Saturday, May 21, 2016

Flexible Pathways are not that well understood

For the nerds out there:
The text of ACT 77.
State DOE Introduction to the Law.
State DOE's Flexible Pathways webpage.

What the law says, in essence, is that schools must accept (acknowledge) and give high school credit to learning that takes place in a non-traditional setting. For example, a passage from the introduction lays out some of the possibilities for this outside-the-box learning:
Act 77 explicitly references several types of experiences that may become components in a PLP. These include: “applied or work-based learning opportunities, including career and technical education and internships; virtual learning and blended learning; dual enrollment opportunities ...; and early college programs ...” While there is an expectation that each of these categories of learning experiences will become more readily available to more students, this should not be seen as placing a limit on the possibilities that may be included in a student’s flexible pathway to graduation. (emphasis mine).
These internships, or college courses, or dual-enrollment opportunities are all at the course level and this is where the confusion comes in.

The way so many people are misinterpreting this law is in thinking it requires or even suggests that teachers must allow for different assessments for each student within a course. A fellow teacher was speaking to me (working through his own thinking, really; I was merely a sounding board) about a student who flat-out refused to take a history test -- he didn't like the course format of typed papers (Google docs), and tests with hand-written short answer and multiple choice questions. He wanted to make a video or a Powerpoint, I can't really recall which.

If you listen to my admin and others, the PLP aspect of the law would require my colleague to accede to the request. I've been told on several occasions that (paraphrased) "Flexible pathways requires that we give students the opportunity to prove proficiency in many different ways in your course.

That's flatly not the case.
Personalization is also manifested through the expectation that students will be able to engage in “flexible pathways to graduation,” defined as “any combination of high-quality academic and experiential components leading to secondary school completion and post-secondary readiness.” This concept is not to be confused with the idea that students choose from a limited menu of pathways that are pre-designed by educators. Rather, the emphasis is on “any combination of high-quality academic and experiential components.”

The drafters of the legislation chose their words carefully, always referring to  "high-quality academic and experiential components" and reiterating that the components would include "Work-Based Learning, Career and Technical Education, Virtual/Blended Learning, Dual Enrollment, and Early College." They intended to allow for non-traditional "courses," not to allow student to veto any assignment they didn't like and switch it out for something else.

In fact, they come right out and say it in the bill:
(d) An individual entitlement or private right of action shall not arise from creation of a personalized learning plan.
Individual districts may change the intent of the law to include in-class variations and treating children differently whenever they throw a temper tantrum, or get their parents to tell the school that home Internet service is "cancelled because the Internet is making children stupid" and demanding that there be no online components to a math class (true story). If the district decides that, I'm going to follow that ruling, but not because the law said so.

Crazy Lady Showed Up to Preach

Nothing says Spring in Vermont quite like the arrival of the flowers, the greening of the mountains, and the chirping of crazy people in the parking lot.  We're all about free speech up here. You can say all that, even though some of it's "fightin' words", and we'll simply ask you to move to the sidewalk.

Instead of railing at students who couldn't care less and making them uncomfortable unnecessarily, why not work to change the conditions that created the problems you see? 

Oh, wait, you're a bigoted asswipe with an ego and a religion that doesn't actually care about people..

My bad.

Monday, May 16, 2016

No Bells - part two. Focus

I ran across an article: School Bells Interfere With Learning but unfortunately it has some points backwards. It misinterprets much of the what and why of bells and classes. Let me explain.
"... because we partition students into neat packages called subjects, they are implicitly taught that learning is something we do in compartments."
Actually, this is called focus (or uni-tasking) and we aren't partitioning the students at all. We're separating the subjects for three reasons: so the students can concentrate on one thing at a time, so that the most competent teachers for each subject can teach them and so the students don't have to have the exact same schedule of learning - each is able to specialize in his or her own way.

It's a NEW IDEA called differentiating.

Since students aren't going through the day in lockstep with all of their classmates, we must keep to a schedule so that everyone's time and preparation can be utilized most effectively.
If you try and introduce a little bit of another subject in your subject, students object, saying "This isn't English, Mr. Wees. Teach us Mathematics." (I've actually had students tell me that). Where in the real world is learning sectioned off like this?
Frankly, everywhere. Learning is always focused on one topic. When was the last time you attended a college class called "College Algebra and British Lit as used in Cobol programming?" Teaching at the elementary grades is cross-curricular by nature. The higher you rise, the more likely you're going to specialize. Not only is each student's course mix different but the levels are, too. One freshman may take Honors Algebra2, Spanish 3 and H.English but the other takes CP English, CPAlgebra1 and Spanish1.

