Monday, May 25, 2015

Working in Isolation vs Collaboration

from Dangerously Irrelevant:
Joe Bower said:
I would never ask students to complete anything that is worth doing in complete isolation from their peers, parents, books, or the Internet. I’ve worked hard to encourage my students to see collaboration as a critical characteristic of learning.
I would never lock my students in a closet, forcing them to do meaningless work for years and letting them eat only a small bowl of thin porridge each day. That's the way that reductive capitalism works: a sweatshop producing clothing for Walmart, not the education that we desire in this country. 

Joe is, unfortunately, making the same mistake that almost all "Collaboration Uber Alles" proponents make. There are three stages to learning in my view; true collaboration is appropriate and achievable in only one of them.

First, a definition: Collaboration is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals. Good enough to begin with.

The First Stage
First Stage Learning.
  • The first stage of education is learning the basics, learning the foundation work upon which the understanding can be built. If we are examining A-SSE.2, multiplication of polynomials is required before we can possibly recognize and utilize structure in expressions. You need to have done this first part before being able to recognize that x² - y² is equivalent to (x+y)(x-y). 
  • This is strictly solo work in that the student must be doing the learning. The teacher and classmates can explain, describe, tutor, re-explain ... but acquiring this preliminary knowledge is the job of the individual. No one else can master it for him, they can only master it for themselves. 
  • Collaboration does not exist at this stage, only parallel learning. Peer coaching is not collaboration, but a "multiple-teacher" scenario. This is where formative assessment is appropriate because we absolutely do NOT want any misunderstandings to be introduced or practiced or internalized — errors must be fixed here before they are ingrained.
  • The Internet, their peers, parents, books, are useful in that they are teachers with varying degrees of understanding ranging from competent to utterly and absolutely wrong. The "wrong" can be misguided, such as the videos put up by well-meaning folks who say that the order of operations is "multiply first, then divide", thinking 30 ÷ 2 * 3 equals 5 instead of 45. The "wrong" can also be peers playing a joke, such as the "friend" who says that 26 ÷ 65 equals 2/5 because you can cancel the sixes. Of course, the "wrong" can be malicious or deluded, such as the folks who claim that the Earth is 6000 years old.

Andrew Old:
"If you want to learn how to cooperate effectively with others, then the last place you’d start is in a group of teenagers being made to do school work. This is like saying the best way to learn how to make pork sausages is by being imprisoned in a pig farm with a half-dozen rabbis. Putting together people who are neither experienced at doing something, or particularly inclined to want to do it, is not how you learn to do that something."
The Second Stage 
  • The second stage is the time when we take that basic knowledge and develop it, building the deeper understandings that are our goal. Some collaboration happens at this stage, but mostly the individual is exploring, researching, expanding the understandings that are the point of this whole thing.
  • Again, the peer-to-peer work that is happening here is less "learning" and more taking turns questioning, extending the idea (does x4 - y4 behave in a similar fashion?) Where else can we go with this? 
  • The Internet, peers, parents, etc., are still not collaboration, but they do contribute to the student's learning. In fact, this is the ideal time for students to see other points of view, watch different explanations and determine the correlations and reconcile the differences. I encourage watching Khan at this point with the question, "What do you think of his explanation?"
At the end of Stage Two is the usual spot for summative assessment, the dreaded chapter test. Why "dreaded"? Because the students have JUST internalized it but rarely are comfortable with it yet. Done properly, though, the chapter test is often the fusion of all of the disparate details, the time when the students have to put everything together. I often hear students say that "Now I understand."

It's also why I allow retakes, because I feel that understanding on a deadline is less important than being able to say at the end of the course "You know Algebra 2".  I suppose this is the essence of Proficiency-Based Learning, but I have never liked re-labeling what we do in order to pretend that we are reforming.
The Third Stage
Re-purposed wrecking ball.
  • The third stage of learning is the time when students get comfortable with their understandings, where they extend an idea, test it, and revise it themselves, where they produce a product, something new — to themselves at least, if not to the teacher or the world, but there are certainly cases in which the work was completely new, an invention or discovery.
  • This is the only place where collaboration is actually realistic. Since I define "collaboration" as "multiple students working on the same project, contributing to each phase of the work and trusting each other to complete their respective parts", I cannot see collaboration as the time when you are learning the material, but as the time when you take that learning and produce something.
We must discuss Alfie Kohn:
“I want to see what you can do, not what your neighbor can do” is really just code for “I want to see what you can do artificially deprived of the skills and help of the people around you. Rather than seeing how much more you can accomplish in a well-functioning team that’s more authentic like real life.”
If we are discussing education, then I absolutely DO want to know what you can do, what you have learned and internalized. How else am I to re-teach, help, differentiate?

