Posts Tagged ‘
classroom tactics ’
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.
Story #1: I teach International Relations at West Linn High, a course juniors and seniors can take to fulfill a social studies requirement. Part way through the spring semester, I was discouraged to realize that over half my 100 IR students were missing assignments. Considering we’d averaged only one homework assignment per week, and a couple of the assignments were quite easy, I was troubled. It is my goal only to assign homework I believe will benefit students, and when they don’t complete homework it hampers their ability to succeed.
So with complete parental and administrative support, I sprang a surprise on students: If you do not complete every assignment, you will not pass this class. Even if you’re earning a passing grade, if you have even one missing assignment, I will enter “incomplete” in the gradebook and you will not receive a credit. Some were shocked, realizing that no credit could mean not graduating.
I was nervous about the new policy. I wondered whether all students would pull through, and if they didn’t, if I’d be willing to be the one obstacle that stood between them and graduation. I wondered whether at crunch time a parent would challenge the policy.
Here’s my bottom line: The most important task of a school leader is to embrace the challenge of having a clear and shared vision of equitable outcomes for all students. It is the democratic principle of fairness upon which our country is founded and the basis for truly changing the achievement gaps that now prevail.
With the recent news that only 66% of Oregon students graduate high school, it’s clear that this vision does not “just happen.” It has to be owned and shared by the whole school community. It must be intentional, planned, implemented and supported to be sustainable. It must be evident every day, every week and every month in every classroom. All students, teachers and parents need to know and own a common vision of outcomes at their school. What must each student know and be able to do when he/she graduates? When this is clear and held dear, there is a true school spirit.
All students come from somewhere special, each with different backgrounds, different experiences and different circumstances. The whole of their differences is the beautiful mosaic of school. And when they come through the school doors, they are in a place where equity can happen. But there must be a roadmap for success for each student in each classroom across these differences.
Teachers must lead the way for the students. They must know their students well, understanding them across all their differences. They must ask the question: What does it take for a student to enter a school at one level of achievement, move forward, and then graduate with the highest potential achievement? That’s the daily challenge of teaching, at every level.
One of the questions I posed last week to my fourth graders was, “If I’m a carnivore, do I need plants?” Some said yes and some no.
I spend a good deal of time teaching kids how to convince with facts and polite discussion. They sit in teams, put heads together and work out their issues. The yes people proved their point to the no people. We don’t always have smooth discussions and feelings sometimes get hurt. We work on it—a lot. Kids learn that they can stand down from an initial idea when faced with proof and not lose face. Some of the phrases we use are “That’s a good idea, but have you thought about…”
Yes, civility and debate need to be explicitly taught as does critical thinking.
When one kid declared that, “We are all in this together,” after our food web discussion, it made me think of the remarks that I often hear about educational issues. One argument in particular strikes me time and again: the one about how public education generates no money so it should bear the brunt of the economic crisis while corporations should have a lesser tax burden because they drive the economy. Obviously, these people have not reflected on the interdependence of the public and private sector, just as some of my students at first didn’t see the connection between individual members of a food web.
I wonder if across our nation, we are reaping the harvest of a generation that wasn’t asked to dig deeply to find connections. The inability to debate civilly quite possibly stems from inadequate training in school, the result of sitting in rows and competitively trying to get the highest score on tests that have no gray areas. Our curricula have always tended to stress superficial knowledge of lots of subjects at the expense of in-depth collaborative analysis.
The good news is that there is a move to develop an American public that is more thoughtful. Educators at all levels currently use “larger questions” to teach higher level thinking through content. Just last week we debated whether Capt. Meriwether Lewis was a good leader, which prompted a search for direct evidence. And it’s not just me—it’s happening in many classrooms. A current national push for high school graduation requirements to include community service will develop a generation that also looks beyond themselves.
In Oregon, we have developed testing that now necessitates that kids think critically. In fourth grade, students are asked to write a multi-paragraph paper in order to pass the writing test. Writing takes considerable logical thinking to organize and stamina to produce. New this year in elementary school math, we now have three tested areas where kids need to show a truly deep understanding of the topic. Gone are the days when success on standardized tests solely involved memorizing the algorithm to answer a computation problem.
While today people may look exclusively at test scores and think that public schools are failing, many of us are thinking more deeply about what defines success in our schools. We are aiming for higher standards. We work to develop a generation of superior thinkers who will debate logically and civilly, and who will in turn respect the contributions of all individuals in our society.
Traditionally, grades have been interpreted as C means average, B means above average, A means excelling, D means below average, and F means failing. Yet no student of mine in fourteen years of teaching believes this. My students view B as average, A as above average, C as below average and D/F as failing.
Furthermore, I’m unsure whether most students know what it means to excel. Most are accustomed to earning As for simply following instructions. It’s not uncommon for a student to ask me why an essay was scored a B, when they listed all the requested information. I’ll reply yes, you listed the information, but you didn’t explain the information, support the information, demonstrate that you truly understand the information. In other words, you met the minimum criteria, but you didn’t surpass them. Often I receive a blank stare in response.
