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Archive for the ‘Student teaching’ Category

Ever since I started writing my blog, I wondered when I would reach the end of my road and run out of things to rant about. It seems that every time I approach that point, something pops up to get me started again. As luck would have it, two such events occurred today. One incident happened early today and the second came later in the day. Of course, for dramatic effect I will begin with the later.

Late in the afternoon I had an appointment with my dentist for a cleaning. It’s one of the many ways my dentist has arranged for me to pay his rent. I see my dentist quite often. When I arrived at the waiting room, the receptionist greeted me with a big smile and three pages of blank forms. She apologized for inconveniencing me, but THE LAW required her to have me fill out the forms. I immediately looked at her desk and asked what catastrophe had befallen her computer? She was puzzled. I told her that all of the blank spaces on three pages of forms were requiring me to complete information already in the computer. She agreed, but again said THE LAW requires us to have you fill out these forms. Again I said, “You already have all of this information and more in your data bank.  Why am I being required to handwrite out on three forms information that already exists on your computer?” She quickly left the waiting room in search of a supervisor. I must admit, I might have been strongly influenced by the Occupy Wallstreet demonstrations that I had been following all day. They were also being shown on the TV in the waiting room. Was this my stand against THE LAW for the 99 percenters?

Emerging from the dental-technology-filled rooms in the back, the supervisor approached me. The first two words from her mouth were THE LAW, and then continued; require that you provide this information on these forms.  Again, I said, “you have that information already.” She reluctantly wrote a line at the top of the top form” nothing has changed” and placed a check next to it. I signed the form.

The other incident, earlier in the day, was more education oriented, but just as vexing. As a matter of fact it was probably more egregious, because educators should know better in 2011, almost 2012.  I observed one of my pre-service teachers today. She has a student teaching assignment in a high school English position. She delivered a great collaboration lesson and we were debriefing the lesson after the class. I asked about the next lesson planned for the class. She looked at me with a reluctant look on her face. I sensed that she was about to tell me something, that she knew, I was not going to be in favor of. She qualified her answer with the fact that she was obligated to do as her cooperating teacher directed her. I agreed, and again asked what was next, since she referred to an upcoming essay in her lesson. She came clean. The class is to handwrite an essay in class before we go to the computer lab so they can type the essay on the computer.

My students know that word processing enables kids to write at a higher level, and they are more likely to make corrections and rewrites when using a word processor. A word processor is not a typewriter. We write in a word-processing world and our students should learn in the same way. My students also know that this is my strong belief. However, I could not fault my student, since it is not her choice for the students, but that of their teacher. I have been burned in the past when I approached cooperating teachers on some ill-conceived methods used in class. I have learned to smile, say thanks, leave, and then have a long talk with my students in the safety of my own classroom.

If we, as educators, do not understand the reasoning and potential of technology, we will not use it effectively and then blame that inefficiency on the technology. It is too easy to use technology without understanding and find fault with it not fulfilling the implied promise. We assume everyone understands that computers collect, manipulate, and communicate data in any form needed. We assume everyone understands the power of computers in regard to writing, publishing, and communicating the written word. Unfortunately, I have come to believe that we cannot make these assumptions. We need to educate or educators if we are to have any hope to educate or children.

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For the first time since I have been supervising student teachers, I have a group at the start of the year, as opposed to my usual assignment at the latter half of the school year. This has brought to light a subject that I often fought against as a teacher, and now have to counsel student teachers on how best to approach the subject. Summer Reading: how do we assess it?

New York State’s recommendation for reading is that each student completes reading 25 books per year. Most adults don’t even approach that goal, but adults have to work and their time is committed  to other stuff. It is understandable that adults’ time must be dedicated to other stuff. Kids have more time to read than adults. In a 24 hour period a kid’s time is taken up by: one hour preparing to get to school, seven to eight hours in school, two hours extra-curricular (depending on the sports’ season), and one to two hours of homework. Let’s allow an hour and a half to eat dinner and chill. That has accounts for Eleven to Thirteen hours. If we consider the ten to twelve hours of recommended sleep, that would leave one to two hours per day that a kid could be, and should be reading to get to 25 books per year. It all works out on paper. I always loved the expression, “Man plans, and God laughs”.

For all of the reasons mentioned it is difficult to get all 25 books done in the school year. Of course, if you ever went into a Border’s Book’s during the summer when there was a Border’s Books, you would see an awesome display of Books for the Summer Reading Lists for your school. Summer reading is highly recommended to keep those young brains sparking away. Many districts assign multiple books to really charge up those summer-lazy brains. Hopefully, thought was given to those  book lists to be high interest level books of brevity, so there would be at least a chance of accomplishment. War and Peace is not a beach book. It has been my experience that those who make up these lists are often people who love reading and actually read 25 books per year or more. In their day, they must have been the best students, if we are to consider  the New York State recommendations as an indicator. I do believe that reading is important, and we should, most definitely, provide suggested lists to students for summer reading.

