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Archive for the ‘Common Core’ Category

Key & keyhole with light coming from it

The flipped classroom, maker movement, project-based learning, blended learning, student centered learning, hour of code, collaboration, direct instruction, and lecture, there are passionate teacher advocates supporting each of these methods as the best way for kids to learn. I am sure that there are some additional methods or movements that I have not mentioned.

Each of these methods to teach can be effective with many groups of students. The burning question should be however, which is the best way to affect the greatest education reform? The focus for change in education seems to be in finding a way to best teach our students. The focus is targeting student learning. That assumes that once that method is found all will be right with the world of education and PISA be damned.

I think that may be the wrong focus for reform. I believe that if we want to affect the greatest number of students by the way they are taught, we need to better educate their educators about the way they teach. A combination of several methods might be the best path for students to learn. This would require a teacher to have knowledge in several methods. The focus should target on what and how we teach teachers not students. There are hundreds of thousands of educators who are familiar with many of these, if not all of the mentioned strategies here. Many are aware through their social media connections. The problem is that there are millions of educators who are far less connected, informed, or educated in these methods. Many of the uninformed educators may be far less connected to communities where discussions and collaboration with these topics go on daily.

I am becoming more of the belief that, at this point in time, we are not going to get all educators connecting, collaborating and creating through digital connections with other educators around the world. We do need to look at the benefits of these digital connections and find a way to create that resulting collaboration within the schools in which our teachers work without digitally connecting, those who will not connect.

Collaboration has become an integral part of professional development. We need to not only endorse collaboration, but we need to support it. It is a key to adult learning and teachers are adults. We must approach all PD through Andragogy, an adult’s learning, and not pedagogy, a child’s learning. Teach adults as adults. https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/the-importance-of-andragogy-in-education/

There is not a college or university in the world that can graduate teachers with all that they will need to know to carry them through a thirty-year career as a teacher. The world and everything in it changes too rapidly for that to happen. Learning has to be ongoing. The term life long learner does not only apply as a goal for kids. It is essential for anyone wanting to exist, strive, survive, compete, and flourish in a modern tech-driven society. This especially applies to those who teach others who will need to do the same.

If standards have to be drawn up for education, why not have standards for PD? The biggest problem with the implementation of common core, beyond the testing aspect, was the fact that there was no support for PD. Each school was left to its own devices. Some schools did well with it, others not so much. This was another example of a non-funded mandate gone awry. Any national initiative in education it would seem would need its teachers on board and fully aware of their goal.

Until we recognize that the greatest effect that we can have on education is by continually educating our educators to the constant and continual changes occurring in their profession, there will be little change in the progress we hope to make in education. We have now and will continue to have 20th Century educators trying to teach kids to live and learn in a 21st Century world.

Professional Development must be part of a teacher’s job description. It should not be solely on the backs of teachers to find it. Schools on a regular basis, and not just one, or two PD Days a year should deliver PD on a regular basis each week. Faculty and Department meetings should be more than a mandatory gathering to talk about schedules and policies. Teachers must be given collaboration time to connect with colleagues to implement changes. The best people need to be placed in supportive coaching positions to help facilitate, and reinforce these changes.

Change is difficult and uncomfortable for everyone. People need help to accomplish it. Comfort zones are the biggest obstacles to change. If change is what we need and want for our education system, then we need to put things in place to make that happen. Doing PD as we have done for the last two centuries doesn’t seem to be working. This is the one thing that most educators agree with. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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We are now better than fifteen years into the 21st Century and educators are still discussing what role technology plays in education. The fact of the matter is no matter what educators, who are mostly products of a 20th Century education, think, our students today will need to be digitally literate in their world in order to survive and thrive. Digital Literacy is a 21st Century skill, but therein lies the rub. Most of our educators have been educated with a twentieth Century mindset using 20th Century methodology and pedagogy at best. I dare say there might be some 19th Century holdovers as well.