It seems that our students are receiving increasingly better grades, and not necessarily working harder or smarter to earn them. A 2005 study by the organization that administers the ACT test concluded, after analyzing the GPAs and ACT test scores of 800,000 students per year over 13 years, that grades had inflated over 12% over that time period, meaning a student that scored a 20 on the ACT in 2003 had a 12% higher GPA than a student that scored a 20 on the ACT in 1991.
If grade inflation exists, if we instructors are assigning students ever higher grades, then we may be doing them a disservice. They may be learning that top marks are not hard to come by, and that’s certainly not going to motivate them to become the next great innovators and problem solvers our world needs.
I’m not suggesting teachers simply need to grade students harder. In truth, I wish we didn’t have to “grade” students at all. I wish, instead, that we could simply provide students and their families meaningful qualitative information and data to monitor and promote learning and growth. But as long as we do have grades — as long as colleges and communities look to grades, regrettably, as the sole barometers of student achievement — then we owe it to students to hold them accountable to solid standards and evaluate their work accordingly, and resist pressure from students, parents and administrations to grant favorable grades. That means when a student and/or parent asks for extra credit assignments at the end of a semester for the sole purpose of boosting scores, we should reply no, and let scores reflect actual performance.
Let’s say you have a very smart child, and you live in Portland, Oregon. You want your child to be challenged and encouraged, and given every opportunity to reach his highest potential. What are your options?
First of all, let me say that I realize I’m hardly the one who should be writing this post. I am just a parent, and in many ways I feel like I’m just peering in through the windows of a house, wondering how many bedrooms there really are. But here is what I see, and if there is more out there I hope that someone from PPS will let us all know.
First of all, there is the ACCESS program:
If your child tests in the 99th percentile in verbal or math skills, you can enroll him in the ACCESS program that is housed at Sabin school in Northeast Portland. (If you have an older sibling in the program already, then only the 90th percentile is required for entry.) The program used to run grades 1-8, but this year seems to have been cut back to grades 2-8. And once your child reaches high school, it’s back to business as usual, which means that PPS can’t even guarantee access to AP classes for academically qualified students.
As far as I know, there are no other TAG programs anywhere in Portland Public Schools. Is that not unbelievable?
So, what if your bright little guy (or gal) is a first child, and is only 95th percentile?
The options, as far as I was able to discover for myself, are roughly as follows: (more…)
A lot has been said recently about doing away with the tenure system which is said to unfairly protect sub-par teachers. So what then are the benefits of the tenure system? There must be some reason for its existence. I believe that tenure often protects innovation and the passion for teaching that keeps dedicated teachers in the profession. Lack of tenure can make teachers feel obligated to kowtow to every new “researched-based” idea that is being pushed by a district.
Here’s an example. When I was first hired to teach in the early ‘90s my district asked principals to go around to remove all the phonics based reading instruction material from the classrooms. Phonics was out and whole language was in. I was told by the tenured teachers to give up my materials since I was only a temporary employee and could be easily fired. The tenured teachers were going to hide their materials and teach phonics when no one was looking. Of course, today research tells us that phonics and phonemic awareness are keys to learning to read. Apparently, in the 90’s research told us otherwise.
Quality teachers with experience know what works for their students and want a myriad of materials to get the job done. They also know that trends in teaching come and go. What if tenure was eliminated, forcing teachers to teach in ways that they knew were not appropriate to their students? Of course we can question whether educational research with all its issues with outside variables can ever dictate teaching methods. The main point is that there are lots of ways to get our children to grow intellectually.
Some of the most effective teachers I know have balked at the current trend to follow a reading series with fidelity. (Fidelity means plodding methodically through the reading book so all students in the district are exposed to the same core curriculum.) These teachers favor a more right-brained creative way of teaching, or they teach with holistic units, or possibly with real novels. These teachers all have tenure. (more…)
Oregon, as part of a consortium of states, is helping to develop a new assessment system that would align with the Common Core standards. Called the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, the group received federal funds to develop the new system and provide a model for any state to adopt. The key components the Consortium is working on are:
- the required summative exams;
- optional formative, or benchmark, exams; and
- a variety of tools, processes and practices that teachers may use in planning and implementing informal, ongoing assessment. This will assist teachers in understanding what students are and are not learning on a daily basis so they can adjust instruction accordingly.
The next steps the consortium plans to take include:
- Winter 2010:
- Post user-friendly crosswalk document for CCSS (Common Core) mathematical standards. Assist teachers in comparing new CCSS to current Oregon standards, allowing determination of grade-level movement of content
- Create “packets” with handouts and powerpoints that can be used with district staff in math standards awareness campaign
- Spring-Summer 2010:
- Create statewide implementation team to draft comprehensive implementation blueprint
- Re-examine state policies to ensure alignment with Diploma requirements
For more information about the SMARTER Balanced Consortium, go to: http://www.k12.wa.us/smarter/default.aspx
Do you have questions or comments about the plans for the new assessment system?