That being said, I need to talk a little bit about my understanding of assessment. I always approach assessment as a tool for the teacher. Formative assessment tells the teacher how well the teaching is going. Is there a reason to re-do something, or is it time to move on? Summative assessment is the final result. After all is said and done, how much was learned? It is like a chef who needs to taste the cooking until the diner gets the plate (formative). The diner tasting the meal is the final assessment (summative).

Now we move on to the point of all of this. Students are told that they MUST do the summer reading. This may be in more than one reading and in more than one academic subject. They are also told that there will be a test within a short period of time from the start of school which will go into their average. By the way tests are one form of assessment, so this test should be formative or summative. If the teacher is using it as formative assessment than it is testing how effective the lesson was, but there was no lesson. Therefore, it must be a summative assessment. How much learning was accomplished from the activity?

One would hope that in an ideal situation, we could get most of our students to at least an 85% achievement level. If the entire class did not get there, it might be necessary for the teacher to revisit a number of things to clarify and expand on some ideas. After all a good chef does this to complete the course for the summative assessment of the diner. Sometimes, if at first you don’t succeed… There is always a re-test after fine tuning. This would be wonderful if that was done.

This does not always occur in the real world of education. Some teachers give the final test and what  a student gets is what student gets. “You should have completed the reading.” “You had every opportunity and all the time of the summer to get it done.” “ You knew the rules going in.” “ This is the way our department does it.” “ That is what summer reading is all about.” “ I don’t make the rules, I follow them.” Does any of this sound familiar?

What does a failing grade on the summer reading test indicate? After all it is a summative assessment so it should tell us something. Does it indicate the student has a reading problem? Does it indicate that the student fails to make connections. Is it an indication that there is a problem with higher order thinking skills? Does it indicate a need for remediation? Are there emotional problems interfering with learning? These are all possibilities. This is what teachers should be asking of any summative assessment that identifies a student’s failure to learn.

Of course if these are not the questions being addressed by the teacher, there might be another reason for this assessment grade to be averaged into the student’s average. It is not assessment, but PUNISHMENT. The student did not do what he or she was told, and the student needs to pay a price in the form of a lowered average. That should require an asterisk on the grade at the end of the year stating that the average is not a true account of the student’s ability to learn. It has been skewed to account for punishment for not reading over the summer.

Many of those students who receive punishment for not reading do not take it as a constructive criticism, for that is not what it is. It is intended to be a negative experience, as all punishment is. That does not promote reading. There are many ways to assess things beyond a test. Group discussions, and projects based on the reading give reasons to students to complete the reading. Teachers need to remember that we are here to promote and nurture learning and not to punish students into submission. Leave that for the behavior policy. Assessment is not for punishment.

I am sure there will be comments on this and they are welcomed. I am off to read book number two, the year will soon be over!

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Each week I have an opportunity to participate in an #Edchat discussion twice each Tuesday.  #Edchat, for those who may be unaware, is an organized discussion held twice each Tuesday on Twitter. Twitter is a Social Media application connecting people locally and globally for the purpose of exchanging information, links, videos, and almost anything that can be digitally transmitted. The attendance in the #Edchat discussions varies from several hundred to about a thousand educators each week. The #Edchat topics are always educational in nature. A detailed explanation can be found at #Edchat Revisited.

This week’s topics were somewhat related. The first dealt with school culture, and latter #Edchat was about how schools can more positively involve parents in the education of their children. These discussions went very quickly as the ideas and suggestions from all those involved flew by. Hundreds of observations, and suggestions, followed by reflections, corrections, and additions for those ideas were exchanged. Both sessions were very high-energy sessions, an evident influence of the passion on the part of educators involved for these topics.

If you are not an educator, school culture might need some explanation. It is not something studied by student teachers in their college classes. It can be defined, but it looks different in every school. It may be influenced by a District administrator, but it is different in each of the districts buildings. It is a collective attitude of the specific educational community, or school. It either welcomes, or discourages innovation. It sets the tone for bullying in that community. It determines the openness of educators to change. It determines how welcoming and mentoring the faculty is to new teachers. It sets the tone for openness to various methods of teaching. It influences the respect for and between students, teachers, and administrators in a building.

