New school year, new ChalkBloggers poll. In the righthand sidebar, we’d now love to hear from you about what concerns you most about education in Oregon (and if there’s an option we haven’t included, let us know in the comments and we’ll add it).
But in the meantime, as teachers and students head back to the classroom, it also seems an appropriate time to check out the results of our last poll: Which element of classroom instruction do you think is most important? 70 readers responded and told us:
- Positive, open learning environment (13 votes, 19%)
- Creative ideas and inspired techniques (11 votes, 13%)
- Rapport and relationship-building (10 votes, 14%)
- Individualized attention (8 votes, 11%)
- Classroom management and structure (8 votes, 11%)
- Utilizing new technologies (0 votes, 0%)
As I mentioned in last week’s post about the role of technology in education, not one person selected the use of new technologies as the most important factor in classroom learning. Instead, the interaction between students and teachers is at the top along with simply good ideas and teaching strategies. Of course, none of these elements of instruction exists in a vacuum, and they really all work their best when they are in concert with each other.
What do you think about these results? Is there another important factor that you think we missed? How can teachers use all of these qualities and skills to lead a dynamic classroom this year?
Here it comes…the first day of school! Walking through the doors, you can feel the exhilarating mixture of excitement and nervousness in the air. Kids will be meeting new teachers, seeing old friends, and showing off their stylin’ new clothes. It’s fantastic fun for some, but for students with high geographic mobility, the prospect of yet another new school, filled with unfamiliar faces isn’t exciting—it’s scary. How can teachers help these kids feel welcome, and make their transition into another new environment a little easier?
Students with high geographic mobility are those who have attended many schools during their K-12 years due to frequent moves. For some families, moving more than once in the course of a single school year is common. Usually these moves are associated with employment, housing, or relationship problems, and can be a contributing factor in low academic achievement (http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/student-mobility/).
Every child is different, and deals with change in his or her own way. I spoke with several friends who moved around a lot, attending as many as 11 schools during their K-12 years. They were all affected differently.
I may be revealing how much television I watch, but those K12.com Oregon Virtual Academy commercials are everywhere these days. Issues of school choice aside, their refrain of praises for online learning has me thinking more and more lately about the role of technology in education. How will new technologies help students’ learning? How will digital tools change the classroom? Will all these developments help create critical thinkers and global entrepreneurs (with “21st century skills”), or will they disconnect people from each other and create a generation of frenzied consumers of the overwhelming digital stream of information?
In our current ChalkBloggers poll, not one person has selected “Utilizing new technologies” as the most important element of classroom instruction. That’s a relief to me. I would never want a teacher to sacrifice real interactions (like providing constructive feedback and creating a positive and open learning environment, the two top answers) to let a computer do it for them. No one wants robotic teaching.
But certainly, lessons can be enhanced with new digital resources—and more and more, this and future generations of technology-steeped children will need to be reached with constructive interactive tools in the classroom. No one can completely shut off to new technologies and risk being left behind. The trick is finding a balance and carefully choosing the most effective tools that will enrich, not distract from, student learning.
But how to sort through the myriad options that seem to be growing and changing even faster everyday? It seems like a full-time job just to keep up. But I’ve found a few new online resources (of course) that look to do the work for you.
After completing an MAT at Pacific University in 2008, Melissa Cantwell is now certified to teach Middle and High School English. She has been a substitute teacher for two years in Oregon City, Reynolds, David Douglas and Gresham Barlow School Districts and plans to continue substitute teaching until she finds a full time teaching position.
As a relatively new teacher, I’m well aware that the changes that result from education reform efforts going on now will have a huge impact on the future of my teaching career. I want to have a voice in the discussion about the future of public education.
And yet, I am continually amazed by the negativity of so much of what I hear. A 2010 Time article about the movie Waiting for Superman really piqued my interest in education reform. It discussed the overall negative state of public education in America, the negative effects of bad teachers in the classroom, and the desire of those in education reform to recruit the best and the brightest to the education profession.
I wanted to try and figure out what a “bad teacher” looks like in the classroom. How could I spot a bad teacher, and more importantly, how could I make sure that I didn’t become one? So I started reading more about education reform and realized the characteristics of “bad teachers” are never explicitly defined.
Over the last several years, critics of public education in the United States have regularly turned to data provided by the Europe-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) through its student assessment initiative, the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA). (Two other international assessment programs similar to PISA have also been implemented. Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) is administered to a sample of 4th and 8th graders every 4 years, including 2011. Progress in International Reading (PIRLS) is administered to a sample of 4th graders every five years, including 2011. The methodologies employed in all three assessments are similar, so comments I make regarding PISA generally apply to the other assessment programs as well.)
Every three years, PISA administers a common assessment to a sample of 15-year-old students in participating countries. In the most recent 2009 cycle, PISA assessments were administered in 65 countries/economies. Each assessment surveys student achievement in three domains: (1) reading literacy, (2) mathematical literacy, and (3) science literacy, with one of these being the primary focus. For the 2009 cycle, the focus was reading literacy with questions in this domain comprising about 60 percent of the assessment.
From these assessment data, individual country profiles describing student achievement are prepared along with various reports seeking to compare achievement across participating countries/economies. The comparison reports have been popular within the United States as a basis for criticizing public education and justifying the call for education reform. Based on average test scores for 2009, the United States ranked 17th in reading literacy, 30th in mathematics literacy, and 23rd in science literacy. These “low” rankings must signal a problem, right? As we shall see, these ranking may or may not be correct, and even if they are, more analysis is needed to understand their significance. Simple rank order displays rarely reveal much about the complexities of student achievement.