Digital literacy is recognized by the developers of common core to be important enough to be included as a component of the curriculum. This will however vary and be dependent on what each individual teacher knows, or does not know in regard to his or her own digital literacy. In other words teachers without digital literacy in a 21st Century education setting are illiterate educators for the purpose of this discussion. We can certainly wait for attrition to clean out the system, but that might take years at the expense of our kids. It also does not address a further infiltration of even more from entering the system.

These educators are not bad people. Many may be willing to change and learn to be digitally literate if it is prioritized and supported by administrators. The problem there is that digitally illiterate administrators fail to recognize the need, or understand how to support the new skills required using a new 21st Century mindset. That is not to say all administrators fall into this category, but certainly too many for any needed change to happen in a timely fashion do.

There certainly is enough blame to go around for what places the education system in this predicament and much of that lies in education programs from our institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, too often student tech skills and digital literacy are assumed and not formally taught in schools of higher education. If students are getting by with email and desktop publishing it is assumed that they are “digital natives”, a term that has cut short education for digital skills in America.

The biggest problem we have with any digital education is the rapidity at which things change.This will only get worse as technology evolves. People learn something; they buy into it; they get comfortable with it; and then it evolves to something else. That comfort level is hard to shake, so change is slow, if it takes place at all. The system also generally fails to recognize the need to prioritize and support change in a way to keep all staff relevant. It is also failing to prioritize digital literacy for incoming teachers.

If we were to prioritize Digital Literacy as a job requirement it might speed up needed changes. Once colleges realized that placing their students in teaching positions required a knowledge of digital literacy they would need to revamp their curricula accordingly. An influx of digitally educated teachers would go a long way in changing the culture of elementary and secondary schools in regard to their acceptance and priorities concerning new tools for learning and the integration of technology and education.

We have always required new teachers to have specific skills in order to secure a job teaching. We also required that they demonstrate those skills before a job could be offered. I can’t think of one hiring committee, of the hundreds I participated in, that did not require a writing sample. How many teaching candidates are offered jobs without someone seeing them teach a class with a sample lesson? It would not be a stretch to require candidates to exhibit their technology skills for consideration.

Prioritizing digital skills will also signal a need for existing staff to get comfortable with change rather than retaining the status quo. It will shake up comfort zones to enable forward movement. It will also force administrators to get some game of their own. They will need digital awareness in order to objectively observe teachers using technology for learning.

Digitally illiterate educators will soon be irrelevant educators and that hurts all educators. As a community we need to support change and digital literacy or we may become as relevant as a typewriter, or film photography. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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When it comes to the use of technology for learning within our education systems there seems to be two different pictures of our current status. As a connected educator interacting online with many other tech-savvy educators, I see an image of a slow, but steady evolvement of technology-driven innovation in education.

As a person who travels the country engaging educators in conversation, face-to-face conversation, wherever, and whenever the opportunity arises, I get a very different picture. I see a status quo supporting a 20th century model of education with little professional development that is directed by districts to update their teachers. Too often I am getting stories of administrators discouraging change and teachers not willing to evolve beyond where they are. I am not sure how to get an actual picture of what education really looks like today when considering the branding, public relations, and political posturing that is a constant in the system. I do believe we have a distorted view of what education in the 21st century actually looks like.

Of course anyone reading this post will match it up against his or her personal experience to judge its accuracy, but I am not sure that is the total perspective needed to make that judgment. Few schools will stand up to say they support the status quo in education. They will point to whatever thread of innovation that exists in their school and portray it as the rule rather than the exception.

Of course the political climate in this country does not support innovation in education since standardization and high stakes testing determine status and funding for schools. Teachers needing to rely or survive on their students’ test results are hesitant to go beyond that which is required in order to retain their own livelihood. States attempting or succeeding in doing away with tenure leave innovative teachers dependent on the whim of politicians, vocal parents, or popular sentiment without regard for due process in matters of retaining a teaching position. That is hardly a catalyst for innovative change.