In the district that I spent most of my career the cultures of the High School and the Middle School were completely different. I always felt that The Middle School taught the kids, and the High School taught courses. Middle Schools are often team oriented and that goes a long way in affecting the culture of each school. Decisions were made with this in mind. Schedules were formed with this in mind. Assignments of teachers were made with this in mind. All of this supports the culture of a school, making it slow to change.

School culture tends to change very slowly unless influenced by something coming from outside the existing culture. If a new administrator comes to a school with any leadership skills and a willingness to change things, the culture may change. A problem with this is the turnover rate of administrators. Often the changes to a school last as long as the administrator does. The vision often travels with the visionary. The other way that the school culture changes, is from the bottom up. It comes with a teacher’s vision that influences others. A single teacher can influence others with a vision and a passion for that vision. In order for that to occur however, the teacher needs to have an exposure to ideas and influences other than those from the school’s culture.

Enter Social Media. Educators are involving themselves more and more with social media applications. Like me, many have developed Personal Learning Networks to help provide sources for teaching and learning. Educators exchange links for information and collaboration in order to improve their teaching. The exchange of ideas however, often goes beyond a simple exchange of information. The cultures of schools are being discussed, dissected, analyzed, and evaluated. The best parts of cultures from many schools are now being introduced to other school cultures. The vision of some is becoming a vision of many. Social Media for educators opens up a world of exposure and transparency to cultures of other schools. A first step to change, dare I say Reform.

Educators are beginning to change the way faculty meetings are conducted. The very topics opened up through Social Media are topics that educators are discussing with more awareness of what other schools do more successfully. Cultures are being reshaped by expanding the pool of experiences through Social Media. Twitter and Facebook are connecting educators and ideas. Blogs are expanding ideas and being referenced for change. Social Bookmarking is cataloging a huge quantity of quality sources that are now literally at the fingertips of educators. Educator Ning sites are growing and thriving with educational groups, Webinars and free Professional Development.

Social Media is having a positive effect on changing a system that has been slow to change. Educators need not look to justify their use of Social Media. Educators may need to justify why they are not employing Social Media. We cannot expect change, or reform, to come to education without enabling or arming educators with the proper tools to affect that change.

Your comments are welcomed!

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I am far from an expert on this topic. My teaching experience barely involved my participation in this turn-of-the-century program that I would now like to open to discussion. With that as an opening for this post, readers may not be interested enough to read any further. The fact that I haven’t mentioned what program I would like to discuss, is the only thing that may keep readers hanging in.  As Social Security is the third rail of politics, I believe that Inclusion Programs may be a third rail education issue. Anyone looking to explore this issue, or a possibility for alternatives, may be burned beyond belief.

I understand, and, for the most part, agree with the philosophy, that students should learn in the least restrictive environment. It is this belief that has removed students with special needs from small classes working with special education teachers specifically trained to address the specific needs of those students’ and placed them into mainstream classes. The idea is to have special-needs students as active participants and beneficiaries of mainstream classes, and working within an academic class along with the academic subject classroom teacher, as well as the special education teacher, and any required aides, if indicated by a student’s IEP. In the ideal situation the number of special needs students would be limited and the overall class size should also be small.

Educators often consider fairness to all as a primary consideration in any program for education. It is truly a noble endeavor, but sometimes fairness to all, means unfairness to some. The Irony of course is obvious. Staffing programs like this with effective teachers is the problem. Academic teachers are educators with expertise in content areas and little concentration on special education. Special Education teachers are educators with expertise in Special Education methods and little concentration in content areas. Sometimes an educator comes along with expertise in both areas. They are not in the majority. I do not know if there is a Secondary Inclusion certification. The best models of inclusion involve: collaborative teachers, common planning periods, small classes, limited number of special needs students, and participating teachers in complete and enthusiastic support of the program.  It can be a very costly program.

Many believe that the inclusion programs are better alternatives to the small special education classes that often separated special needs students from their fellow students. Including them in a general academic setting is seen by many to be more beneficial, as long as all of the students’ IEPs are being addressed in the overall setting.

As a methods teacher in higher education, many of my students do observations in inclusion classes each and every week. As a supervisor of student teachers, I observe many of my students doing their student teaching assignments in inclusion classes. I am in a position to look at many inclusion programs in many schools. The problem I have observed is that there seems to be many different models of inclusion in place, and they seem to vary greatly. It is understandable when one considers all of the variables in such programs. Multiple teachers for one class, small class size, required aides, scheduling considerations for common planning, these are all money considerations. These were very important when the programs were conceived and implemented. Under today’s climate of cutbacks and reductions however, their import has been reduced.  Education considerations are taking a back seat to monetary considerations.