Joe Bower, again:
"In the real world, there simply aren’t that many times you are expected to solve a problem or perform a task in complete isolation – and even if you were, it would be awfully archaic to refuse you the opportunity to reach out for the help you needed to get the task done.
In the RealWorld that I've been a part of, there is not a single company that didn't expect a baseline level of knowledge and understanding. They have no interest in an employee who can't work alone, or who can't do his part of a collaborative task. They don't want someone who needs to consult other resources constantly, in order to do the simplest of tasks. They want to know how good a resource you will be when someone has to ask you for help.

Bottom line:
  • Collaboration is students each working from knowledge and understanding to produce something together, sharing the work or parceling out pieces for each to work on simultaneously.
  • Collaboration is not a pathway to learning and often is detrimental to the learning process since many students leave the thinking and learning to the quickest in the group ... "He answered so I don't have to think about the question." or "I'll just repeat what she said."
  • Collaboration before all of the partners are proficient is counter-productive. If all participants aren't at the proficient point, there will be one who winds up doing most of the work in frustration, worried that her grades will slip because the quality of the product is below her standards.
  • Collaboration is not a substitute for teaching.
Thanks for reading. I've got to get back to work.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Things we need you to stop saying 4

I'm scheduled for a Tech conference.  This is one of the offerings:


I find this amazing, sad, depressing, and it pisses me off.

I find it amazing that any teacher doesn't know more about technology than students; decent and cheap personal computers that can play video and music and run Office software and play games, have been around for 20 something years now.  More basic machines like the TRS-80 and the PDP8 (with punch tape reader!) since the seventies.  The Internet has been a thing since '95 and smartphones since 2007.

What teacher doesn't know tech at this point? Are there really people that backwards and stupid who don't know Office, and video games and .... a concept of programming whether it's macros in word, Windows script, basic, html, php, javascript, excel .... Anything? Something? Do I know any of these people?

Yes, yes I do. And they're teachers.  That's the sad part. Sad because it seems like MOST of the teachers I deal with are technidiots. (Like that? I just made the word up.)

It's 2015 and this conference is charging $200 a day and this is the title of one hour's workshop and the title isn't considered odd or demeaning or out-of-place. That's depressing but not surprising.

Far too many teachers are STILL tech illiterate, even by comparison with their students.

Yes, I said it. The students are not "digital natives" endowed with magical tech-fu. They are mostly clueless about useful tech of all kinds. They're great at plugging in the computer and playing a video game, or installing Candy crush on their phones and mindlessly playing for hours, but that's not tech literate.  Sure, there are some who know more than I do, but not very many, and I'm not setting a particularly high bar.

So what pisses me off?

Holy shit!  I've been told that I can't teach unless I have certifications and continuing education in all forms of my field. I'm supposed to have lesson plans ready and write curriculum and proficiency based standards and differentiate my teaching.

Programming, apparently, doesn't require any of that.

Programming doesn't need expertise.

Programming is something the smart kid can teach for you.

Students helped with instruction and debugging. They addressed multiple languages and "no one knows the entire curriculum" and "all learn basics together".

What is this, an after school program at the Boys and Girls Club?

Teachers: Stop being idiots. Go learn how to program. Do your budget on Excel. Figure out how to center your words both vertically and horizontally in a Word document.

PD Leaders: Stop encouraging the technidiots.  It's not cute. It's not helpful, and we really need you to stop saying it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Things We Need you to Stop Saying, part 3

"We're trying to protect the children."

Lewis said that, so far, the district hasn't requested any passwords from students, but said that schools are in "the business of protecting kids."
"If there's a disruption to school, if there are threats or discrimination of any type that fall under bullying and harassment policies we have, we have to follow through and investigate," she said.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Things we Need You To Stop Saying, part two

"If we taught reading the way we have traditionally taught math, we would need to teach kids to read each individual book separately."

