Thursday, February 26, 2009

Disappointing feedback

One of my students came back from an absence today. He said to me, "What did we do yesterday?" I replied, "We did a series of listening activities to teach you the new vocabulary." His reply: "Oh, so nothing important."

I have failed to make it clear to my students the ABSOLUTELY VITAL role of listening comprehension in the role of linguistic development.

Back to the drawing board.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

People doing what I do, better than I do it

At the ASCD website, Dina Strasser works her way through Marzano's Art and Science of Teaching. She's posted her blog entry on the first chapter.

I tried a similar exercise this past summer. I'm looking forward to reading the work of someone who's good at it.

UPDATE, 21 Feb: Marzano speaks. This is actually a pretty cool format--it's like listening to a really fascinating conversation, with a computer right next to you that cites the speakers' sources as they talk.

I'll try to keep abreast of Dina's (etiquette check: is it okay to refer to someone I've never met by their first name? Politeness in World 2.0 is so weird.) blogging and Bob's responses. (Can I call him Bob?)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Never work harder than your students, Cha. 2

Know where your students are going

This chapter felt like familiar territory with a little extras. The fundamental premise of this chapter is this: you have to know what you want your students to know in order to teach them. But, Jackson argues, that's not enough--you have to know how you're going to get them there. She uses the metaphor of a road trip: you have to get from California to New York by Friday. How do you get there? Where do you stop? How far do you have to travel each day? How much money do you need? (I love her metaphors; they're generally illustrative. There's another one coming up that I like a lot. I like to think that the money reference refers back to the currency metaphor from Cha. 1. But I might be reading too much into it.)

The reason this feels familiar is because in the last years--since just before the beginning of the "professional" part of my professional life--the state has legislated a "standards and benchmarks" approach to school. It's been a pretty fast (as far as bureaucracies go) implementation process, so a lot of teachers need a lot of re-training on how to grade their courses and dole out credit. I count myself among them. So "starting at the end" has been a subject of my professional development of the last three years. So a lot of her content is not particularly new to me. Marzano in particular has a lot to say about learning goals and curriculum.

The differences between Jackson and some of the other books I've read, the conversations I've had and the conferences I've attended, is not one of substance but of style. One of the notable things about this author is her tone of encouragement and support. She refers to the research just enough that a scholar could take her seriously, and most of her rhetoric is directed towards helping the practitioner to improve his practice. (She states that as her goal in the Introduction. Or is it the Preface? I forget.) She describes her process of creating a course, her sadness about ditching some of her favorite activities that don't achieve learning goals, the difficulty (and necesity) of creating assessments, and the increased student achievement of all that work. That makes it seem like if she can do it, I can do it, too.

The main substantive point that seemed new to me was her treatment of "unpacking standards." The first time I encountered this term, I was talking to World Languages teacher from another school about going to talk to them about using standards in the class. (I thought it was a joke for the first half of the conversation.) She starts with the premise that master teachers "spend more time unpacking standards than planning learning activities." Jackson's process for unpacking standards and turning them into useful curriculum seems extremely effective.

To sum up: A good, effective chapter for using standards and benchmarks effectively for anyone who has them, and a terrific encouragement to start with the end in mind for anyone who does not.

Previous posts on Never Work Harder Than Your Students:
Chapter 1
Preface and Introduction

Information-gathering in a Web 2.0 world, and the limits of tech

Below is the beginnings of a post I spent most of two hours on. Blogger seems to have eaten the rest of it, which lends credence to the Luddite idea that technology eats souls. (1) Someday, I'll rewrite the entirety of the post, but not now. This wasn't even the post I intended to write today.

(1)Disclaimer: I'm not a Luddite. I don't know anything about Luddites and truly have no idea if that's what they believe. If any Luddites are reading this, and are offended by my cheap and stereotypical joke, I apologize.