An Inclusion program, to be successful, requires a delicate balance of components. It is not a cheap way to go. Many believe that it is the best setting and the most effective way to meet the needs of students who require special methods and considerations to learn. That may very well be true. My point is asking if anyone is questioning if these programs, under the current conditions, are still meeting their intended goals. Can schools provide the same quality of education while scaling down all of the components necessary to make it happen?  Are schools even trying to assess the effectiveness of these programs in their current forms?

My fear is that these programs will become a shell of what they should be. I fear administrators will not call for needed assessments to determine if these programs are still viable with less money invested. I fear that questioning these programs, even for the purpose of assessment; will be deemed as an assault on students with special needs. If we can’t fund education the way it must be funded to succeed, should we not reconsider what, and how we do things. If it is not important for us to fund things properly, how do we best deliver what we can with what we have? How do we do what is needed, as opposed to what we can afford. I fear I have too many questions with too few people even trying to seek real answers. I do not oppose these programs. I do oppose doing things half-assed and then looking to blame someone for the failing result. We all may benefit by assessing how we are teaching, as opposed to what we are teaching.

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Whenever it comes to writing about Twitter in a blog post, I never know how basic to go in my descriptions. I guess I must assume that there will be many people who have no idea about Twitter. I can also be confident that many other readers are capable of writing a similar post with better strategies. The problem with Twitter is that it is confusing to explain, difficult to understand, and only learned when one begins to use it regularly. My use for twitter, although it can be very social, is for the purpose of personal development. If I was a boat builder, I would follow other boat builders, but since I am an educator, I will focus my following to other educators. The goal is to assemble a list of people who are not only knowledgeable about education and learning, but have a sharing and collaborative philosophy.

One of the first things I do, when I am considering someone to follow, is to check his, or her Twitter Profile. I limit myself to following educators, because I gear my Twitter account for professional learning. Many people have second Twitter accounts for friends and relatives. Once I access a person’s Profile I can verify that he or she is an educator and I can see the most recent tweets. The tweets will give an indication of the person’s collaboration. If there is no profile filled out, I usually do not follow that person.

Another important thing to check is whom they follow. That makes the profile a source for other educators to follow. Individuals can be found under the “Following” header on the profile page. In addition Twitter lists may be found on a person’s profile. They are special lists that Tweeters make up for specific groupings of people that they follow. Examples might be: Music teachers, Pre-service teachers, Administrators. These lists can be accessed and you will have more educators to follow.

Hashtags (#) are another source for follows. Tuesday is known as Teacher Tuesday on Twitter. On Tuesdays people will tweet out recommendations of teachers to follow on Twitter. Each of these recommendations will contain the hashtag #TT or #tt or #Teachetuesday. You may follow by clicking on the name in the tweet and the profile will pop up. The other way to do it would be to do a search for #TT, #tt, or #Teachertuesday. At that point all of the tweets from all tweeters will pop up. Most conferences or events carry their own hashtags. If you are following a tech conference hashtag the chances are good that the tweeters using them are educators attending the conference. The best hashtag to vet and gather follows is #Edchat. That hashtag is used by educators during weekly chats as well as by many educators to extend the range of their educational Tweets. Twitter has another day of hashtag recommendations on Friday; #FF, #ff, #followfriday. The difference between Friday and Tuesday is that Friday is recommendations of great Tweeters, and Tuesdays are recommendation of great Educator Tweeters.

Anyone can make up a hashtag. I made up a hashtag for people to make recommendations for books. I asked people to recommend one educational book that made a difference to them. I asked them to use the hashtag  #Edubk. It served multiple purposes. I could do a search for #Edubk and have a list of books read and recommended by educators. I could follow any of those tweeters whose recommendation rang true. I also expanded the number of people to access by the number of Retweets generated.

Reading Blogs gives the best insight into who educators really are a good indication of whom to follow. Many bloggers use Twitter to drive people to their blogs. The obvious thing to do is to follow those bloggers who offer opinions of value. The extension of that source is to mine the comment page. Educators who feel opinionated enough to leave a comment will often have their twitter names available. Their comments offer insights to their philosophy. Another good method is to tweet out thought-provoking questions. Take note of those who engage in response.

I use many Social Media applications to complete my network of educators who help me in learning about education every day. Twitter is first in that bank of tools. I am an avid user and that is what makes writing this post most difficult. I fully understand how Twitter works. I also am very aware that explaining it is overwhelming for those not familiar with Twitter. Twitter is best learned as it is used. I only hope I haven’t confused more than clarified some strategies to develop a valuable Personal Learning Network.

