Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The wisdom of Ray

Ray left this in the comments of the last blog.  I put it here so that everybody who stops by can see it.  And if it's just Ray and me who see it...well, at least I won't have to go into the comments in order to re-read it.

Have a great year and don't be afraid to take a risk and don't be afraid to fail because you took a risk. It is truly the way we all become better.
 You can't expect your students to take risks if you're not willing to do it yourself.  Let's have a great school year.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Big Idea of big ideas

Part II:

We've had key ideas of classes re-packaged and re-sold to us in so many ways, it's tough to know where to begin, or what action to take.  Here, to help the confused and unwary, a brief overview of everything.

(Caveat lector:  If you thought the last one was bad, go no further.  The concepts are murkier, the definitions are longer, and the jokes are worse.  There's even a bibliography.)
(Special note to education students: After reading this, you're likely to be more confused about one of the most important concepts in education than you were before.  That's okay: you'll be in the same position as everybody.) 

Monday, August 22, 2011

"How did YOU spend your summer break, Señor Cosby?"

Trying to learn how to do this, kids:

In other news, you can tell I'm getting tetchy to go back to school.  All my blog posts are imaginary conversations.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Good lord. What ARE you teaching these kids?"


The Big Idea of big ideas

Part I: Overview and background knowledge

"Welcome to English class, ladies and gentlemen.  We're going to learn a lot in this class."
"Excuse me, teacher.  What are we going to learn?"
"A lot."
"Well, right, you said.  But a lot of what?"
"A lot of English."
"Okay.  Well, I already know a lot of English.  Can I go?"

We've had key ideas of classes re-packaged and re-sold to us in so many ways, it's tough to know where to begin, or what action to take.  Here, to help the confused and unwary, a brief overview of everything.

(Caveat lector:  This goes on for a while.  Only click through if you have some time on your hands.)
(Special note to education students: The definitions below appear in none of your textbooks.  If you use them on your tests, your professor will fail you.  On the other hand, the business college is always ready to take dropouts from the other schools, and I hear they pay their interns.) 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Articles like this get my goat

From the local rag:

"Here is the list of Kalamazoo-area schools that failed to make AYP."

In all fairness, I know that the author, Julie Mack, is generally a proponent of public education, although sometimes it would be hard for a casual observer to tell.  On her blog  published not six hours later, she calls for a reform of NCLB.  Even in this article, she doesn't necessarily do anything wrong--she presents the information as it exists, in as succinct a form as the language will permit.

But when a parent reads this article, what they see is "Your school failed."  When an opponent of public education (or an "education reformer") reads this article, they see "Public schools fail."  Then there are the comments.  (I try not to read the comments in my local rag, because they inevitably infuriate me.  I understand that this is a common pattern among the comment section of newspapers online.  I read the first one on accident.)

Look, I'm on the data train.  I think we need good data to make the right decisions.  All stakeholders in education (which, the first comment on the "Your School Failed" article reminds me, is everyone) should have access to information about the achievement of their schools.  Saying that all schools are wonderful! obviously doesn't make schools better places.  There is no need to sugar-coat our shortcomings.  There's no reason we shouldn't ask the community for input on how to improve, and every reason to do so. 

This kind of thing, however, doesn't further that conversation in any meaningful way.  It casts aspersions in the guise of providing information.  It takes as its premise a flawed idea, the idea that naming and shaming is the first best tool for school improvement.  To reiterate, I'm certain that this is not what Ms. Mack intends to do, but I don't know that a reader could help but to see it as an accusation.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A timely webcomic

I don't remember if I've re-posted XKCD comics before.  But Randall Munroe is one of my favorite webcomic authors, and he often has keen insights.

Friday's was especially timely.  As I mentioned, on Thursday and Friday I went to a training (along with an extraordinary number of St. Joseph County's best and brightest) on Marzano's Formative Assessments and Standards-based Grading.  One of the key ideas of Thursday's training is that a traditional, letter-grade-based-on-a-100%-scale grading system is almost useless, and that averaging grades together is no way to show a student what she has learned.  (Friend and regular commenter Ray told me so in a comment in an earlier post.) 