I had lunch recently with an American friend working in Singapore. I explained to him how I conduct an international trade simulation with my economics students, and in the simulation, Singapore is one of the economic powerhouses. I asked him about the Singapore government, and whether it helps or hinders economic growth in that city-state.
He replied that government is one of Singapore’s strengths. How do they do it, I asked, when in much of the world government is viewed, at worst, as helplessly corrupt, and at best, inept.
It’s simple, he said. The Singapore government pulls the best and brightest from their high schools, sends them all over the world for top-notch higher education, then obligates them to serve in the government in exchange for the education, albeit with handsome salaries and benefits. The education, he explained, is to keep candidates beholden to the state, while the salaries are to keep them content and above reproach. The result, he suggested, is one of the most efficient and effective governments in the world.
Interesting model. Why not apply it to education?
My children are homeschooled. They also attend a fantastic “bricks-and-mortar” school during the standard school year, and prior to that they were in full-time daycare since they were infants. But when they are home with me, we read, count, explore science concepts, and look at the big map on the wall and talk about the world. I cut up little pieces of French toast and say, “How many do you have? If you eat one, how many will you have left?” This behavior does not make me special; my friends do this too. And they do it for the same reason I do—because this is what our mothers did for us.
I have some friends who officially homeschool their children. And in our demographic, the homeschooled kids are not just sitting around at home, as some people not familiar with modern homeschooling might imagine. They are exploring their world and experiencing an impressive array of enrichment activities that have cropped up to serve this growing market. OMSI, Trackers NW, and many others have programs now specifically geared towards homeschoolers, and there are dedicated support communities such as Village Home.
I view the private school that my sons attend as an incredible extended enrichment program. At their bricks-and-mortar school, they experience long, multi-discipline explorations that I personally wouldn’t have the time or creativity to put together, as well as music, art, foreign language, and the advantages of learning from other caring adults. From my perspective, the only difference between my family and an official homeschool family is the percentage of time allocated to parental teaching vs. paid enrichment—I get less homeschool time with my kids, but it is still crucial, valuable time.
It’s the middle of summer (OK, not quite the middle, but it feels that way) and I feel tired, a bit cranky, and frankly, lacking inspiration. Witnessing the never-ending and farcical tragi-comedy being performed in DC, I feel more than ever that we are a nation—and state—of silos.
Many of us hide in our narrow ideological bunkers, and peek out only long enough to lob disdain on our neighbor in their own tidy little world. “You said this, so you must be anti-teacher”; “Oh, you said that, so you’re one of those who want to stick with the status quo”; “You’re rich and want to support schools? You must be trying to corporatize and do away with public schools”; “You’re a parent advocate? Well, you’re just being a pain in my butt”; “Raise taxes in this economy—are you kidding?”
I have spent a little more than a year sharing on this blog what I think and believe in. Hopefully I’ve challenged some of you and made you think—it certainly has caused me to think more deeply. Now, I want a thought experiment from you, those reading this blog. What do you believe in? What do you want to talk about? What inspires you? What are you passionate about? Frankly, I don’t want to hear what you’re against, I want to hear what you want and what you’re for. What do you want for your kids, and for all of our kids? What gets you excited and keeps you up at night?
Tell me. Respond. Help me as I struggle not to stay cozy in my own silo.
Why can’t we fix the teacher evaluation system? Maybe our newest tool, the 2010 Model Core Teaching Standards from the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Committee (InTASC) will be the fix. These standards, adopted as the evaluation tool for graduates of Oregon Colleges of Education and the proposed basis for teacher evaluation in all Oregon school districts, may help. The process, though, can have both positive and negative consequences.
First, the positive. A set of “professional practice standards, setting one standard for performance that will look differently at different developmental stages of the teacher’s career” (Council of Chief State Officers, Model Core Teaching Standards, p.1) can develop a common language for K-12 educators and teacher preparation programs. Such a common language would be helpful to the many mentor teachers who so carefully guide our novice teachers through their first student teaching experiences. Right now we in the Colleges of Education have forms that reflect TSPC (Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the licensing agency) requirements with descriptors that often do not parallel those used in the daily practice of classrooms. How much better it would be to have the new teacher, the veteran teacher, and the university supervisor speaking the same language.
The standards for judgment also could become clearer if those standards reflected “stages of development.” Instead of the student teacher equating the evaluation scale with a grade (“I want a 6 because that means an A”), the scale could reflect teachers’ growth process as an educator. Too many people assume that, because both the new and the veteran teacher have job descriptions that are exactly alike, all teachers at initial licensure will perform exactly like a more veteran teacher. While more years of service do not guarantee greater proficiency, allowing for well-described and well-understood standards of development should open doors to better evaluation and enhanced professional development. Just as state standards for curriculum have allowed for a more common understanding among teachers of what an average third grader or tenth grader should know, the application of these standards can allow better conversation about teachers’ work.
Now, the negative.
While my posts over the last couple weeks have only engaged a portion of the education reform program that Marc Tucker suggests in “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,” I nevertheless hope that more of you take the opportunity to tackle the text on your own. When I finished reading the entire report (online here), I was part enthralled and part enraged by what he was intimating.
On the one hand, I share Tucker’s passion for wanting to make our system stronger—and I was captivated by the daring he suggest in attempting to reboot the system. At the same time, my enthusiasm was tempered at points by his comparisons, as I believe at times he simplified the reasons that other national systems are so successful, and that we cannot—mainly because of politics—adopt the reforms he suggests (to be fair, my dismay there is partly directed at those who would rather remain fighting than moving toward a real solution). Nevertheless, in recognizing my ambivalent feelings, I realized that Tucker’s plan may ultimately be what the American public needs as a blueprint for true educational reform.
What I have found empowering about Tucker’s approach is that it contains elements that both reassure and challenge any group involved in American education.