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The term Life Long Learning has been bandied about by educators for years. It is a term that has worked its way into Mission Statements of schools across our nation. It is a term that teachers use with their students. It has become a goal that every teacher strives to put in place for students. It is also a goal that many (not all) teachers, for the most part, do not apply to themselves.

I sometimes think that our culture, demanding that teachers be content experts, is a hindrance to education reform. There is an implication that an expert is supposed to know it all. That position may limit a willingness to learn. How can a teacher be the expert, if he/she has more to learn? Even if one was an expert in some content area and at one point knew all that there was to know about a given subject, there is still always more information being developed. With the advancement of technology this is happening faster, and in more volume than ever before. Content experts remained experts longer in the 1800’s. It took years to question their expertise. Change was slow.

A teacher’s response to this might be one of disbelief. Teachers may not admit to this in public. However, if we consider teachers’ responses to suggestions of Professional Development, their actions belie their rhetoric. Many are resistant to Professional Development. In fairness, not all PD is worthy of consideration. It is not always well thought out or well presented. However that is not an excuse to resist all PD. The fact of the matter is that it is a big point of contention among many educators.

Colleges are being blamed for not producing enough great teachers. Not enough content experts. That is simply ridiculous. Colleges need to educate students in their content area as well as philosophy and methods in education. They are required to make students content experts in their content area and in education in four years. Teachers are born in the college classrooms, but they develop, mature and become great teachers in the schools in which they teach. This only occurs with support and leadership from their educational leaders. It requires continuous learning over the lifetime of a career. It requires teachers and their leaders to be Life Long Learners.

This all adds to a predicament in which teachers have placed themselves. Senior teachers are being vilified more than any other group of teachers being vilified by the critics of education. They are being portrayed as unwilling to learn or change. They are being pitted against the younger more energetic teachers who appear willing to learn and change. The senior teachers are victims of the culture of education. They are the experts as they were expected to be. They believe this themselves. They have attained their lifelong goal, therefore, they believe that there is no need to learn any more, or to change the “tried and true”. They have achieved expertise status as required by the system.

The culture cultivated this attitude, but now finds it unproductive and in need of change. It is the perfect excuse for educational leaders and politicians to use to eliminate what they see as an easy way to cut the budget. The most experienced teachers are the most expensive. Eliminating senior teachers is about money and budgets, and not better education. It requires eliminating fewer senior teachers to get the most Bang for the Buck. It doesn’t consider experience and stability of the school. It doesn’t consider loyalty and the very expertise it demanded. It’s all about the money

If we are to have better education system we need teachers to be better learners. For that to happen we need better leaders, who also need to be better learners. Life Long Learning is essential for all involved in education not just the kids. If we were serious about education reform we need to work on educating the educators in earnest. We can get very, very few great teachers from college classrooms. We can get teachers with great potential, but that potential must be nurtured and taught on an ongoing basis. It is the school’s leadership and culture that will enable a teacher to be great. It will be the commitment and support of the school leadership to professional development and Life Long Learning that will move us to where we need to be in education reform. That may only happen one school at a time. It might happen sooner if the idea of social learning ever takes hold in education. The Irony obvious to me is that Educators are for everyone being Life Long Learners as long as it doesn’t affect them. (No, that does not mean you, but many of the other educators.)

 

Comments welcomed!

 

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I am growing tired of the call for the ouster of older teachers and the elevation of the younger. I am of the older generation (some might say very older) after a career in education spanning four decades. I was also a victim of budget cuts during that career losing my job at the end of every year for my first nine years in three school districts. After 34 years, I am no longer in Public education, but I am involved with Higher Education. My assignment is to train and observe Pre-service teachers, student teachers. In that role I get to travel from school to school and observe educators on all levels.

I teach and observe student teachers for a living. I know that my students have observed over 100 hours of lessons by teachers in the field prior to their becoming student teachers. Additionally, they must show mastery in a program of courses in both philosophy and methods in Education. This is all in addition to the courses required in their content area. By the time these students have an opportunity to stand as teachers in a classroom they will literally have hundreds of thousands of pieces of information floating through their heads, being arranged and rearranged depending on the situation in the classroom at any given point.

I remember reading an article in Time Magazine in the 60’s that rated the most stressful jobs in America based solely on the number of decisions that had to be made in the course of a day. I expected Air Traffic Controller, or Brain Surgeon to be at the top. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own occupation at the top of the list. It was very specific; an Eighth Grade English teacher was listed. That was me, and it was true.