Most new ideas have more enemies than friends. Education needs new ideas and people who can stand up and lead those ideas over rather perilous roads to completion. For this to succeed we need to make sure educators are being exposed to the latest and best ideas for learning through professional development. Once they have the knowledge, teachers need to be supported in collaboration with others to refine, plan, and implement ideas. Once in place, time and support must be given in order to develop, assess, refine, and improve the idea. All of this takes time and time translates to money.

Money for education is rarely seen as anything but a problem. We fund education through taxation and that is a burden and also a rallying cry for politicians. If education were as much a priority as defense is, there would be no burden. Since education funding is political however, it will always be political and subject to the ebb and flow of popular trends, economic downturns, and popular myths. None of this supports innovation.

Innovation is change and most people are not comfortable with change. It requires risk. The bigger the risk, the less likely the change will occur. Couple this with the fact that most people want the best and most up to date education system in the world. We are left with some, if not most, administrators, the folks in charge, painting a rosy picture of innovation and modernization with whatever programs, small portions of programs, or even lessons their schools have to offer, giving the impression that it is system-wide.

Yes, there are some wonderful schools doing wonderful things with progressive education leadership and teachers who are supported with PD and time to do wonderful things. There are also schools that focus on the tests and maintaining what they believe the status quo provides stability and predictability to cope with required standardization and high stakes testing. Control and compliance for teachers, as well as students, are the proven commodities in these environments.

The question is where are we now, and when will we get to where we need to be? I tend to think we are not yet supportive enough of innovation. Support requires action, not just spouting off words. We need brave leadership to stand up to status-quo supporters. No, not everything from the past is bad. We need to determine what has value and what needs to be changed in a computer-driven society that looks very different from what it was in the 20th Century. Change is disruptive and a conservative institution like education does not tolerate disruption very well. We all need to look at education as a needed investment for our kids and for our country. An educated citizenry is our best defense for dealing with things we have not yet imagined. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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If educators can count on one sure-fired outcome of the largest national education conference in America, it is the information feeding frenzy that accompanies it. Each year that ISTE holds its Annual Conference with 20+ thousand attendees social media lights up all over the world with exchanges of information between educators emanating from whatever city ISTE is in that year. This year it is Philadelphia. I think there might be more social media interaction with east coast events because of the time zones. The east coast is favored by a longer period of time to get to people while they are awake, active and reactive. The #ISTE15 hashtag will probably trend on Twitter several times during the ISTE conference.

There is a reason why Tweets on Twitter are dominated by education topics. It is not that a majority of Twitter users are educators, but rather those educators who are Twitter users are very collaborative and prolific in their use of Twitter. They use Twitter for exchanging and expanding ideas. They are very active in hundreds of education Twitter Chats. I am sure that Twitter’s founders did, not foresee the educators’ use of Twitter as a form of professional development.

The use of social media by educators underscores the glaring need for a better system of professional development for educators. While there are some districts that make PD part of their culture, most districts allow it to continue as it always has: haphazardly, at the whim of administrators, often ill-conceived and too often with minimal impact on student learning. Trends often dominate the choices. A demonstration of some newly acquired App may count for PD for the entire year.

The adoption of social media to deliver “Do It Yourself PD” is an indication for the need, as well as recognition that educators are hungry for direction.

Only a small percentage of educators will ever get to attend an education conference like ISTE. Districts do not budget for teachers to attend. Conferences are not cheap. Often Admins and Tech Directors will attend such events year after year. Those educators who do attend education conferences however use social media to share out what their experiences are like with those folks not able to attend.

Over the next few weeks the #ISTE15 hashtag will begin to appear more frequently building to a crescendo during the conference and continuing a short time after the conference concludes. These “sharings”, whether on Twitter or any other form of social media, are an effort on the part of educators to involve other educators in a collaboration of learning in their own profession. Educators more than anyone see the need for effective PD and are trying to provide what the system is failing to do. Even when the education system wanted to implement something as big as common core, all of its focus, support, and money went to everything but professional development for those who were to be key in its implementation. That was left to individual districts to do and most had no clue what that meant. As a result we have to ask if educators were properly prepared to implement the common core?