This one is off-topic, but not as off-topic as it seems at first blush. In my varied interests (education, politics, journalism, and social justice, among others), the Internet and universal access to information have had a very clear transformative effect. There's been a lot of debate in the journalism world, in particular, about the difference between the mainstream media and citizen journalists. (These terms are loaded--in the blog circles I run in, "mainstream media" is negative and "citizen journalist" is positive--but I don't mean to use them that way.)

The lines of this "conflict" grow blurrier as we move on, as "real journalists" write blogs sponsored by newspapers, as bloggers are invited to major press events (doesn't Huffington Post have a White House correspondent now?), as it becomes more and more obvious that pretty much everybody can point a cell phone camera at something happening, and pretty much anyone can write about stuff.

The same model seems to have an effect on education, but maybe not so much as it should. The Internet gives anyone the ability to teach their subject matter around the world, using a variety of communications methods, with varying levels of interactivity, and a lot of motivating elements. The only theoretical difference between the best learning on the Internet and the best learning taking place in school is the level and quality of feedback.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Never work harder than your students, Cha. 1

Start where your students are

This chapter takes a look at some of the disconnect between a teacher's values and students' values. Let's face it--sometimes it feels like you're speaking an entire different language from your teacher. (Well, in my case, I am. But that's not the point.) Jackson uses the metaphor of "currency" to describe this difference. "Suppose," she says, "youadvertise that your house is for sale and I come take a look. [...] I dig into my pocket, pull out a few shiny beads, some seachells, and a couple of wood carvings, place them on the table, and ask for the keys" (31-2). She suggests that this is like the frustrated teacher and the unmotivated student. The teacher doesn't know why the student doesn't value the "currency" of the classroom. The student feels like she's trying her best, but the teacher just doesn't appreciate her effort. Jackon's metaphor for this is that the two parties aren't trading in the same currency.

She recommends that teachers understand what they value (what currencies they're accepting), what their students value (what currencies they're spending), and the disconnect between the two. Find ways to show students how to use their values in school (use their currencies to acquire school currency) and to code switch based on situation (acquire and spend multiple currencies). As a final point, she suggests creating community as a valuable way to help students see the value in school.

It seems like a good metaphor for the eternal disconnect between teachers and students. I value learning inerently; it's a huge part of why I became a teacher. I think that people should know as much as possible, and that they should be able to think as well as possible. So it always comes as something of a shock to me when students say, "Why should I know this?" My response is usually, "Why wouldn't you want to?" Of course, that argument doesn't work with students. It's not enough, nor should it be. In Jackson's language, we're not spending the same currency. I've spent a great deal of time in the last year striving to create community in the school, at the expense of creating it in my classroom. My frustration level has grown in the last couple of weeks, as I can only assume the frustration of my students has. Now might be an excellent time to re-examine my currencies and those of my students, and to work on creating meaningful community in my classroom to help ease these frustrations.

In a meta-analysis of the book, I like the way Jackson has her chapters structured. She outlines the scenario and describes what less-expert teachers might do. She then presents her principle, breaks it down into do-able steps and how to implement them. She occasionally adds in a "Yes, but..." box, to address probable concerns from experienced-but-not-yet-expert teachers. It's a good way of getting a huge amount of information out in an organized fashion. Also, she illustrates this with a lot of personal stories from her extensive experience. So, good on her! I'm enjoying it so far; wish I had more time to study it than once a week.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

SecEd Arne Duncan

I've had very little to say on the subject of Arne Duncan, because I don't know a whole lot about him. A lot of people whom I label "reformers," and am therefore suspicious of (1), but who are also a whole lot smarter and more informed than I am, are cautiously optimistic about him. I look forward to changes to NCLB--better funding for failing schools, testing that makes sense and examines things other than a student's ability to fill in bubbles, things like that.

(1) I don't mistrust reforms. I mistrust reformers. As I was learning about how the educational world works, "reformer" meant "someone trying to destroy public education in favor of thinly-veiled parochial schools. I'm trying to change my views of both Arne Duncan and charter schools(2).

(2) although I still think that anything a charter school can do, a public school can (or at least should be able to) do better, more thoroughly, and with greater accountability.