Archive for the ‘Student teaching’ Category

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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I recently read how Bill Gates is pushing for video-taping teachers as part of an assessment process during the observation of lessons. His goal is to include videotaping of all teachers in the process of their evaluations. On the surface this sounds workable and even helpful; after all it does work for athletes. For many years now, coaches and recruiters alike all said, ”Let’s go to the Video Tape” it will show us the way.  Of course the media has changed and gone digital, so actual video tape is being replaced by other technologies, nevertheless we call it videotaping.

I have had myself videotaped at times during my career to objectively view what I looked like, and how I delivered a specific lesson to my students. It was my choice of class, my choice of lesson, and my choice to view and use. I knew what I was looking for in my lesson.  I did find it to be helpful, but it was my choice to use it as a tool, and I chose how to do it. I have used videotaping with students doing oral presentations. It enabled them to see what the audience saw as the presentation unfolded. I think under the right conditions videotaping can be a useful tool to improve presentation skills.

I have also seen videotaping used to record the lessons of perspective teachers as they applied for positions. The video tape was then played back before the hiring committee. This was far better than the alternative of having the entire hiring committee sitting in the back of the class during the lesson. All in all I am not averse to using videotaping as a tool for assessment.

One problem with videotaping all teachers for assessment is that all lessons do not lend themselves to the videotaping process. Direct instruction or a lecture may be the best forms of lessons to be videotaped. We all love TED Talks. However, there are other types of lessons that may be considered “controlled chaos” that would not play well on the big screen, but they do promote learning. The teacher is not always the focal point of the lesson. Talking is not necessarily teaching. Some lessons like simulations, group work, or projects extend several days before yielding results.  A single period videotape would not capture the results of the efforts of the teacher.

Another consideration is the introduction of the camera to the class. Once the discovery of the camera runs through the classroom, some students may exhibit different behavior. It also must be said, that not all teachers will be themselves when the camera starts rolling for the big production. With a room of thirty individuals in a classroom the introduction of a video camera must have an impact on behavior and performance of some. It has the potential of changing the dynamic of a class.

The idea to use this method for assessing all teachers may be well-intentioned, but that intention only works if it is to benefit the teacher. It is a great tool under the right conditions for specific lessons to assist the teacher in honing communication skills. However, here is the rub: some may see this video-taped observation not as an assessment tool to help the teacher, but a tool to remove the teacher from the class.  Even if that is not the case, it will be the view of many teachers. With that view, teachers will begin to give to the camera what the camera views best. Lessons will be tailored for the camera, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. Administrators will fill their video libraries with direct instruction lessons.

Teachers are not athletes who can adjust their physical skills to enhance performance. This is not to say that some things may not be improved by a videotaped intervention, as long as the teacher is open to it and the conditions are right. Their relationship with their classes is difficult to capture on a 40 minute video. How does the camera capture learning as it happens? It will certainly not be viewed on the face of the teacher.  The focus of the camera might be more telling, if it was trained on the faces of the students. Video-taping as a tool for improvement with everyone’s cooperation and willingness to use it for that goal can work. Using it as a tool to bludgeon a teacher in a year-end review should not be the intent.

My real problem in this is that it would seem that education is being guided by the vision of the likes of Bill Gates. His view of education is to have all teachers lecturing like TED-Talk lecturers in five years. I do not agree with his vision, but what do I know? I am but a lowly educator.

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I recently read in the Washington Post that the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education issued a report recommending that students preparing for a career in teaching should spend less time in course work and more time in real classrooms for clinical practice. According to the article, the report states that this would be more in the model used for medical Doctors. The report advocates less coursework and more practical experience for pre-service teachers. Of course the overriding theme of this article implies that the failure of our system is with the failure of the teachers, so it must be the failure of the way that teachers are prepared.

I see an additional problem in that the report in the recommendation for evaluating the student teacher on the performance of their assigned students on standardized tests.

