Archive for February, 2023

Do educators ever self-reflect on how they feel about their students in order to better understand how they assess each of their students? What are the considerations educators take into account while making such judgments? Is each student measured and weighed the same as every other student? If grading a piece of work requires a more subjective assessment, is a teacher really capable of assessing that work by each of his/her students, equally with the exact same bias-free subjectivity?

I know my answer would be sure, I view all my students the same. I am always fair and objective with every assessment. Of course, that would not be true, because I am human. There are things I favor, believe, love, and hate, as a result of my upbringing, education, spirituality, and life experience, all of which will affect every decision I make in life.

I guess I am asking how can educators be objectively unbiased when making subjective assessments of not only their students’ work, but their students as people as well? Teachers will make small decisions and judgments that when added up over a year will paint a certain picture of that student. Over 12 years of schooling does every student have an accurate picture of who they are, or are some kids a product of profiling by dozens of teachers’ biases?

Biases are not necessarily bad. Early on in life, we are asked about a favorite color, favorite type of music, favorite sport, and favorite player? We are programmed to like and consequently dislike. Our families also usually give us values, and spirituality. Teachers help form our academic beliefs. Life or “the school of hard knocks” often fills in the gaps with other beliefs. The end result is that everyone is an individual with unique beliefs and biases with hopefully an anchoring to societal norms.

What biases might a classroom teaching experience that would affect their ability to serve the best interests of their students? (Prompt ChatGPT)

Classroom teachers may experience various biases that can affect their ability to serve the best interests of their students. Some of these biases are:

  1. Confirmation bias: This bias occurs when a teacher searches for or interprets information in a way that confirms their existing beliefs or attitudes. This can lead to the teacher ignoring or dismissing information that contradicts their beliefs or attitudes, leading to inaccurate assessments of students’ abilities and needs.
  2. Stereotyping: Teachers may hold stereotypes about certain groups of students based on their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics. These stereotypes can influence the teacher’s expectations of the students and their ability to succeed, which can lead to lower expectations and opportunities for those students.
  3. Halo effect: This bias occurs when a teacher’s positive impression of a student in one area leads them to assume the student is strong in all areas. For example, a teacher may assume that a student who is well-behaved and polite must also be academically strong, leading to a lack of attention to areas where the student may be struggling.
  4. Implicit bias: This bias is an unconscious preference or prejudice that can influence a teacher’s perceptions and behaviors. For example, a teacher may have an implicit bias against students who speak with accents or who come from different cultures, leading to a lack of understanding or support for those students
  5. Self-fulfilling prophecy: This bias occurs when a teacher’s expectations of a student’s behavior or performance lead to that behavior or performance becoming a reality. For example, a teacher who expects a student to be disruptive may treat that student differently, leading to increased disruptive behavior.

It is important for teachers to recognize and address these biases in order to serve the best interests of their students and provide an equitable learning environment.

Teachers can work to overcome biases by seeking diverse perspectives, reflecting on their assumptions and beliefs, and implementing evidence-based strategies that support all students.

Self-reflection is one of the most important parts of good teaching, but it does not come easily. It requires a teacher to look inside to identify those biases that may affect their students. This is not something young teachers can usually do. I found that it comes with experience. I am a big believer that through time, we do become wiser. With age, we have a compendium of experiences to call upon for a more comprehensive self-reflection.

Some of these biases are very subtle. A teacher might have key students who that teacher most often calls upon in discussions, knowing that they will answer well, and move the discussion along. Of course contributions from the rest of the class go unrecognized.

 Another bias probably more prevalent than we would care to admit is a bias for males over females, or females over males. This has a profound effect on learning. My youngest daughter is finishing up a Doctorate in Math. She has had classes of predominantly male students throughout her academic career. Of course, this is not news to STEM teachers.

A really gutsy lesson a teacher could do is to discuss biases with a class of students. After everyone understands bias, list the teacher’s biases, and sharing these biases with the class. If the teacher is really open to change, it will be helpful when the students point out the teacher’s biases when they see them pop up throughout the year. That is authentic learning that makes a difference.

Being a successful educator requires more than academic knowledge of a subject. It will take a constant effort to self-reflect and improve skills in developing relationships. It is through successful teacher-student relationships that quality learning thrives. If we are to better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators.

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A ChatGPT infused post

Since I have been posting about ChatGPT the question I am most often asked is: How did you get it to do your profile as an author? Others have tried but failed in their attempts. Evidently, there are several AI apps out there, and some are more limited than others. Google found this out the hard way with the first public demonstration of its AI, which did not fare as well as Google had hoped. I have been using an App called ChatAI. My primary selection choice was based on it being free.