Experience is the best teacher in life. When observing student teachers, I often note that the mistakes being made will be eliminated with teaching experience. So often these student teachers are pumping and processing so much information through their brains that it is amazing to me that they don’t crash at the end of every class. I guess that can be attributed to the energy of youth. As experience mounts up, the brain begins to file away and store those thousands of pieces of information which are repeated over and over each day, so that the teacher no longer needs to bounce that around in the brain. many things become an automatic response. This frees up the experienced teacher to focus more on more important decisions for motivating kids to learn. As a general rule, my personal measure is about ten years in teaching before I consider a teacher truly experienced. Of course any teacher with less than ten years experience will loudly disagree.

These experienced teachers are the foundation of each school’s culture. They become the mentors of the younger teachers. They are advisors to the administrators who often come and go in a never-ending cycle. They are connections to parents whose families have moved through the school over the years. They are the keepers of the keys. This is not how they are being portrayed by politicians and people with agendas for education. These experienced teachers are becoming targets. They are being demonized as the bad teachers, the burn-outs. The only hope, we are told, is the new youthful teachers entering the system. We are told that if cuts must be made, and they must, we need to base it on merit and cut the old, bad teachers, and keep the good, young teachers. We cannot consider any loyalty or obligation to any employee, even if they were loyal to the school district for years.

This has nothing to do with good or bad, young or old. It has everything to do with a political agenda. Older teachers are more experienced and better educated, making them more expensive. Younger teachers are eager to volunteer, less experienced, less credentialed and ultimately less expensive. You have to see where this is going. It is about the MONEY. Politicians want the ability to cut the least number of people with the most impact on the budget. There is little thought given to the educational impact. Having the ability to cut the older teachers is also the best way to push through other needed reforms like: Larger classes, elimination of collective bargaining, reduction of the arts, increasing the impact of high stakes testing, and fewer extracurricular activities. These may all be good for the budget, but not great for kids needing to be educated.

We should all be for maintaining good teachers and removing those who may not be making the mark. We have procedures in place to do this. (Please refer to an earlier post, Tenure’s Tenure ) What needs to be worked on is a program for Professional Development that enables every teacher the ability to stay relevant and knowledgeable about the tools and methods of their profession. It cannot be a voluntary or incentivized program, but an ongoing required program scheduled for all educators to participate. It must be a priority, if we are to improve the quality of education. This requires an investment in Education and not budget cuts and reductions in staff and services. We need an explanation as to why we give $40 billion in incentives to an Oil Industry that shows $100’s of Billions in profits every year while we are cutting back teachers and programs to educate the very people who we will need to call upon to lead us out of this mess.

 

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As an adjunct professor at a local private college, I have the privilege each semester to teach one of several methods courses required for our secondary English education students. In addition, I supervise a group of student teachers in their assignments which requires me to observe each student in each of their teaching assignments, one a middle school and the other a High school placement.  Within my methods course I engage my students in many of the educational topics relevant to educators today. I have them use Social Media to create Personal Learning Networks, and I require these future English teachers to blog and post comments on blogs of others. They do not take tests, but rather are assessed on lessons, projects and Unit plans that they are required to create and develop.

To many of the educators with whom I am in daily digital contact this probably sounds like it should be the way all methods courses should be taught. Anyone familiar with what I have written over the past year on this blog would know that I believe in integrating technology into education. That is an emphasis I use in my class. This too might be praised by the choir of tweeting educators with whom I have come to belong. With all of this support, one would think that I would be convinced and resolute in a mission to put my stamp of relevance on all of my students. Not so fast!

I have a very strong belief in teaching the right thing as I have come to understand it. I also have an obligation to prepare my students to be the best possible candidates for a teaching position. This is the tightrope part. My biggest dilemma is that I can prepare them with what they need, but I can’t hire them. I know that many of the methods I am using and teaching strategies that I promote, may not be the same as those ascribed to by their perspective employers. There are many times when I will give my opinion and tell my students that they may not want to mention that in a job interview.

The other force that pulls my students is that of experience. Most have experienced teachers who demand memorization followed by a test, followed by more memorization and another test. This was their elementary and secondary experience and for many it continues in some classes in their college experience. Professors tell them that there is no need for technology in education and Social Media is trouble to be avoided by educators. I find it difficult to tell them that this is completely wrong, although I believe it. The truth is that this is an attitude of many educators today. These are the very people who will be in a position to hire and work with my students.

It is one thing to know the right thing to do, but it is another to tell someone else that, what they are doing is wrong. How do we teach relevant methods for teaching without selling it as something that must be hidden until it can be determined where the administration or even future colleagues stand on such issues?  Of course this is changing, but it has been changing for 30 years and we are still discussing it. I see the reluctance to change with every school that I enter to do observations. Yes, it is getting better, but if education was really moving forward, the word “reform” would only apply to politicians and business people and not the other way around.