“All programs held to same standards; data-driven accountability based on measures of candidate performance and student achievement, including gains in standardized test scores. Data drives reform and continuous improvement.”

This however, will require the attention of a second Post at another time.

Before any committee recommends less time in course work and expanding time in the classroom experience for teacher candidates, it should explore the in-school experience as it exists in today’s model. I do not know what other schools require for their student teacher programs. I do know what is required for my students. It is fair to say that my entire opinion on this subject is based on that background and may not necessarily apply to other student teacher programs or programs in other states.

Students seeking a career in education are not required to master one area of content, but two. They need to be experts in their subject area and they need to be experts in the area of education. To accomplish that, a reduction in course work might be counter-productive. The in-class experience might best be improved in quality as opposed to quantity. The way it is set up now is a “crap shoot” for student teachers, and the colleges have little control over the student-teacher experience.

The college controls the courses candidates are required to take. They are also responsible for holding candidates accountable for 100 hours of class observations of real classes as an eligibility requirement for student teaching.  Once the student begins student-teaching the bulk of that experience is in the hands of the Cooperating teacher. That would be the teacher to whom the student is assigned for the student-teacher assignment. On the secondary level that would be half of their time in a middle school setting and half on the high school level with separate cooperating teachers. The college is connected to the student teacher through the weekly seminar class to deal with the reflection of experiences and guidance through day-to-day problems.

The weak link in the chain of the student-teacher’s experience often lies in the relationship with the cooperating teacher. Most cooperating teachers are well-intentioned and want to do their best in their role as a mentor for an aspiring teacher. However, this is not true of all cooperating teachers. The flaw in the system seems to be more in the selection process of the cooperating teacher as well as the training for cooperating teachers.

The idea of student-teaching is to place a student with a working teacher as an apprentice. The student teacher is expected to teach classes as a teacher from the onset of the assignment. This takes place over the length of a college semester. The student teacher is responsible for teaching and assessing students under the guidance of the cooperating teacher. This all works well, if: the student is prepared, the teacher is prepared, the student is receptive, the teacher is giving, the student is professional, the teacher is flexible. This is a short list of the many “ifs” required for a successful student teaching experience. Little of this is controllable by the college.

Teachers are not trained to be cooperating teachers and it is not an ability that one is born with. They are volunteers or in many cases they are volunteered. They are not compensated by the school district and the compensation from the college usually comes in the bartering of course credits or small monetary stipends. Cooperating teachers are required to turn over the duties of teaching to a student teacher while still having the responsibility for their own students’ success. In today’s climate that may impact their own assessment for maintaining their position (job), if the successful performance of their students is not indicated on standardized tests.

To further complicate the situation we must ask: Are the philosophies and experiences of the student teacher and cooperating teacher a match? Do they see eye to eye on the integration of technology in education? Do they agree the needs and use of formative and summative assessment? Has the cooperating teacher remained relevant in the world of education? Is the student teacher given respect from the cooperating teacher or viewed as a teaching assistant? Will the student teacher be allowed to create original lessons or will he/she be required to teach lessons of the cooperating teacher?

Colleges try to offer guidelines for cooperating teachers on most of these concerns, but the primary goal of a cooperating teacher does not lie in the interest of the student teacher, but rather with the students of their own classes. I do realize and I do explain to my students that it is how one handles the experience that benefits one’s education. I do believe that, but even I need to question things when students relate some of the experiences they endured under less enlightened cooperating teachers.

Now, I must address the recommendation of the enlightened committee. If I understand this, they are recommending fewer courses to master two areas of expertise. They are promoting placing students into a mentoring environment with cooperating teachers who are not trained, not screened, not adequately compensated, and being held personally responsible for the effect that student teacher has on the assessment outcomes of their students. Is this the model our medical profession trains physicians with? Maybe we should consider quality of the program instead of quantity. More hours of a flawed system of mentorship does not necessarily create better teachers or physicians.

Most Cooperating teachers do the best job they can to help and mentor their student teachers, but there are many improvements which would help them in this noble endeavor.

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