in education, do they look like the lathes of today’s industry? Can we continue to use yesterday’s methodology to create today’s thinkers? Are we creating workers for industry, or are we creating leaders of industry?

If we continue to assess students who find no relevance in a mandatory education that they are not interested in, we should not be surprised at the failing results. Should we not consider other factors of poverty, race and language gaps as possible reasons for failure? Is the blame to be placed on the teachers who teach it, or should we look at the methodology and the goals of education?  Could it be that the system is failing the teachers and not the other way around?

We need to assess what skills our children will need in their world, for it will be very different from ours. We need to provide them the opportunities to develop those skills. We need to promote innovative thinking in order to promote innovation. We need to be more innovative with education in order to move it from where it is, to where it should be going. We need not look back at what we had, but rather support teachers who are innovators and moving us forward. We need to support teachers with best practices, professional development, and encourage and support those teachers who do more than just ask students to be lifelong learners. The best teachers are learners themselves. They practice and model lifelong learning. They are education innovators, finding new ways to learn and teach in relevant terms, providing opportunities for their students to do the same. The successes of these educators can be more than models for others; they can be inspirational as the successes of the students are shared with teachers who have yet to become innovative.

Skills of acquiring information, communicating, critically thinking, and creating are the skills of innovation. To pull out an old chestnut, you don’t get that through osmosis, it must be taught. Our students need more than a lecture about the use of a lathe in a shop class. We need them to understand the world in which they will live.


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