Archive for May, 2011

I was recently asked, along with several other educators, to comment on a post dealing with grading homework. The premise on which we were asked to comment involved a teacher grading homework and giving a zero as a grade to those students who did not do the assignment. This is not an uncommon practice amongst educators. I employed this strategy myself for many years. It was and probably still is an accepted strategy, but after decades of teaching, I have grown to a point where i am not a big believer in giving homework. I stated my homework philosophy in this post, Hmwk: Less Value or Valueless?

If homework is to be given by a teacher, students need to believe that the teacher will value their efforts in completing it. Homework requires a sacrifice of personal time on the part of the student. If students observe that the teacher is not at least checking homework, they will not spend time, which is important to them, doing the assignments that are not valued. A mistake often made however, is that rather than assess the work, the teacher records a zero, or a failing homework grade for the student. This would also apply to a project prepared outside of the class that was to be presented at a specific time, a deadline.

I see assessment having two functions. The formative assessment is to tell me how much the student understands, so I can decide to move forward, or if I need to, change my strategy. The summative assessment comes at the end to determine, how much of what I taught, was learned by the student. A zero for a homework grade does not seem to fall into either of these categories.

It would seem that the zero grade is a punishment for non-compliance. Maybe an argument can be made for assessing the student’s understanding of deadlines, but that might be a stretch. That may be more of a work-ethic value and I don’t know how to assess that in number terms. The issue is bigger than zero for a grade of non-compliance. It is a question of the relevance of homework.

If the grade is an assessment of the work, and the student’s understanding, but it was not done, how can it be assessed? If the homework is more important to the teacher than it is to the student, who benefits? The zero seems more like retribution for not finding value in what the teacher values, or has been told to value. It’s more of a control thing, and not an assessment thing. If a student consistently performs well in class, how is it that when assessed on the same skills performed outside the class in the form of homework, the work gets a zero? It is a power issue.

Maybe we need to change the emphasis or at least offer an option for change. We could give control to the students, by giving them a homework opt-out option. Of course the ultimate control would need to be given to the parents, but let us consider this option. Students, with parents’ permission, could opt out of a homework grade for the year. The teacher would give homework assignments to the entire class, but would only be required to assess the work of those who have opted in for it. Students who have opted in, get a homework grade as an extra grade in their overall average. Every student will be given an opportunity to do the assignments, but, the only grading the teacher needs to do would be for those who opted in. If, as the teacher would hope, the homework makes a difference, it should be evident to all in the grades of the students who have opted-in. The opt-outs could still do the work, but it would not be assessed for a grade. Additionally, if opt-in students miss a specific number of assignments, they would be opted-out and parents would be informed. The group choosing to do the homework is now perceived as having the advantage in grading, making it very desirable for all. Of course that only works if the homework is relevant and if it does make a difference. There is a very good possibility that homework may make no difference at all in the students’ learning. In that case, those who have opted out, have not been harmed at all.

I believe homework should be given as infrequently as possible, and only if necessary. It should take no more than brief period of time. If homework is given to students, it must be valued. Their efforts outside of the class should be recognized. If we consider the schedules of our students and value down time, homework becomes less important and class time becomes more valuable.

This topic of homework is often a huge magnet for teachers’ comments on a blog post. For some reason educators feel a need to defend or attack the homework issue as a matter of professional pride. I await those comments.

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Twitter’s biggest obstacle to being the number one tool of Professional Development for educators is Twitter. It is a simple tool, based on a simple idea, which is complicated by its simplicity. To use twitter is to get it. To explain Twitter is a losing proposition. Twitter’s reputation as an application is its worst enemy. It has been the brunt of comedians’ jokes since it began. Members of the Hollywood crowd embraced it for the purpose of engaging their fans with a majority of mindless tweets to build a following. Many have a following in the millions. The concept most accepted by the public is that Twitter is used by individuals to broadcast to people the meaningless actions and events in their day-to-day existence. How could this ever be taken seriously, not to even mention being used as a tool for Professional Development for educators?

Social learning is common to all. We learn through social encounters. We pass along information in social settings. We collaborate with others in our social engagements. A committee is simply a gathering of individuals for social interaction for the purpose of learning and creating. This all occurs in our face to face world. This all takes place with people who can assemble in close proximity at predetermined location and a pre-determined, in-common, time period. Our face to face learning has the boundaries of time and space, but when those boundaries are accounted for, meaningful learning may take place.

With the advancement of technology, and its integration with the internet, the ability to make social contact with individuals is enhanced because the internet takes us beyond boundaries of space and time. We can contact individuals around the globe. Our thoughts and ideas can be suspended in time until retrieved by others. We can exchange ideas or information in the form of: text, audio files, photos, videos, Blog posts, articles, URL’s (links), charts, data, and live interaction. All of this is made possible with Social Media.

Twitter is a social media application. It enables people to use it as a conduit for information to other individuals. That is the simple part. Now let us consider the complications that come from trying to keep Twitter simple. First, the Tweet, or the message, can only be 140 characters in length. Many find this too limiting. I expect those individuals might be long-winded in a face to face setting as well.

A huge problem with Twitter for some is understanding who is getting the message. Remember Twitter is Social Media and is based on social interaction. If you walked into an auditorium full of people and started talking without engaging someone first, no one would be listening. You would be talking out loud to yourself.  If you introduced yourself to someone and then began a conversation you now have someone listening and interacting. You would then do the same with a second, third, and fourth person. You have connected with those people and selected them as persons you may interact with, and they have selected you as well, based on your intelligent contributions to the discussion. As that works in life, so it works in Twitter.