I know that my experience in this is not unique. We need to teach our future teachers relevant methods, techniques and tools, but that is not the only path to reform. We need to continue to engage our colleagues, administrators and Leaders in accepting change. We should not have to qualify or make excuses for being relevant and using technology as a tool for learning. Social Media, like any tool, may be misused, but it has a greater potential to be used as a positive force for change. We need to promote reform within the system for it will be too slow in coming if we wait for the colleges. We need to be the change. I want my students to clearly understand the expectations, so they can focus on their goal. I want to come down from the tightrope.

 

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Once again, I am finding it to my advantage to share my learning experiences on my Blog. I find this helpful because it can be interesting to the reader, but more importantly, it gives me something to write about. This is most helpful when one has a blog that requires occasional posts to keep the site running.

My wife met Larry Jacobs recently at an Education conference and introduced him to me in the belief that we each had something of value to offer the other. Larry is a Talk Radio Education Blogger, which seems to be a growing area in social media. Larry’s “thing” is doing educational interviews. What I like about Larry’s approach to this, is that he has figured out how to make some money at doing it. Doing what you love and getting paid for it is always the ultimate goal. I love what I do, but I depend on my pension to survive.  But alas, if only I could charge for tweets?  I guess however, charging for tweets would greatly reduce the number of people who now at least read what I put out.

Larry and I spoke a few times, and I was able to get him to revisit Twitter after his first foray and eventually dropping off this social media staple. This is a place that many Twitterers have visited in their Personal Learning Network development. After a little guidance and a few introduction tweets, Larry was able to go from 14 to 140 followers in a day. His site began getting more hits, and he began to see the benefits of Twitter and the advantages of a Personal Learning Network. He was then interested in talking about what it was that I did with Social Media in education and wanted to put it on the air.

I visited his site to listen to a number of his interviews. What I found helpful in deciding whether or not to do it was the ease in which Larry made his guests comfortable. He seemed at ease with the subject matter of each of his guests and kept the pace of the discussion flowing. This was done in great part because he actually listened to his guests’ answers. This is a skill not mastered by all interviewers. After I accepted Larry’s invitation, he forwarded a list of Tips to follow as well as a request for six questions to carry us on our journey through the interview.

I was quite calm as I awaited the day and the hour of the air time. About two hours before I was to go on however, I realized that I was on my own with this. In all of the interviews I have done in the past, I had Shelly Terrell, Steve Anderson, or Eric Sheninger at my side to step in to fill the gaps. The worst part is that my wife was away on a business trip leaving only my faithful King Charles spaniel, Louie to guide me through any technical glitches that I might encounter. He has always endured my screen-screaming bouts with my computer in the past. He offers more of a comforting twist of his head as opposed to great technical advice. Nevertheless, he was all I had.

I decided on a Hashtag, #twetr, as if I was going to be able to multi-task and follow a back channel stream of questions. For those who do not know, back channeling allows people on Twitter to comment and question during a presentation. It is actually affecting, in many ways, the way Educational Presentations are being delivered. Who was I kidding?  I could talk the talk, but if I tried the walk, it would somewhat resemble Jackie Gleeson on roller skates during an episode of the Honeymooners, but much less graceful.

I had my laptop, my IPad, and two handsets for my phone, just in case the battery ran out on one. I was set to go with a page of notes and the set of questions that I forwarded Larry. I practiced the phone call at 9 AM to make sure all was good with a sound check. All that was left was to tweet out the time and place of the interview on Twitter. I did that several times to make sure someone would be in the audience. I had everything covered. I then made the final call, and I was connected to Larry live. I was in the Queue, and I coughed. That was my introduction.

The time arrived and the first question was asked. All I could think of was,” what makes up my Personal Learning Network?”  Through my head ran Linkedin, Twitter, Ning, FaceBook, Skype, Blogs, RSS Reader, Tweet Deck, Flashboard, #EDCHAT, edcamps, and Teachmeets. It was all too much for a 43 minute Radio Interview. I had no back up and I could not in good conscience HANG UP, although the thought did cross my mind. Through his vast interviewing experience, Larry Jacobs guided me through. After all was said and done, it was a lightning fast 43 minutes. Larry and I left the audience wanting more and he asked me to come back. The next session however, will be more limited in scope to put a laser focus on the subject. One of the benefits of Radio Blogs is that they are archived. Now you can judge for yourself and consider all that preceded the interview. Here it is: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/edutalk/2011/01/18/educators-as-social-networkers