Then, there's competence. I can teach Physics and any level of math, but I'd be fooling myself if I thought I could do Biology, History or Latin. I hate it when some other teachers try to teach math because they invariably screw up and I'm sure the English teachers would complain about my writing style. Even within a certification area, teachers have strengths and weaknesses. Some teachers are great with Geometry and others aren't.  Calculus is beyond many and some don't have the patience for pre-algebra or consumer math.
"Mathematics do English (and other languages) when they explain their discoveries to other people. Biologists use geography to decide where to start their research. All of what we learn is interconnected, and more of these connections need to made obvious to the students. This is not easy to do in a school with nine 45 minute separate blocks."
Ignoring the grammatical weirdness, this is the crux of his problem. Just because we are dealing with a vast interconnected world doesn't mean that the best way to learn is by studying the whole thing all at once. The connections cannot be made clear to students until the students understand the two (or more) things that are being connected.

There is also a huge difference between "learn" and "use." I use English to explain my thoughts on math but that doesn't mean I can teach English and it doesn't mean that mixing math and English will improve the learning of either. (Educational pundits went to school but that doesn't mean they know how to fix it, either, but I digress.)

The argument that connections can't be made in 45 minute blocks is precisely the reason many schools went to 90 blocks. Not that it helped anything.
"Maybe we should even rethink how we schedule kids, and consider other instructional models. There are schools where there are no bells, no classes like what you would see in a traditional school, just kids (and adults) learning."
I want a school with no classes.
Cliche alert! 

When will otherwise well-meaning people realize that the vast bulk of their students are not "natural students" who, "unlike themselves", have greater interest outside of the classroom than in?

There's a reason that these schools are few ... they don't work for most kids.

The "no bells, no classes" scenario ... there's also no learning. These schools are filled with the spoiled rotten children of money. In return for the kid's chance to pretend to learn, the schools pretend to give them an education, whitewashing over the fact that the kids have little interest in anything and school is below "nothing" on their lists.

The teachers think they're being "cutting edge" and "understanding" and the school is "so 21st century" that your head might burst from the fuzzy good feelings. I've seen this kind of school go straight into the tank. Fortunately for the kids, their parents have plenty of money because that education isn't cutting the mustard.

Those kids who can do the "unschooling" kind of thing are the ones who could pick up a "Perl for Dummies" book and teach themselves programming over the weekend. They also tend to have parents who take the place of the school.

Those aren't your kids. Or my students.

Work is Not the Enemy

Doesn’t it seem strange that we can have a shortage of skilled labor, a crumbling infrastructure, and 6% unemployment? How did we get into this fix? Are we lazy?

All around us, society has slowly redefined what it means to have a “good job.” The portrayals in Hollywood, and the messages from Madison Avenue have been unmistakable. “Work less and be happy!” For the last thirty years, we’ve been celebrating a different kind of work. We’ve been aspiring to other opportunities. We’ve stopped making things.

We’ve convinced ourselves that “good jobs” are the result of a four year degree. That’s bunk. Not all knowledge comes from college. Skill is back in demand. Steel toed boots are back in fashion. And Work is Not the Enemy.

(channeling Mike Rowe.)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

What's high school for?

In May of 2011, Seth Godin asked: What's high school for?

"Perhaps we could endeavor to teach our future the following:
  1. How to focus intently on a problem until it's solved.
  2. The benefit of postponing short-term satisfaction in exchange for long-term success.
  3. How to read critically.
  4. The power of being able to lead groups of peers without receiving clear delegated authority.
  5. An understanding of the extraordinary power of the scientific method, in just about any situation or endeavor.
  6. How to persuasively present ideas in multiple forms, especially in writing and before a group.
  7. Project management. Self-management and the management of ideas, projects and people.
  8. Personal finance. Understanding the truth about money and debt and leverage.
  9. An insatiable desire (and the ability) to learn more. Forever.
  10. Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving.