Educators as evidenced through their collaborative efforts recognize the need for PD. The evolving collaborative communities are filling the void left by the system to keep educators relevant in a rapidly changing, computer-driven society. The real key to better educating our kids is, and always has been, to better educate their educators. The #ISTE15 hashtag frenzy that we will experience in the next few weeks is a best-case scenario of dealing with a poorly supported system of professional development. It is yet another symptom of a system in need of change in order to be relevant.

If you attend ISTE15, send out those tweets. If you can’t attend ISTE15 read those tweets. Everyone should Retweet #ISTE15 tweets. Sharing is Caring!

 

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This morning I read a post from a higher education educator about the negative effects of Tech in lectures. The author was perplexed when he realized a great many students in his lecture hall were paying attention to Facebook, or attending to email during the course of a two-hour lecture. His school chose to ban tech devices from the lecture hall. Additionally, students were required to use nametags, so that the lecturer could address individual students with questions during the lecture. This was to be a spot check to insure people were paying attention.

The author said that grades increased as a result of the changes. It seemed to be implied that the positive effect came from the banning of devices. Of course my perspective on the incident led me to believe that the banning of the devices had less to do with the increased attention on the part of the students, but rather a greater impact was caused by the involvement in more of a discussion with the name-tagged students in the lecture.

As a person who attends many education conferences year round, I experience many lectures often in the form of Power Point presentations. I find myself dependent on my devices to distract me from the boredom that often accompanies too many of these 45-minute presentations. As a person of some age, I must admit that a two-hour presentation for me would probably result in a series of short catnaps. If truth be told I think a two-hour lecture would be too much for most people.

The way many people have been programmed to interact with content through the Internet may be one reason why lectures have lost their allure for many.

When kids explore a topic today a primary source is YouTube, which is probably why it’s the second most used search engine after Google. Video for many seems to be more engaging. It also gives control to the learner to repeat or skip over material at will.

Beyond the video even the exploration of text for today’s learner is different. Before the digital explosion, text was stagnant. To get from point A to point G one had to read points B, C, D, E, and F first. Hyperlink changed that linear mindset. Today, while reading text learners can diverge from that straight path with the click of a mouse. They can travel down paths of their own choosing on the subject at hand. Again, they control the path of their learning.

The vast quantity of sources is also staggering when compared to an earlier age when all knowledge was recorded in print. Lectures back then synthesized and condensed things serving a real purpose. Text today is sprinkled with audio and video clips offering variety to the learner. Many different sites address the same topics offering choice to the learner. The role of the lecturer in a digital age is far less of a need when given the plethora of alternatives available online.

There is interaction and dialogue that can take place between authors and learners.

The sources for learning today are much different from previous centuries when lectures ruled education. For the curious mind the digital journey seeking knowledge can be its own experience. Having control over one’s own learning is a very effective way to learn. It is also relatively new to a very conservative world in education.

Many of the educators in the system were not students within a digital age and have yet to come to a full understanding of it. Understanding and harnessing the powers of digital learning seems to be difficult for many educators. This may be evidenced in a two-hour lecture delivered for the purpose of testing the students’ retention of facts from that lecture. This is a short-term goal with few lasting effects for learning, and seems like a waste of everyone’s time.

Many educators are products of an education based on lecture and direct instruction. It is difficult for some to understand that kids today have different ways and many more sources in order to learn. Forcing 21st Century learners into models of learning from previous centuries may not be as effective as some of these educators would hope.

There will always be a need for lecture and direct instruction in education. However these methods can no longer be the mainstay of education. We need to develop newer methodologies to maximize the sources available to today’s learners. Since today’s kids approach learning differently, it stands to reason that we need to approach teaching differently.

If collaboration and discussion within problem-based learning is more relevant to today’s learners, why would educators insist on staying with less effective methods? The technology has changed the way learning happens. That is now a given. Technology by its nature will continue to advance and evolve. It is easier for us to change our methodology and to use the technology than it is to withhold the technology to maintain the outdated methodology. My personal belief is that at least in education relevance is more important than tradition when it comes to methodology.

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Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?

Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay

The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.

