Sunday, May 29, 2011

This looks like fun...

Larry Ferlazzo (and, let's face it, he has more good ideas on a Sunday in a long weekend than I've had in my whole year, which is why I keep stealing his stuff) talks about Protagonize.  It's a social networking writing website which Ferlazzo says has "choose-your-own-adventure" style elements to it.  I'll play with it over the summer, and see how it goes....

Everything we're doing is wrong

I'm late to the party: most of the people who know stuff about stuff have already talked about this.  But the National Research Council has done national research on incentives and high-stakes testing.  The short version is that they find them wanting.

My favorite line from the summary: "The tests that are typically used to measure performance in education fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways." 

Larry Ferlazzo, as always, has an excellent collection of other people's writing on the topic.  He promises his own commentary presently; he's usually insightful, and I usually agree with him.

I've written before about incentives, but I'm having a hard time finding those posts.  This new report jves with the other research I've posted here, though.  Incentives and disincentives are only good for forcing compliance.  They are worse than useless at encouraging creative problem solving, which is a big chunk of what teaching is.  Teaching is also compliance with best practices, gathering data, good assessments, effective instruction, etc.  But how to apply those materials?  What about the students that nothing seems to work for?  Creatively applying what we know works is how we get the best results.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Whoa! Two posts in one day.

My seniors' last English unit was on satire.  If only I'd seen this three days earlier....

Budget Mix-Up Provides Nation's Schools With Enough Money To Properly Educate Students

A great piece of lateral thinking and writing for communication

I talk to my students a lot about some of my deepest fears.  Preeminent among them are 1.) my fear of dying in a gas station explosion caused by a lit cigarette and 2.) zombies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has as part of its mission preventing major medical emergencies, but sometimes has trouble making itself heard in a wide enough venue.  So someone thought to themselves, "If I write about zombies, people will read it," and they did.  And they were right.

According to this article, where I first heard about the blog post, a typical CDC blog post will get between 2000 and 3000 hits.  After 2 days, traffic to this blog post crashed the web site after 60,000 hits.  That's reaching your audience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quote of the day

“If school reformers really wanted the best possible teachers in every clssroom, they’d select and prepare them carefully, support them diligently on the job and fight to retain them, given the high cost of replacing teachers."

--Nancy Flanagan

Monday, May 16, 2011

My new school improvement proposal

We have a school improvement team meeting tomorrow, at which we'll rejigger our school improvement plan.  Here's my proposal, courtesy of my wife:

Less suck.  More rock.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The fundamental problems with merit pay

1.)  You can't pay good teachers as much as they're worth. No amount of merit pay is going to make up the difference, really.  So maybe good teachers aren't really in it for the money.

2.)  Some of the people philosophically responsible for merit pay basically don't want to pay public teachers anything.  (Mackinac Center, DeVos, I'm looking at you.)  Introducing merit pay is a step towards that goal.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Minimum page requirements

I assign minimum page requirements to stick it to my "do-as-little-work-as-possible" students.  They get back at me by making me read what they write.

No, really, though.  My students always want to know how little they can get away with doing.  (I say "my" as if it's unique to me.  Everybody's students want that.)  In most of my formal writing assignments, I tell them a minimum of 3 pages.  I specify margins, acceptable font sizes, spacing requirements, everything.  That's what my high school English teachers mostly did; that's what I do.  I tell them that when they get to be crack journalism students, they will be able to write comprehensively about a topic in fewer pages, but for now, just do it.

Students go to extraordinary lengths to hit the page requirement, without actually doing any more writing.  It's amazing.  Instead of a punchy conclusion, the last line of the paper is occasionally a drawn-out, run-on monstrosity with more clauses than a sack full of catses.  (I've been waiting years to write that joke.)  I imagine that that's why the model shifted to the introduction--3-body-paragraph--conclusion model; that way nobody has to care what the page requirement is.  (Weirdly, though, everyone still does.  Evidently, this includes the people who assess the ACT writing section.)

Once I get an efficient system for turning papers in digitally (Google Docs, Moodle, I'm looking in your direction), I can use a word count system as a way of judging minimum lengths.  But the point is that I hate that kind of nonsense.  It's stupid game-of-school stuff.  There's nothing magic about three pieces of paper with ink on them, especially if the third one has exactly seven words printed on it; there's nothing magic about 1500 words, especially if 400 of them are "very".  It's just that most students stop thinking far too soon without some kind of minimum requirement.  The minimum requirement doesn't seem to be any help, either.

Maybe in the future, when I get better at teaching and grading by rubrics, I'll be able to show students that a minimally good paper will probably take up 3 or more pages, but that I'm not grading by weight.  In the meantime, I have 35 pounds of papers to grade.

Readers:  How do you ensure that your students put an adequate amount of thinking into your writing assignments?  I'm talking Tier-I, fully functional, basically good high school writers.  Everybody knows that some students will never do that, and some will only do it when people sit next to them and say, "Get back to work" every 15 seconds.  I don't mean them.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stealing other peoples' links

The great part about the internet is that almost everything is on it.  (At least temporarily.)  The bad part you have to be able to find it when you want it.  These are tech sites I hope to use someday, but have to keep track of in the meantime.

Tiki toki (stolen from iLearn Technology).  A tool for creating timelines.  I'm going to try it for a presentation, although the presentation was not intended to be exceptionally multimedia. (also stolen from iLearn Technology).  An apparently decent video editor.  I don't know that there's anything here I can't already do in iMovie, but for those times iMovie isn't available or sufficient, this might be useful. (stolen from Free Technology for Teachers).  A social networking site for readers.  It looks like it will make independent reading assignments much more thorough, effective, and maybe fun.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Links to stuff

Heather Wolpert-Gawron talks about the 5 most important skills students need, based on a survey she performed  The winners are collaboration, communication, problem-solving, questioning, and independent learning.  She lists 8 or so others, as well; I really like them, as well.

Dick DeVos talks to the Heritage Foundation about destroying public schools.  h/t Jamie.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Another front the war on ignorance

I got it from an e-mail, which got it from a blog, which got it from the New York Times.

If I understand the NYT's new pay structure correctly, you should still be able to view the above article.