Not a bad list, I suppose.  Goals, if you will. They're good goals, obviously, but if the Internet is any evidence, very little of this seems to be necessary to survive in America as an adult. To thrive is another matter.

You can make the case for each of these being necessary in the RealWorldtm, but how many am I responsible for and can they be taught? How many should a high school graduate be proficient at before setting off and can we as educators stop them if they haven't demonstrated each one?

The first one. "Focus intently".  Exactly how do I teach that except by setting consequences for not focusing intently enough, or for not solving a problem quickly enough? That seems wrong. Too many kids will quit under the pressure. We can talk "grit" all we want. We can add this into our ever-expanding list of "Transferable Skills" and demand proficiency. We can bluster and pontificate but the student who falls short through ADHD or a conflict with a teacher ...

Postponing short-term satisfaction for long-term gain is a laudable trait. Pretending to teach it and measure it is unworkable. This will be a "Yeah, check that box and move on" situation. I can see the rubric now:
Proficient with distinction: "Held off eating the marshmallow for thirty minutes before succumbing."
"Reading critically" is a phrase that sounds intelligent but falls short in practice. You cannot teach students how to read critically. You can tell them of tricks to reading but that stops being productive quickly. High school kids CAN read; what they need is the background knowledge and worldly experience to be able to tell which parts of that text are bullshit.  They need extensive science courses to refute the VERY compelling counter-arguments. It's difficult to counter anti-vaxxers, for example, if you don't understand biology, chemistry, and probability and statistics. It's difficult to convince them if you haven't got a good handle on psychology, too. Fools are so damned good at being fools.

Being able to "lead". I like that one. Expecting every teenager to lead, or even work collaboratively with peers, is a fool's mission though.  Few kids are competent at what they do - that's why they are learning. As I've said before, learning is not the time for collaboration. Working with already learned information is the time collaboration can happen. Beyond collaboration, leading, is not for every kid.

Understanding the scientific method is why we have them take science. Not my fault if Organized Religion seems to be actively fighting that every step of the way.

Understanding this leads to
understanding self-management.
Multiple-form presentation - definitely. First, though, the kid needs to know those various methods and know all the things he wants to talk about. That's why we teach them Foreign Languages, English, Science, History, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics (FLESH TEAMS).

Project management - how much of this should we leave until after the foundation work is done? Science Fair is a great example of this. Give them the background, then have them experiment. I'm totally for doing science fair -- I think the parents do a wonderful job with those boards.

The expectation of universal self-management is a pipe dream for teenagers. There's a reason they're not allowed to rent a car, smoke cigarettes, take a pill without supervision, ... the works. They're learning self-management. College kids don't even have it yet. Hell, many adults don't have it yet. How much of society do you expect me to solve here?

Ah, yes. Consumer skills. Personal finance. The "Truth" about money. Kids know how many things work - and don't care about the rest yet. They get the idea of "I earn money. I save money. I spend it on rebuilding that 1959 Studebaker." Whenever my admin talks about "Consumer Skills", it's usually a stupid reaction to "Kids can't write a check" or "Look at the College Debt Crisis -- We need to teach them how to avoid that!"  I'm here to tell you they aren't that stupid ... and nobody understands how to make a amortization schedule, not even the bankers. 

"Life-long learner." What a meaningless cliché. All that aside, how exactly does one tell if a student is a life-long learner if he's only just beginning his life? Is that diploma retractable? Do we call him up in 30 years and send a repo squad for it if he hasn't learned something in the last ten weeks?

"Most of all, the self-reliance that comes from understanding that relentless hard work can be applied to solve problems worth solving."  Bottom line, looking at every graduate I've shaken hands with as they walked back down the aisle,
If you give them a problem they NEED to solve, they'll be just fine.
I look at this list, and many like it, and I shudder when I think of the teachers who will be pushed into focusing on this at the expense of teaching content. You can't think critically without knowing something to think about. You can't teach many of these non-measurable skills (which doesn't make them unimportant) but unless you stop expecting teachers to measure the unmeasurable in order to provide accountability to those who have no idea what schools are supposed to do, you're only perpetuating the problems we face.

End of Rant. Thanks for reading.

I've got to get back to work.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ego of the Ignorant

Self-centered world-view ("I don't need it so neither do you.") coupled with ignorance of the many negative effects on those children who could have accomplished something.

