Archive for January, 2014

I recently attended a provocative session at Educon. For those who don’t know Educon is an annual education Conference held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia each year on the week before the Super Bowl. It is a conference of discussion as opposed to a conference of presentation. Each of the sessions is a facilitated discussion that involves the participants.

It was in one such session that #Edchat received what I thought was an unwarranted criticism from one of the participants in the session.

For those who may be new to social media scheduled chats take place on Twitter on various topics in education throughout the week.  Each is hosted and moderated by an educator who has an interest in the topic of discussion. This real-time chat is conducted through the use of hash tags (#Edchat), which curate all the tweets, so that the chat can be followed without interference from other tweets on the stream. One would simply create a column to follow the specific hash tag and all other tweets would be filtered out so that only hash-tagged tweets would appear in that column. I gave a complete description of education Chats in this post: Chats: What are they and why do we need them?

The Edchat criticism came in a discussion that I attended on The Privileged Voices in Education; facilitated by two people I greatly admire Jose Vilson, and Audrey Watters. I attended that particular session in need of making myself more aware of how I might be unknowingly offending and even demeaning people, as I address things from a position of privilege as a white, heterosexual, male educator. Those are all factors that have been brought to my attention lately, specifically because I have a voice in social media, and I haven’t been aware of my privilege in our very diverse culture. This need for awareness comes with the added responsibility of being an educator. I was unaware of my micro-aggression. As I consulted Wikipedia for specifics I found Micro-aggression: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color ” I need to reflect on that discussion more before attempting to delve deeper in a later post. A follow-up post on this is my intention.

Of course the Edchat criticism came during this particular educator’s comments within this larger more important discussion, so I did not feel it appropriate to respond to him at the time. It was later however, that it occurred to me that we, as educators, are also privileged and must be aware of the less educated or informed. The comment about Edchat was not horrible. It was not even offensive. As a founder of Edchat, I am always listening to educators’ comments. Of course it doesn’t help, when a comment is made about Edchat in a room full of educators, and that a half-dozen, or so, immediately turn to me to see if I will respond. It reminds me of a group of kids gathered to watch a fight afterschool.

This educator said he was introduced to Edchat nine months ago and he felt that Twitter, and Edchat specifically was not the right place to have education discussions. He felt that 140-character format was insufficient for discussion. That was when it occurred to me that he might be speaking from a position of privilege as an educator who is exposed to education discourse. He certainly is an educator who was afforded an opportunity to attend a $200 conference in Philadelphia. His experience is not that of educators in other regions of America and even further from those of educators outside America. Who was he, to make the judgment for other people who an education chat had little, or no value? Opportunity to freely discuss issues in education does not take place in every school globally. Education chats are global, and they offer a glimpse, yes, just a glimpse, of only some of the things that concern educators. It is also mainly an American point of view for most of the chats probably dominated by a northeast influence. Additionally, I have no idea how many people of color are involved. I might assume that not as many as we should have. For anyone to consider all of this and feel that their experience outweighs all others in a judgment on the worth of a chat, may be a little too much, but, the again, I have already made too much of even this.

These twitter chats and even blog posts are not the deep discussions needed for us to make all the right decisions in education, or even our personal lives. They are however starting points. They are flags, signposts, billboards, and bulletin boards to concerns that educators have. They are forerunners and precursors to the needed deeper discussions. Please don’t criticize Chats like Edchat for not being the needed deep discussion. They were never intended to be that. They were set up to create awareness for the community. The very deep discussion that was taking place at Educon was in great part a result of the tweets and chats of social media as explained by the facilitators. We should remember that sometimes a chat is just a chat.

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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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As a tweeter of education tweets (many, many education tweets), I often find myself on lists that people put out as recommendations. Whenever that happens there will be a number of people who will pass their judgment over the quality of the list or the quality of the qualifications of individuals on that list. Of course, there are no rules in social media, so that will go on no matter what. I do think that we need a perspective on these lists in order to gauge the intensity of criticism.

First, we should state that anyone putting out a list, recommending people to follow, has found worth in the information that those people have put out. We can’t judge the value of that information to that individual, since we all come from varied backgrounds with varied experiences. What an inexperienced educator finds of value from others may not be as valuable to an educator of many years experience. That does not mean that the information is worthless. It is still valuable to a new educator. It indicates only that that particular list would not meet all the needs of a more experienced educator.