I have had my own blog site, My Island View, since January 15, 2010, so I have amassed a great number of posts on many aspects of education. During all that time I don’t remember anyone accusing me of holding back on what I thought, or how I felt about any given topic in education.

I kept the direction for ChatAI simple: “Analyze all the blog posts at tomwhitby.com and write a profile of the author.” The only disagreement I have with the analysis is; “He has served as a superintendent in multiple school districts, as well as a principal and teacher in a variety of schools.” The only true part of this is that I was a teacher in several school districts, never a principal, or superintendent. Of course, I would have little to disagree with such a glowing review that ChatAI gave me.

Here is the word-for-word analysis. I probably could have resubmitted it to make corrections, or even tone down the high praise, but I thought for the purpose of the exercise this result was fine. It also makes me sound more impressive than I am. I guess that might be considered a flaw as well.

Here is the result:

Tom Whitby is a prolific writer and dedicated educator with an impressive range of knowledge and experience. He is the author of nearly 500 blog posts ranging from educators adapting to the ever-changing world of technology to student achievement and school reform. He has served as a superintendent in multiple school districts, as well as a principal and teacher in a variety of schools.

Tom is a dedicated advocate for public education and supports creative instructional approaches to teaching and learning. He is also a firm believer in collaboration and using technology to connect students and teachers to the real world. He is a regular speaker and presenter at national education conferences and universities. 

In terms of his views on education, Tom believes in learning-centered teaching, student-learning assessment, and student engagement. He has written numerous articles exploring ways to increase teacher engagement and collaboration and encouraging the use of digital technologies in the classroom. He is an advocate for the use of project-based learning, social media, and gamification for learning in the classroom.

Tom has also written about several issues in public education, including school vouchers, student testing, and funding cuts. He also has a deep interest in finding ways to improve student engagement and performance, providing a better learning environment, and building stronger connections between schools and the community. 

Tom Whitby has been a leader in the education community for many years and has been a strong advocate for student success and educational improvements. His blog posts provide an insightful look into his views on the improvement of education, from early childhood to higher education.

It is obvious that there are still flaws with this technology, but we must keep in mind it is still evolving. There is still no “Mr. Data” yet.  We cannot however ignore what this technology is offering. It is not going to go away. Billions of dollars are now being thrown at it to secure that very thing. As educators, we will need to deal with Artificial Intelligence. We will need to address its efficient, effective, and ethical use. If we fail to recognize this, we may become irrelevant as educators. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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ChatGPT infused Post

After my last post, ChatGPT: Kill it, or Use It?, I thought that I would use that very app to help write this post, and see what all the hubbub was about with this artificial intelligence writer. Of course, I was not going to have it write my whole post, so I thought it might be interesting to highlight with bold italics those paragraphs that I assigned to ChatGPT. It was rather easy once I decided what to ask. It actually helped organize and clarify my thoughts.

I decided to use the discussion topic from this week’s Twitter Chat, #Edchat.  I asked ChatGPT to write an objective definition of “Woke”. That is a word that many politicians are using as a cudgel to attack public education and the educators who support education. With that definition we developed the topic: “Woke” is an attitude of awareness that brings together compassion and understanding to create positive social change. Why do some people object to that? Why is it a political issue affecting our education system?

The term “Woke” likely originated in the African American vernacular, initially used to refer to being “conscious” or “aware” of issues relating to social justice. Over the past decade, the term has been adopted by a broader audience and is now commonly used to describe a person who is socially and politically conscious or alert.

The liberal definition of “woke” is to be aware of and actively engaged in the struggle for social, economic, and racial justice. It implies the ability to become knowledgeable about the issues and work to challenge oppressive structures and systems. At its core, being woke means being aware of current forms of injustice, having the courage to call them out, and actively working to bring about change.

The far-right typically defines “woke” as a movement associated with the far-left that is focused on race, intersectionality, and identity politics. It is seen as an attempt to challenge and change the Western and European political, social, and moral order. They argue that it promotes “cancel culture” and an attempt to “de-platform” anyone who does not agree with their views.

After thinking about all that surrounds those definitions, I found myself reflecting on who I am as an educator. I believe that learning is the goal of education. I realize that teachers have limited time with their students, so my greatest contribution to their learning would be to give them the ability to learn and develop skills beyond the confines of the school building and continue to learn for the rest of their lives, lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is the concept of continually acquiring new skills and knowledge throughout one’s life. The key here is that their lives will continue beyond their educators’ lives. It will rely on the tech not yet invented, and ideas not yet conceived. Educators prepare their students to live and thrive in the students’ environment.