It's the evil twin of "I don't DO math."

Having taught SATprep for many years, I can tell you that the English side of this test isn't very hard - and easier for adults than for teenagers who haven't had as much experience in literature nor the practice in writing. The math side does contain topics that are obscure if you aren't currently enrolled in Algebra II, so I can understand that part.

Tragic, really. What strikes me the most is that this was retweeted so much with comments like "You're my hero!" 

I call shenanigans.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

It's nearly time for graduation and you know what that means ... more bitching about grades and discipline and willful teenagers being allowed to walk with their class (or not). It's also time for everyone to comment on what the seniors are wearing beneath their robes. 

Did I say "seniors"? I meant "female seniors" because the boys wear a dark color and the girls wear white ... a white robe made of cheap satin and quite translucent. When a boy wears a black Batman t-shirt, no one can tell. If a girl wears anything other than a plain white t-shirt, the colors show right through. It's like that girl at the right wearing a blue striped shirt. If she dares to wear a colorful bra that shows around the straps of her halter top under the robe ... well, "That just won't do."

That's right, an all-covering robe isn't enough. If admin can see the bra strap or the pink Hello Kitty t-shirt through the cheap-ass fabric ... go change. Instead of simply ordering a better robe or letting the seniors choose which color to wear, admin decides to change tradition because of colored t-shirts.

"All seniors in the dark color."

By The Way, they forgot to mention this to the school board, community, parents, and until recently, the seniors themselves.

Now, I'm still okay with things at this point. Elegant solution to discrimination, clothing and dress code issues, blah, blah, blah. Those cheap white robes were terrible. If this had stopped there, I wouldn't be complaining, and neither would most everyone else.

White robes too clear = everyone go in dark color. Nobody would have given a damn.

See? Easy.
HOWEVER, when you are in a conservative and still very hide-bound and occasionally discriminatory school district, and are considering making a change to a long-time tradition such as the color of the graduation robes (decades-old tradition), the very last thing you should do as an admin is remark that it will also help you with the LBGT kids problem.

God dammit.

Now, instead of a simple sartorial decision, everyone starts looking around for someone to bitch at and about ... and so they did. Some blame the LGBT kids for forcing a change (they didn't); the old assholes are talking about how those damn LGBTs are so entitled (they aren't); how there's something wrong with them anyway; why can't they just accept the color we've chosen for them and be happy about it; we're not even comfortable with them in the ceremony anyway. Other seniors are adding to the pressure. You'd think the color white was more important than the diploma and we were still in the 1960s.


When are we gonna learn?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The New Math Wars

by James Tanton

Monday, December 21, 2015


Just a quick question ...

With everything that goes on in a public school these days, why has actual teaching been shuffled so far down the list of priorities, behind:
  • Fire Drill/Police Dog Drug Search
  • Professional Development
  • Addressing Damage in the Bathrooms
  • Sports in all its forms (mostly afternoon disruptions, but we're coming up on skiing and snowboard season, and spring has golf ... 8am meets and competitions are the norm.
  • "Pardon the interruption for this announcement."
  • Service Organizations.
  • Class Fundraising going door-to-door.
  • Class Meetings 
  • Pep Rallies
  • Anti-Bad Things Assemblies
  • Teacher Education/School Visits/conferences/workshops
  • Principal doing Teacher Evaluations (Major disruption when he sits clicking his laptop)
  • Anything the Administration finds on their calendars.
  • Send the kids to the office if they're late ... to get a pass and come back to class.
  • Talk to the kid in trouble, set up a detention ... for missing class.
  • Meeting with the State College Scholarship rep who tells them they need to be sure they're attending class. Said meeting happens during class.
  • Anti-Drug counselor pulls them to have them sit in her comfy chair and eat cookies.
  • Volunteer Fire Department Rescue calls.
  • Field Trips for non-academic things.
  • Family vacations and appointments.
  • Illnesses that mysteriously occur on test days.
  • Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice. Inservice.
"Give them the assignment so they can make up the work. We'll be out all week."

"This is the only time we could schedule 'Bodybuilders Against Drugs' and I didn't want to let the opportunity pass by."

"I think everyone in the department should attend this workshop."