Simply stated, the only people who get your tweets are those who follow you, your “followers”. The only Tweets that will come to you are those from people you choose to follow. They are called “Following” If you follow family members, you may expect Tweets about family matters would monopolize your tweets. If the idea is to use Twitter as a professional Development tool, then the people you should follow would be educators. You will build a personal, professional learning Network by limiting the people you follow to educators. In addition, if your Tweets are educationally topical, those who follow you will also be educators, or people interested in topics of education.

All Tweets are public and will be seen by all who follow you. A Direct Message is private. A” DM” can only be sent to a person you follow and he, or she must be following you as well. You cannot “DM someone who does not follow you.

Educators tweet educational things including: text, audio files, photos, videos, Blog posts, articles, URL’s (links), Charts, data, and live interaction. These could be a lesson specific tweet, or a topic involving methods of education. Personal experiences from educators globally. It could be a question from an educator seeking an answer. Having information and collaborating on ideas creates an environment for Professional Development. It can be used at any time without regard to boundaries that impede face to face socialization. The number of participants is not limited to a school, district, city, state, or country. There is no isolation of Elementary, Secondary, or Higher Ed educators.

Not knowing how to find educators to follow may have been a problem in the past, but it is being made easier all of the time. Educational Blogs may have a “Follow Me on Twitter” Icon. Click and follow. Always check out the profile of a perspective person to follow. You will be able to see that person’s last tweets as well as their profile. Additionally, you can view icons of who they follow. Click on any of those icons and you are transported to that person’s profile. Repeat the process as long as needed, or return to the original profile to start a new path of follow research. Profiles may also contain lists of followers. A twitter list may contain a large number of educators. One click will follow every member of the list. There are several educational chats ongoing weekly. Educators from around the world are involved. If you find interesting participants in the chat, follow them on Twitter.

Twitter is only one component of a comprehensive PLN. There are many Social Media applications that serve educators well for communication, collaboration, and creation. All of these applications are constantly evolving or disappearing, to be replaced by new applications. We need to buy into the method and not the tool. Tools change, but learning continues. To be better educators we need to be better learners.

Those of us who successfully use Twitter as a tool for Professional Development need to act as ambassadors of information. We need to share that which we glean from our Personal Learning Networks and not be shy about telling other educators where it came from. It was not Ashton Kutcher,  Linsay Lohan, or Paris Hilton who shared that information, but collaborative educators.

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Tonight we got word from President Obama that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American forces. I never feel good about anyone dying, but I find the exception with this announcement. I actually feel relief and a sense of justice in this news. Since this happened 10 years ago there are many people out there who may have not been directly affected by this horrific event.

I taught in a suburb of NYC in September of 2001. Like many Long Island schools, the community included many NYC firefighters and NYC policemen and police women. In addition many of our parents worked in NYC and in the Twin Towers specifically. The twin Towers was a great part of the lives of many New Yorkers. I personally celebrated several special occasions at the Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the Towers.

September 11, 2001 began as any other day in school. The energy was very high with teachers and students, since the school year had just begun. There was no social media, so news was delivered by broadcast media including television and radio. Twitter and Facebook did not exist. If they did they would probably have been blocked.  There were no smartphones.

As teachers, we got the word from our main office during the first period. Someone in the main office had a radio on listening to the news. Many of us went to the library where we knew there was a feed for TV. That was where we observed the first Tower in flames. As bad as that was, the second Tower being hit confirmed that it was not an airline accident, but a terror attack. We ran a TV feed to the auditorium, so other teachers could be informed. The faculty soon became aware of what was going on. The decision was made to protect the students, numbering close to 1,000, from the event, since many of their parents were Police, Firefighters, or workers in offices in the Towers.

It was very difficult for middle school teachers to withhold such information from their students, but it was agreed to be the best decision. Teachers ran to the TV sets between classes to get the latest updates. There was a great deal of crying and hugging, out of the sight of students, between teachers united in the face of disaster. Our instinct was to tell our students and help them through the tragedy, but we knew that we needed to have more personal information before that could happen. As a teacher, that was the worst day of my career. I am tearing as I commit these words to this post. Before noon parents and relatives began to arrive to sign kids out of school. Shortly after, many kids were signed out and went home, teachers had to offer an explanation. We then had an early dismissal.

We were more fortunate than other districts. We lost a few parents in the Towers. Other districts were devastated. Every day for about a month, pictures appeared in the local papers of victims of the event. Literally hundreds of victims’ pictures were released each and every day. Personal accounts of first hand experiences stoked the flames of retribution. People were scared and filled with a need to strike out. This was fueled with every funeral. The funerals went on for weeks, and months after the event.The most elaborate were the heroes, the firefighters and police. Pictures of victims every day, day after day appeared in local papers. In Schools Pupil personnel, counselors, psychologists, and social workers all worked to deal with student issues resulting from the event.

There are very few people in the NYC or the NYC suburban area who escaped the effects of the event. Ground Zero is more than a place on a property in NYC. Ground Zero is in the hearts of New Yorkers. It has scored a place in my heart as an educator. The pain from that day will never leave me. As I recount that day, I am now overwhelmed with emotion. As I read peoples’ opinions about how we should not rejoice in the death of an individual, I can agree. That is however with one big exception, the death of Osama Bin Laden. I am very glad that bastard is dead.

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