I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer-delivered standardized tests.

I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.

Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.

Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen. If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?

We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.

Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great effect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.

Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.

This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.

We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.

 

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As I was picking up my Hawaiian shirts from my local dry cleaners last week, I was approached by a former student of 30 years ago, who managed to recognize me all these years and extra pounds later. He mentioned a few of the memories that he had of our student/teacher time together and then offered his view of education today. It was soon apparent that he felt that at least half of the entire student population in America was graduating school with a total inability to read anything. He stated and restated his very firm belief several times during our brief conversation. It was apparent to me that changing his mind would not take place at that moment in that parking lot, so I headed off with a simple disagreement, but not really challenging his view of education.

This encounter caused me to start thinking about other perspectives people might have on education today. I travel extensively in education circles and engage people in conversation about education on a regular basis. I am starting to believe that when it comes to what people believe, or don’t believe about education has little to do with facts. It seems to be more about who has the ear of the public in order to say things loud enough and often enough regardless of facts. Sound bites seem to be framing the education discussion in terms of taxpayer perceptions. Politicians and Tax Reformers seem to be the loudest and most persistent voices in the discussion.

I then attended the Education Industry Summit held by the Software and Information Industry Association (www.siia.net/education). It is the premiere conference for leaders in the education technology industry. This organization sponsors, encourages, and mentors companies that are education technology innovators. It is by all means an excellent organization.

My personal takeaway from this conference however, was a glimpse of how the perspective on education is viewed by the people in this industry. They are constantly surrounded by tech, so they view all education in terms of technology. They are rich with facts to support their beliefs. They talk about the impact their products will have on a technology-rich environment in education. They have charts and diagrams in PowerPoint presentations, as well as professionally produced videos to support their product’s entry and impact into the world of education.

What vexed me about this perspective was that I did not recognize the education system that they described in a majority of their presentations.

There are many schools with a culture that supports technology and innovation, but I question whether it is a majority of schools. Technology in education has been introduced in bits and pieces as it developed. Few schools had systematic plans for integration. Many were required to have what were called five-year plans, but five years in technology is a lifetime. Dog years don’t even come close. Many schools are playing catch up in this age of technology. Integrating new tech-driven methodology into a system steeped in 19th and 20th century methodology is not going to be accomplished overnight, or in some cases over a decade. We have many schools trying to teach their kids for the future while relying on methods and technologies of the past. Too many schools do not have the mindset or culture to support systematic conversions to the latest and greatest innovations of technology. These points are not being made in power point presentations, or professional videos of the industry people. They discuss the impact of their technology on students, but ignore the impact on teachers.

One would think that educators would have the best perspective on a view of education and many do. Their view however is determined by their teaching experience. There is a vast difference in perspective when talking to an urban teacher as opposed to a suburban teacher. Rural teachers have a completely different view. There is a big difference between schools of poverty and schools of affluence. How can we ever address the solutions to the problems in a standardized way when the problems are so diverse? How can we have a national discussion on education when the problems for the most part exist on a local level? How do we listen to politicians, profiteers, tax reformers, education reformers parents, students, teachers, administrators, and concerned citizens while each has a different motivation and view of education? Should each of their views carry the same weight? Will it ever be possible to find common ground between the likes of Diane Ravitch and the likes of Michelle Rhee?

Before we decide on the changes maybe we should reconsider the needs. Before we went to standardized testing, maybe we should have determined some basic standardized professional development. Maybe in reflecting on how we approach teaching on a national level, we could be less concerned with what we teach. The emphasis might go from what kids learn to how kids learn. If the national focus was on creating learners instead of test takers, we might make a more effective difference. If our educators rededicated themselves to learning as models and mentors, we might see significant change in a system long in need of updating. It would take a commitment to professional development. It would seem more likely to affect a significant change in our students, if we could first affect a needed change in their educators. Committing to educating educators to the needed changes in methodology and pedagogy as a priority in modern education.

The next time my Hawaiian shirts need to be picked up from the dry cleaners, I should ask my wife if she would please help me out and pick them up.

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