You might point out that teacher education and workshops and school visits are intended to improve the overall teaching and improve the school. I worry that the professional development is explicitly expected to take a couple of years to come to full fruition ... and this is the only education these kids will get.

Sure, I can take the long view, but what of that senior?  What will replace this year for her if we continually mess with it? It's part of what lead to my previous rant about research.  I WANT to use the best ideas, but I don't care to spend a lot of time trying to winnow out the chaff and uncover the lone jewel of future glory at the expense of the students I already have.

I'm expressly NOT wishing for repetitive, boring, lock-step, soul-crushing monotony. This isn't a prison and can't be run like one. That's not what this is about. It's about predictability and finding security in knowing what's coming and when, and that school, unlike many of their homes, is about habits of mind and habits of behavior and learning everything you can while it's still free.

You might think it silly, but knowing that "Every Friday is a quiz in History" is actually comforting to a majority of students. The worst thing in a high school is to change everything suddenly. When you call "everyone out to the courtyard for an impromptu dance to relieve stress", you frustrate everyone who was just about to get to work, you get the ADHD kids going on something new at the exact wrong time, and you raise the anxiety levels of everyone.

It's easy to sit in an office and look at a shiny new workshop proposal and find a blank day on the calendar to schedule it in isolation, but that's messing with the rhythm of the school. When there's no rhythm in a school, there's no soul and no quiet confidence.

When did teaching move so far down the list of priorities?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hey Researchers!

Hey researchers. you know what would be cool?

How about if you settle some questions for us?  I've been in education a long time and I've heard what seems like infinite variations on the same questions, along with what seems like infinite new thoughts that came out of the blue.  Every time our principal or superintendent goes to a conference or a workshop, it seems they bring back a new idea, a new structure, a new way of doing things that "research has shown" to be the shiny new penny of educational thought.

When you look a little deeper, you find it was done on 65 elementary students in NYC ... and you're supposed to try and develop curricula for your 10th grade math classes that follows this brand spanking new paradigm.

Answers are NOT overrated. The whole point of research is to answer a question, either to prove or disprove it. Research that is only about finding something new is exploration, and while it does have it's purpose, it's not what we need in this country at this time in this industry.

We have lots of new ideas. I, for one, am sick of all of them. What we don't need is more new ideas to be trotted out, forced on the students and faculty, only to be replaced when the fashion statement of the month changes.

What we do need is to weed out the bad ideas, the bad policies, and the bad science that we already are following, used to follow and are considering going back to, or that we might consider in the future.

If you simply MUST develop new ideas and new ways of doing things, please in the name of anything you find holy, write the results down and save them for the next round of research on that topic.  

Researchers!  Instead of thinking of brand new things, how about you settle a few debates?

I know. It's boring.  You want to be "Fresh!" and "New!" and "Creative!" and here I'm asking you to determine the pros and cons of Semester Block vs 4x4 Block vs 40 min (8periods) vs 50 minutes (7periods).

That would be helpful.

Do a lot of research on it. Use a lot of schools and do it with HS students.  Settle the debate we're having at every goddamned school in the country and settle it so definitively that we can all tell our principals to go pound sand if they say something stupid. And make the research available so we can actually read it?

That would be helpful.

How about Proficiency-Based Grading and Graduation Requirements?  Do they work? If so, what did they look like when they did work and when they didn't? Is this just Standards Based Grading updated with a shiny new name for the new decade or is there really something good here?

How about getting into whether we should be taking statewide tests or home-grown final exams?

How about the use of technology in the early grades; in middle grades; in high school?

Don't tell me about your cutting edge research if it doesn't involve multiple grades and a full range of socio-economic levels encompassing thousands of students taking all the courses. (At least tell me what those grades are, in a font just as large as the headline.)

Don't tell me that research has shown that you shouldn't teach the subtraction algorithm ... unless you also tell me that the research was done exclusively on k-4th graders and was somewhat inconclusive.

Why not?  If you remember, I don't teach k-4 grades and my classes really should know the algorithm.

Hattie does this kind of thing all the time and my principals eat it up. Hattie puts out results with this really precise measurement that isn't very accurate. Why is nearly all of Hattie the stuff of nightmares for HS teachers?

Because our principals can't read. They see a big shiny number and say "We should do that, too."