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If you are not familiar with #Edchat, it is a Twitter discussion on specific topics held every Tuesday at Noon and 7 PM EST. A full explanation may be found at this Link: https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/06/23/edchat-revisited/. I am revealing in this post that I am the one who makes up a bulk of the #Edchat Topic choices. We do get some outside contributions, but each week I try to lift relevant topics from the Twitterstream and current Educational Blogs to explore further in an #Edchat discussion. It has been a successful formula thus far. My dilemma however, is always when is it a good time to revisit a topic. I recently received a comment from an educator that stated he always found the topic choices very interesting, but eventually we would need to discuss Standardized Testing or High Stakes Testing as a topic. Actually, #Edchat has discussed this topic in the past. The problem I have however is that in trying to keep the pulse of education concerns, Standardized Testing is the one topic that has an overwhelming majority of educators mentioning their opposition on a daily basis. Educators seem to be in agreement that Standardized Testing is a major roadblock to Education Reform. One growing opinion seems to be that the emphasis has become the tests and not the education.

Assessment has been and always will be part of education. A simple explanation: As educators we use Formative assessment to make sure we are succeeding with our students as we go. Do they get it? This allows for adjustments along the way. The Summative assessment tells educators how successful the complete endeavor was. After all is said and done, have the students gotten it?  Educators do this to determine the next step, so they may continue to build on this education. This is the teacher’s assessment of learning for the purpose of the determining of what comes next. The curriculum is the roadmap of where to go. The assessments tell the teacher if the students are there yet. Teachers can always take students beyond the original destination.

Now we should look at High stakes testing. Its purpose is to accumulate data on education. Data requires simple, objective answers that are easily converted to numbers for analysis. As a former English teacher, I often envied Math teachers whose test answers were either right or wrong. As an English teacher I was always trying to figure out shades of right or wrong with essays. That oversimplification of math testing is less true of Math today with the changes that have been made requiring more of an explanation of reasoning. I hope no math teachers were offended.

The purpose of High Stakes testing seems to be changing. If it was originally intended to assess where we were with student learning in order to offer directions for places to improve, we may have strayed from that goal. It is now used to: determine funding, determine remediation, determine school closings, determine careers, and as a stretch, determine elections. These reasons have little to do with what educators use testing for.

Of course there is a simple solution; Teach to the test. That would give everyone what was needed. A problem with this however is that it will not work. It will not work because it does not consider all of the other factors involved in a student’s education; poverty, environment, culture, and even family relationships. How do we ask questions for the purpose of converting these factors into data in order to take all of this into account? Of course a more obvious reason teaching to the test won’t work is that it is not educating any one. Teaching to the test is preparing kids for a Jeopardy round, not life.

Now here is where I begin to sound like a conspiracy theorist. I, along with almost everyone in America, recognize that we are in a dire economic period. I understand we need to cut costs and increase revenue, and we will all need to sacrifice. One of our greatest expenses is education. Education has been highlighted as a political concern. It is apparent to some of us that the call for education Reform is code for cut taxes. The high stakes tests are not being used to examine and address changes in methods and curriculum as much as to vilify teachers. This call for reform by some is not a call for education reform, but rather a call for labor reform. It is a call to do away with Unions and due process for teachers. These tests are not being used to free teachers to innovate, but rather to begin to dismantle public education for the purpose of privatization for profit.

How can so many educators on every level be so opposed to high stakes testing and still it thrives?  How can the mixed to dismal results of a Charter School movement still allow politicians to call for more Charter Schools? How can the influence on education by Poverty, Race, Environment, and Family go unrecognized as factors in need of reform?

We do need to reform education, but we need a better understanding of what changes will have a meaningful effect. There are many things that unions and teachers can do to affect change, but the greater changes however need to be made in methods and focus of curriculum. The emphasis of needed skills for a growing technology-driven society will be another game changer.

Assessment is needed and has a purpose in education. We need to focus assessments on the learning and not the Labor. The vast majority of educators are intelligent, dedicated, people-oriented, sharers. They may need to be given guidance and professional development in the latest methods and technologies, but they are the best source we have to support our education system. Firing teachers, closing schools, busting unions, and dismantling Public Education may be Reform to some, but to many others this is a destructive path. We need educational leaders to stand up and be heard on this. Voices of education need to be heard over those voices of business and politics and vocal disgruntled taxpayers. ( We are probably all disgruntled about taxes.)

Now I have to put up an #Edchat Topic dealing with High Stakes Testing. Your comments are welcomed here.

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