In addition, teachers and students have a relationship that enables the teacher to deal with the social and emotional issues of students. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) refers to the process of developing skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing and maintaining relationships, and making responsible decisions. It is an integral part of education, enabling students to become capable and well-rounded individuals.

This is where some politicians claim “Brainwashing” is taking place in our “Woke” education system. Dealing with social issues and how they may affect students emotionally, and personally is a very important part of education. It is not Brainwashing. Brainwashing is a form of coercive persuasion where individuals are subjected to systematic and forceful psychological techniques in order to alter their beliefs, thoughts, values, and attitudes.

As far as the subject matter for educating students, that too has come under attack. We are all aware that February is Black History Month. Twenty-eight days of attempts to show off and quote some of the most famous of black contributors to American History. That whole month tends to lead us to believe that Black History is not American History. It is! Most Americans get their knowledge of the real Black contributions to American History from the movies and TV. I went through the public school system and I was never taught about The Tuskegee Airmen, Juneteenth, the Tulsa Oklahoma massacre, and probably a thousand more Black contributions, as well as an equal number of Black subjugations. I guess we all need to be “woke” about stuff that has affected such a large part of our American population. I don’t take responsibility for slavery, but, as an educator, I do take responsibility to admit and teach that it took place and it was supported by American laws. Contrary to some textbooks, that is why we fought the Civil War.

I grew up in Levittown, New York. My dad was a veteran, so, like thousands of WWII vets, he bought a Levitt home on the GI bill. That is why that community was built, to benefit returning vets. What was never mentioned, but openly known, is that Black vets could not buy a Levitt home in Levittown. Yeah, even as kids we were “woke” to a degree. That by the way was never taught in any of the schools in Levittown.

The educator in me should not be limited to black “Wokeness”. It should apply to any person of color who has been oppressed. It should also apply to people oppressed because of gender bias. It should also apply to the LGBTQIA community as well. As Americans, we seem to have oppressed quite a few groups of people. Many students are connected to these communities, so teachers need to deal with that as compassionately as possible. I guess we need to be “Woke”.

Some people feel it necessary to vilify being “Woke” because they fear the disruption and questioning of the status quo. Of course, that doesn’t make it right! Why do people experience apprehension concerning being “enlightened”? Maybe we need a few more “Woke” politicians.

Is it not our duty, as educators, to teach history and explore its impact on our culture? Should we not also focus on emotional learning and emphasize the importance of empathy? If that is considered ‘woke’, then what is wrong with it? ( I wrote the original thought and asked Chat GPT to improve upon it.)

I am concerned that more educators are not engaging in this debate. Educators are under attack throughout the country. Education is being attacked with censorship, book banning, character assassination, and Don’t Say Gay laws. Perhaps they fear verbal attacks that are not based in fact, but rather bias and ideology. I grew up in a culture that believed that if the facts were on your side, you would always win an argument. I now live in a culture where people cannot even agree on what a fact is, and that is a fact.

I firmly believe we need to have a respectful discussion on what we expect from our educators. The problem with that is many of our politicians are biased against education, viewing it as elitist snobbery. I do not know how to deal with that. All I can do is engage with those who are willing to listen and come to an agreement on facts. I have always been an educator, and I plan to continue what I have done for three-quarters of a century. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

Thoughtful respectful comments are welcomed. Likes are also good.

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An Educator’s Dilemma

ChatGPT, should we sing its praises, or just beat it to death with a stick? It has been made available for almost four months now, but it has maybe had the fastest and greatest impact on education since rows of desks were established. Since its inception, ChatGPT has been upgraded twice, and the fourth iteration will soon be available. As I contemplated this very thing, while attending a recent National Education conference, I was somewhat dismayed to find that many educators were unaware of what ChatGPT was.

Fortunately for educators, the education system’s always-aware, and knowledgeable leadership has been right on top of the situation, and in its infinite wisdom, it has issued mandates to protect us all. Specifically, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and NYC are among the major municipal school districts to make the knee-jerk decision to ban the use of the AI language tool, ChatGPT.