They don't take the time to delve into the conditions of the research and merely assume that we should be changing RIGHT NOW so they can retain their jobs.

My district has gone to a half-day inservice every week to develop new initiatives .. and that's messing up the students something fierce.  We faculty, in the meantime, are going nowhere fast, wandering through tedious and worthless makework that the curriculum coordinator dreams up. Ill-defined terms, vague promises that "This will all make sense" and exercises that belong in a 6th grade classroom the day before Christmas break, all combine to make us want to tear our hair out.

Show me something that WORKED and let me build from that.  If it doesn't work, we need to have some way of reporting that back to the same researchers so others won't have to go through the same disruption and failure.

EVERY school that tries your new idea is now part of the research; all data should be kept. It never is ... in fact education is the only field where all of the research is case-control, the selection bias is ignored, the publication bias is widespread, and the results don't ever seem to matter ... all while the subjects of the research suffer through another set of changes and failures in the vague hope by the administrators that "Someday, we get it right." I'm here to tell you that "Someday" hasn't arrived yet.

My only consolation is that we're not experimenting on my kids.

"But it's backed by research!"

Yeah, show me. Prove it.

In the meantime, I've got to get back to work.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Foolish Consistency

A discussion with a student at the end of a calculus class began with her saying "I feel that I didn't learn my fractions AT ALL in middle school and elementary school." It made me laugh a little because she was, in the same breath, saying how confident she felt about them now.

And we all know where the errors in calculus are ...

But, her next comment nestled in nicely with something that's been festering in my brain for a while. "My teacher last year had us use calculators way more than you do. He wanted decimal answers instead of √2, decimals instead of fractions. I think I like fractions better than decimals now." (I'm paraphrasing, here.)

Coincidentally, I had had a discussion with him the previous day about why I had given an online quiz on simplifying radical expressions like √300 = 10√3. He didn't see the point while I feel that it's a good thing for algebra 2 students to understand and certainly within their wheelhouse. It helps build the understandings that I feel are important.  Additionally, it's on the SAT, ACT, AP.

His point, equally valid, is that the RealWorldtm is increasingly going digital, demanding numerical answers and using computers to run simulations and solve problems. The diagonal of a square is going to be measured as 14.14 feet, not 10√2 feet.

In reply to my student, I said "We're different ... we focus on slightly different things and both are necessary.  Neither is a better teacher and neither has all the answers, but by having had both you can now apply either approach as appropriate and as suits you.  It would be terrible if you always had the same teacher for your entire career and never saw another point of view, another frame of reference."

Why do I mention this now?

Her comment had resonated with me because we're currently in the process of converting the grading system to Proficiency-Based Grading, and Carnegie Units to Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements.

Transformations this extensive require long and elaborate discussions about how we measure, about what we measure, about how we justify our decisions to parents and colleges, and about how, whether, and when we teachers will measure.

Because our supervisory district administration aren't really teachers, and our curriculum coordinator used to teach elementary school and some MS social studies, everything must have a rubric or it isn't proper.  As well, everything we used to do was BAD and must be changed.

"We can't use the word 'Proficient' because it's not a growth word."
We're being asked, "Do we use a rubric?  Since your answer should be 'yes', which one of these four is the one you're all going to use?"

The fact that we spent nearly an hour discussing whether to use the word "proficient", "competent", or "skilled", and whether the top level would be modified with "highly", "advanced", or "with distinction" should give you a good idea of how divorced this all was from real students and real teaching. We never did finish that conversation, but we did begin to spend time arguing over whether the four levels should be considered five if there was a checkbox labelled "Not Enough Data to Measure" in addition to Highly 'word', 'word', Nearly 'word', Beginning 'word'.

The funny part is the explicit statement is that we will use the same rubric throughout the building, that every teacher, in every course, for every student, for every transferable skill (the non-content skills), will use the same rubric to determine proficiency.  If any measurement does not use the rubric, it isn't measured properly and cannot be defended as fair and consistent across the board.

This is foolish. A foolish consistency adored by little statesmen.

or, in this case, by administrators.

There are differences between students just as there are differences between teachers.  We cannot maintain absolute control over 18 year-old seniors in the same way we do 10 year-old elementary students. 8th-grade Algebra 1 needs a different approach than 11th-grade Informal Geometry. Some kids thrive on general questions that allow them to explore while others need more algorithmic approaches. We must allow some teachers to holistically judge an essay while others are focused on grammatical issues along with the content.