Friday morning's XKCD:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another educator who does everything better than me...

...writes a blog better than I do.

Peter Pappas's blog Copy / Paste seems full of practical suggestions to do the kinds of things I want to do in my classes: project-based learning, student-centered and student-directed educational practices, critical thinking skills crammed into everything, clear and effective communication skills.  I was introduced to him through Larry Ferlazzo's blog.

Some favorite posts so far:

First day of school? Here's how to get students thinking.  Instead of passing out books, going over rules, etc., give your students an engaging puzzle to solve that involves communication and analytical thinking.  And then, just for kicks, have them think reflectively about the whole experience.

A taxonomy of reflection.  An application of Bloom's taxonomy of thinking to reflecting on learning.  This is the first of a four-part series.  It's an interesting framework for reflection.

Teachers, have the courage to be less helpful.  4 key points on how to make your classroom more student-centric.

How to tell a story: Five rules for better writing.  Actually a cross-post from someone else, but still good.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The trouble with grades

How many times have I written about grades?  (Well, Señor, if you were better about tagging your posts, you'd be able to find out.)  I'm brushing up my syllabi for the coming school year, and I'm pleased to note that relatively little needs changing for the first week or two of school.  This is excellent, and now I can focus on the other 34 weeks of school.  I feel like I'm in a position, finally, to begin with the end in mind.  (If you parse that sentence carefully, it's full of false assumptions, logical inconsistencies, two or three confessions of less-than-best practice, and possibly a spelling mistake.) 

One of the things we did in teacher college (I say it that way to liken it to "clown college," a slightly more prestigious organization) was to write out course-long rubrics.  "An A student in this class will have these attributes and display these skills and knowledge..." on down to at least a C student.  We stopped at C because evidently D students weren't worth defining; they were defined as the not-quite-critical absence of the skills that made all the other students A, B, or C students, I guess.

Now I'm doing that for my 2nd-year Spanish students.  This is an exercise I engage in periodically.  It's based heavily on ACTFL performance standards.  But they just don't fit nicely into grading categories.  At the end of year 2 of high school Spanish, according to the state, students should be performing at a Novice High level of communicative ability: able to function in familiar, formulaic communicative settings, with limited re-formulation of the language.  So, if that's the minimum required skill level, does that become a D-?  A C?  A B?  An A?  At what point am I penalizing students for not being outstanding? 

I'm going to a training on Thursday and Friday.  We're going to work on one of Marzano's books, I don't remember which off the top of my head, which talks about grading in a standards-based system.  Hopefully I'll know more after that. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Advocating for our profession

More on this later:

Monday, August 1, 2011

That's a little more like it

This is what I like to see from the national-level leader of education in our country.  (We can debate how important the national-level leader is in a system as de-centralized as ours some other time.)  He says that teachers should start out making around $60,000 a year, and end their careers making around $150,000.  We all know that he has been pushing a great many of the "reforms" that are so odious to teachers' unions: relaxed charter schools, increased "accountability" for teachers (and apparently some school-level administrators, as well), merit pay, etc.  With this speech to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, he indicates his awareness that under current circumstances, there is no reason for any competent person to become a teacher.  He also noted the political improbability of making that happen.
The teacher leader in me says that it's nice to see a national figure recognize something the appropriate value of teachers.  The cynic says that it's nice to see a national figure make a symbolic buy-off that will score political points without costing anyone anything.

Every year, at the district I last worked at, the superintendent took Teacher Appreciation Week seriously.  He and his wife would spend the week before that preparing little tokens of appreciation--satchels with messages of support, lapel pins of acorns ("The mightiest oak tree grows from an acorn"), and the like.  One day during that week he would make breakfast for the staff.  He would give a three-sentence speech, in effect saying, "I wish I could show my appreciation by paying you thousands of dollars, but instead I made you pancakes.  Thanks for all your hard work."  And we would all eat.

I've heard the wish for thousands of dollars, Secretary Duncan.  Now I'm waiting for my pancakes.