The biggest problem with any list is that someone is always left out. Even in listing your best ten recommendations there is sure to be someone you want on that list equal to all the others, but that would be eleven. Not gonna happen.

We should keep in mind that these are all personal recommendations. As we personalize our learning, we follow those people who best speak to our needs for learning. Again, who works for me might not work for you. I know that I have seen people on list who I follow, or have stopped following because they do not offer enough to supplement or challenge my learning. Those recommendations would not meet my needs, so although I would not take them, that gives me no license to publicly criticize the list, or individuals on it.

Another criticism that I have become most sensitive to recently is faulting an educator for “not even being a teacher”. Not every educator is a classroom teacher. That does not mean they aren’t educators. That doesn’t mean they can’t offer valid information, or considered opinions. (I do draw the line at non-educators making education policy. That is another discussion for another bottle of wine.) Administrators technically are not classroom teachers.

Quite honestly, many classroom teachers have little time to spend on social media when compared to those who educate educators as a vocation. Many consultants, bloggers, vendors, and retired educators spend greater amounts of time sharing information. We need to remind ourselves that sharing in social media allows us to judge the worth of the idea rather than who proposed it. I have become somewhat of a social media professional educator, hence my sensitivity to the criticism. That position however, is based on a 40-year classroom career (for the haters).

The main benefit of any lists recommending people to follow is that there are lists of people to follow. Social media, although no longer in its infancy, is still new to many educators. New educators are joining the community daily. All of us can take recommendations of people to follow. Lists offer a starting point for some, and additional value to established Personal Learning Networks for others. We must however, determine on our own, if any person warrants a continued “follow”, or a quick, unheralded “unfollow”. We design our own learning. We have a say, a voice in who we choose to learn from. Lists are introductions to people we might not yet have been exposed to.

I would hope that lists could be viewed with more tolerance, if not appreciation. Remember that the people on the lists did not choose to be there. Their appearance on the list came from another. They do not deserve to be publicly criticized for that. They are not to be targeted because someone else doesn’t get it. Respect is key to social media succeeding as a vehicle for our learning.

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As long as I have been involved with education there has been a discussion of whether or not technology is making a difference in learning, and whether or not we should use it in schools. This discussion takes place on a teacher-to-teacher level, as well as an administrative level. It occurs on primary, secondary and higher education levels. It may be time to shift the discussions to what we need our kids to learn and how they will implement that learning in our culture, and continue to learn, as the life long learners, which we, as educators, supposedly strive to make them to be.

The more we learn about learning, the further we seem to be getting away from the primary teaching lessons of the past. Lectures, although necessary, are no longer the focus of teaching methodology. Today’s methods seem to be relying on more collaborative and authentic learning. Actually doing and making, as opposed to having descriptions and theories delivered by lectures, is a shift, which is taking place in education today. Critical thinking, always addressed to some extent in learning, is now becoming more prominent in education.

The skills that educators are emphasizing more and more are skills of: curating information, analyzing information, understanding information, communicating information in various forms, collaborating on information both locally and globally, ultimately, creating information for the purpose of publishing and sharing. These are the goals of 21st Century educators. These are also the today’s needs of industry, business, and banking. Many of these skills are also needs of artists, writers, and musicians. Even politicians could use these skills, which are apparently lacking in a majority of our current leaders.

Now that we have seen how the needs of society have structured the needs of skills for students, and now that we have seen how the needs of education have structured the changes in methodology to address those skills, we now need to consider the best way to deliver access to information for curation, analysis, understanding, communicating and creating. For that direction let us consider what tools are used by Industry, Business, Banking, and the Arts. If the answer is TECHNOLOGY, why is there any debate about why, and how much technology should play a role in education? Yes, good teachers can teach without technology, but to what end, if the student will need to master technology to compete, or even exist in a technology-driven environment?
It is time that this debate ends. There are no choices for educators to make here. If we are educating our children to live and thrive in their world, we cannot limit them to what we were limited to in our world. As things change and evolve, so must education. As educators we have a professional obligation to change as well. We must retain a sense of relevance and that requires effort. Relevance does not come to us as we sleep in the night. Educators need to employ the very skills they are passing along to their students. They need to: curate, collaborate, communicate, critically think, and create. All of this is best accomplished through the use of tools of technology. An education without technology does not prepare our students with the skills that their world will require. Technology should be ubiquitous in education.



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