It wasn't that long ago we were all assured that it was right and proper to be adjusting our teaching to the "learning styles" of the students. Whatever happened to that?

Well, now we are to be consistent. Consistent in our teaching, consistent in our grading, consistent in our departments, consistent between departments, consistent across high schools in the SU.  Everyone consistent. Everyone using the same rubric ... as if a rubric were the only way and that rubric the only acceptable one.

Friends, the pendulum has swung towards "ROBOT", the French army is nowhere near Toledo, and the Inquisition is still safe from its enemies. I'm used to this quinquennial flip-flopping but I don't have to like it.

The Inquisition Administration has looked at teaching and decided that everyone needs to be consistent.  That's pure, unadulterated, bull.

The only consistency we should expect should be within a course ... but even that is muddied by IEPs, behavior plans, 504s, and other, very necessary, adjustments.

Here's the important point: Differences are GOOD.

Diversity in background is GOOD. Differences in approach are GOOD. Sure, you need to have a progression through the department that includes everything you've deemed important, but you also need to have individuals and their strengths.

Way back in the depths of time, when I was in high school, Mr. Corbin would just look at my essay and declare it a "B".  I thought him harsh until I looked at everyone else's in our little complaint session afterwards ... lo and behold, that "B" paper of mine was not as well written as John's "A" paper and was better than Peter's "C" paper.

When it came time to take English from Mr. Clark, we knew the rules changed.  Every grammatical error, no matter how insignificant, meant a full letter grade down.  One spelling mistake turned an "A" paper to a "B" paper.   To add to our teenaged angst, it was timed and, while we knew what day we'd be doing this, we didn't know the topic.  We would walk into the class on Wednesday, see the topic on the board, and then have 45 minutes to produce a page-and-a-half essay. (college-ruled, of course -- not of that wide-lined crap.)

Oh, how we bitched about that ...

... but we did learn to write. 

Was Mr. Clark a better teacher?  I would argue that he was because of his amazing command of the topic and the stories he could tell and the standards he set, but part of what made him good was the preparation we all got from Corbin and the fact that the two men were different. Corbin introduced us to American Lit. Clark introduced us to writers; Thoreau, and Frost, and Jacob Bronowski.  Corbin didn't mark down for minor grammatical mistakes; Clark did. We were students; we adapted. That's what you do.

"Yes, you can borrow this copy of Robert Frost's poetry, but make sure you give it back ... he and I wrote to each other by sending this book back and forth and making margin notes. I'm fond of it."
Trying to impose consistency on these two gentlemen would have been foolish and counter-productive.

Trying to impose a common rubric for AP Calculus and 7th-grade civics is foolish and counter-productive.

Trying to impose consistency even within our department is foolish and counter-productive. He's a math major; I'm an engineer; of course we look at things differently.

He uses the calculators more than I do; I ask for more mental math than he does. "Who's better?" misses the point that, over the course of four years, students get both.

"Who's better?" Why would you even ask that question?

In the long run, I suppose, it doesn't really matter what gets decided in these silly little meetings.  I intend to use the AP scoring style for AP calculus, a variation of it for Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus and I will probably do many of the same things that I've been doing for years ... the successful things, at least. I don't think I'll ever stop changing subtly.

And that's the point.  When I find something good, an idea from another math teacher or even one of the curriculum people, I insert it into the folder. As it becomes relevant, I work it into the daily routine or the once-a-week, or whatever.

When it comes time to taking advice on how to teach high school math, though, I don't have much tolerance for people who have never taught anyone older than 12 and who couldn't describe a data set graphically if I did it for them ... and they're going to tell me the words I must use and the forms I must use and the rubric I will use to declare proficiency in standards that we haven't even decided upon yet?

Thanks for Reading.
I've got to get back to work.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Young Girl Learns Nothing.

I love the caption: "A young girl learns how to hold an airsoft gun during Youth Day at the NRA's annual meeting in Houston on May 5, 2013."

If anyone were paying attention, they would notice that the little girl is probably not learning anything; she's completely distracted by the things on the table.

Pretty much sums up the NRA and its vaunted training programs.

Friday, November 27, 2015