Posts Tagged ‘
teaching strategies ’
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 love reform. I’m excited that as a state and nation we are looking at making changes to public education. But sometimes in moving forward, it’s good to look back.
I’ve been moved to look back at my earlier career by the publicity around Jose Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and product of the California middle school where I taught. I’ve been thinking about the Jose days (mid-90s) and the staff and organization of that school. Of course, he is only one student, but there were many new immigrant kids who did quite well there. So what were we doing there that worked?
One thing that we did have was lots of faculty communication across the grade levels. I taught an intense and rigorous program partly because it was jointly developed by all the teachers on the 5th grade team. We met every Wednesday during prep, opened our plan books and shared. As a 5th grade teacher in a 5-8th grade school, I was reminded in staff meetings and in passing about where kids needed to be in order to be successful in later grades. There was a mindset that we were preparing kids for college. It helped that we were a Silicon Valley school sitting in the shadow of Yahoo, Netscape and SGI, where innovation and hard work were cultural norms in the neighborhood.
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.
There is so much education research out there focused on the myriad details that it’s hard to keep track of it all. But the latest study that’s generating buzz—and standing out—in reform circles zooms out and examines education from a big picture, global perspective.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform by Marc S. Tucker is a report that actually stems from the last two chapters of a book that will be published in September by Harvard Education Press. The project began when Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to study the education strategies that other countries have used to outpace us.
American students are now ranked below those in almost 40 developed nations in terms of science, math and reading according to a study by the Programme for International Student Assessment, and this new report shows that the most popular tactics in the US—like smaller class sizes and charter schools—are not making the significant difference that has been hoped for.
The National Center on Education and Economy, a Washington DC think tank, picked up the work and focused on education systems in the highest performing countries—Finland, Singapore, Japan, China (Shanghai), and Canada (Ontario)—to see what we may learn from their successes.
Many of the current discussions around public school improvement have focused on teachers: How to evaluate them, and how to help them improve.
I had the opportunity to meet recently with the principal of my son’s school and ask her a few questions about how teacher evaluations are handled in a private school. My interview was with Merrill Hendin, head of Portland Jewish Academy.
Heather Penner: What is your general framework for evaluating teachers?
Merrill Hendin: It’s an evolving process, based on Charlotte Danielson’s “Enhancing Professional Practice”.
HP: How often are teachers evaluated?
MH: There are two official classroom visits per year, and two sit-down meetings per year in which we discuss a teacher’s professional goals for him- or herself for that year. But in reality, evaluations are much more frequent and fluid than that, as supervisors drop in and observe the classrooms frequently. It is important to find a balance between being organic and yet still being thoughtful and systematic.
The first three years that a teacher is with PJA, she is on the “observation track” and teaching performance is watched more closely. Beyond the third year, supervision is more focused on professional growth—helping teachers with their own professional development goals for the year.
At the end of the year, both the teacher and the supervisor each writes a narrative evaluation of the teacher’s strengths and challenges, looking forward to goals for the next year.
HP: Who does the evaluations?
MH: The teachers are divided fairly evenly into three groups, based on subject matter. At PJA, these groups are General Studies, Jewish & Hebrew Studies, and Specialists (music, art, dance, etc.) Each of these areas has a supervisor, although the other supervisors frequently drop in on other classrooms as well. There is a lot of overlap and cross-communication and collaboration between the supervisors.
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.
At age 49, my husband Rob Corrigan just completed his dual Master’s degree and Oregon teacher certification program. He is now certified to teach middle and high school math through calculus, and the sciences including physics. He is a Harvard graduate, a former senior executive at multiple hardware technology start-ups in Silicon Valley, a classroom volunteer, a soccer coach from U6 up through U13, a former school board president.
But Rob is unlikely to land a public school job anytime soon, having gained certification at the time of greatest economic distress since the Depression, a period of historic budget cutbacks in statehouses everywhere.
Was certification worth it? Can second-career scientists, businesspeople, technology, media or other professionals segue successfully into teaching in Oregon’s current school system—now or ever?
A better question may be, “Why would they?”
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.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the annual SxSW (South by Southwest) conference in Austin, TX – “Interactive” track. As happens after all great conferences, my head is still swimming with the energy of great ideas.
If I had to condense the learnings of the conference into one main idea, it was this: Game mechanics are changing our world. It has already started, and will continue to accelerate. This is true in education, as well. There were about a half-dozen panels and speaker sessions dedicated to education at this year’s conference. Some of them investigated the evolving relationship between technology and education, but many mentioned gaming & game theory as central to the way education should be redefined. Most of the sessions that focused specifically on game theory mentioned education as an obvious arena in which these learnings should be applied.
One of the most influential speakers of the week was Jane McGonigal. She has been speaking for years about gaming and its power for intellectual inquiry and social good, but now even slow-adopters like me are finally listening.
“…those who continue to dismiss games will be at a major disadvantage in the coming years. Gamers, on the other hand, will be able to leverage the collaborative and motivational power of games in their own lives, communities, and businesses.”
- Reality is Broken