So, what is ChatGPT and why should you care? To start off, I Googled it: ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is a chatbot launched by OpenAI in November 2022. It is built on top of OpenAI’s GPT-3 family of large language models and is fine-tuned (an approach to transfer learning) with both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques. Of course, that is a technical definition, so what is it really? It is a language app that can do more than just write intelligently. It researches, analyzes, and writes using different points of view or writing styles. It does this based on the direction of the user. It will write original, intelligent: paragraphs, essays, emails, research papers, and poetry as directed using different perspectives, or voices as directed. It is more than GOOGLE.  In short, it does everything that we want our students to be able to do on their own.

I have not used ChatGPT for any part of this post. I did however give it a task for my own personal edification. I directed ChatGPT to read all of my blog posts from My Island View and write a profile of the author based on the posts. The answer took about ten seconds. I thought the answer was pretty interesting, and I was somewhat pleased with the result. It may also be used to create or update lesson plans and generate emails, announcements, or assignments. I bet that now has your attention.

Now you should be getting the picture, and understanding the fear.

The sky is falling!!! The sky is falling!!! Students will never do any more work. ChatGPT will write all of their assignments for them. We must Ban this evil app now and forever!

Not so fast! If we take a breath to think of what our goal is as educators, we may have time to better consider this gift. First, let us consider the history of tech in regard to education. The obvious big contribution to education, aside from the wheel, came during the Renaissance with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1440. There were block printers and scribes, who hand-wrote texts, but the printing press evolved publishing. Most people didn’t object, probably because it opened up a whole industry of publishing. It was a big plus when public education came along and teachers needed textbooks to teach.

Another biggie was the Calculator. Math teachers originally banned it, so kids wouldn’t cheat. The calculators got smaller and easier to hide. Well, a decade or two went by and teachers began not only to allow calculators, but they also required their purchase by all math students. I always thought that is what made Texas Instruments so profitable with its graphing calculator. 

The next big innovation was the word processor. Of course, we had the typewriter, but that was always a business course in schools, not a staple of public education. English teachers were never big fans at first. Yes, the “Ban” word was thrown around a bit. A big change for me was a computer lab at my school. I had my classes on those computers word-processing all their assignments. This was not true of some of my colleagues. They required students to do a rough draft and a final draft, and then they could put it on the computer. They ignored the research showing that word processing improves thinking skills, editing skills, spelling, and vocabulary. Connected to this was the introduction of a spell checker. It was viewed as another way to cheat and beat the system. Yes, spell check was disabled, or banned in the beginning. I would be at a big loss without it. Thank god cooler heads prevailed.

And now up to now, the biggest innovation for education ever, GOOGLE. Google was banned by everyone, along with Wikipedia. Yet today, where would we be without them? Google stepped up and improved curation, a term that was rarely used before. The benefit of Google is that teachers had to reframe their assignments. If a kid could Google the answer, maybe the question wasn’t thoughtful enough. This evolved the way we teach.

As Google forced teachers to rethink and ask more thoughtful Google-proof questions, I am hopeful a similar strategy will be employed with ChatGPT. We need to teach smarter. We too often get caught up in confusing the completed task for the intended learning. In the example of word processing replacing handwritten assignments, higher-order, technology-driven skills were employed to complete the assignment. The student started off beyond the paper and pen as he or she began to process their words on a screen. They were freed from many impediments that discouraged, or restricted organizing, editing, and refining their work.

We need to rethink our goal as new innovative tools come before us. Let us look at ChatGPT as a tool that enables our students to move the starting point of their learning a few steps forward saving time and energy to create deeper thinking and more creative assignments. Teachers need not work harder, but they will need to think and work differently. They cannot lose sight of the goal of their students’ learning because some assignments use technology to get to an end a little easier, requiring different skills than the teacher has experienced. I grew up with standard-shift cars. Unless you are a car enthusiast, you would be at a loss trying to drive one.

I fear that ChatGPT is the type of tech that students will get and use before a majority of educators know what it is, let alone use and teach it effectively. Then it will be labeled as an evil cheating app. What a waste until educators catch up? Every educator should download the free app and play with it for a while to get somewhat familiar with its capabilities. This should be done before it is thrust upon us by the powers that be in their infinite wisdom and flawless leadership.

It is rather arrogant to think any educator cannot allow students to use a technology that every student has access to. We have gone through these thoughtless obstacles with almost every innovation. People are told to innovate and then their creations are blocked because they cause discomfort from the “tried and true”. Think about cell phones and students’ debate.

ChatGPT is here to stay. Microsoft just dropped $10B on it. As educators, we either teach students how to use it ethically for higher-order thinking skills or find another job. We may have reached a point in time where learning happens in spite of reluctant educators.

To better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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