"A school board member said to me a while back:
Scott, I hear what you’re saying about active, hands-on, project-based learning. But I got to tell you, when I’m driving over a bridge, I want to have confidence that the people who designed and built it knew what they were doing. So if that takes a lot of practice on worksheets until students know their math and science, so be it.
I responded:
I agree that I don’t want the bridge collapsing under me either! If we want graduates who know how to build solid, long-lasting bridges, we absolutely can have them do a bunch of practice problems on worksheets until we think they know the math and science and we’ll hope that they will remember it later.
… (pause) …
Or we could have them build bridges.
… (pause) …
Who do you think will be better bridge builders?
How do we help our communities understand that authentic learning is possible?
from Scott MacLeod,

I have to ask a couple of questions.
  1. Are all of my students going to be building bridges? 
  2. Do the specific techniques of building bridges really translate to all of the "not yet invented" jobs of the 21st Century? 
  3. Isn't raw, pure math authentic, too?
The first two are silly questions, of course, because the setup and the response are in the form of a parable, never meant to be taken specifically ... usually. The third is something that far too many people refuse to acknowledge as true simply because they have little understanding of the topic.

Can I ever get specific in high school math?

Should my job be to provide the students with as broad a foundation as possible, with as few specifics as possible, or should I bring my engineering knowledge to the classroom and demand that everyone understand mathematics from the perspective of a mechanical engineer trained before the wide-spread and use of computers in classrooms, before the internet, before smartphones and smartboards, ... and if you ask some of my students, Before the Flood, too?

I am often reminded of this question when people tell me to bring the "RealWorld questions" into the classroom and the students, with varying degrees of certitude, tell me that "I'm never going to need to know that."

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jeb Bush's Florida Miracle

Here are two quotes from that WashPost article that I found informative:
In his first term, most of Jeb Bush’s efforts in education came in three areas: test-based accountability, private-school vouchers, and support for improved reading instruction. In 1999, Bush signed legislation that required annual testing of all children in grades 3-10, tied test scores to annual “A” through “F” labels assigned to local public and charter schools, and required retention of children in third grade if they did not meet critical scores in the state reading test or provide other evidence of reading skill. In the same year, the Florida legislature created two voucher programs, one tied to the state labeling of local public schools and the other available to children with disabilities. Bush also created the Florida Center for Reading Research in 1999, which used both state and federal funding to support classroom teachers and reading coaches.
 and this one:
Governor Bush and his allies generally point to fourth-grade reading as the most important story, and that is where one can see large increases in average scale scores, not only across cohorts of fourth-grade students but in comparison with the national sample of fourth-grade students. Between 1998 and 2013, Florida’s fourth graders rose from being quite a bit below the national average on the NAEP testing program to being well above the national average. You can quibble with testing samples and comparison issues, but this is an unambiguous good.
To which I say, "Really?"

Let me pull out one phrase from that first paragraph. "and required retention of children in third grade if they did not meet critical scores in the state reading test".

I sure can quibble with testing samples, especially when you throw a whopper of a lipstick-covered pig out there and pretend it's a gold-plated truffle.

I am not surprised that his fourth-grade scores rose after he retained kids in third grade if they weren't up to snuff. Every kid at that age will do better with one more year of reading training (and that FCRR was definitely a good idea) and one more year of maturity. Remember that, too, many of these retained kids were probably on the young side of the cut-off to enter first grade.

Later in the article, the researcher, Sherman Dorn, admits, "NAEP reading scores for Florida eighth graders slowly converged to the national average, with large bounces up and down across the years."

What bothers me is this line:
"The bottom line: Bush is correct that Florida’s children benefited from his time in office if children graduated high school at the end of fourth grade, and only evidence of general reading skills mattered. For most other independent test-score measures, the picture is less impressive."
 "Benefited from his time in office." And yet he immediately qualified it. Then there was this Q & A:
Q) So what was responsible for the fourth-grade rise in reading?
A) The most likely explanation is a combination of reading coaches hired in the boom years in Florida and the creation of the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR)."

To me, the evidence points to retention as a much larger factor. To the credit of the article author, she does add an important caveat in the last paragraph:
An important caveat: Looking at achievement gaps in NAEP and changes in those gaps is harder than you might think because some category definitions change, the demographics of children change (a higher proportion of children are eligible for free and reduced lunches than in the late 1990s), and once you look at differences in scores (gaps) and changes in those differences, the standard errors of those measures expand from the standard errors in the mean scale scores. The numbers above are far less precise than one might assume; for example, while the changes in achievement gaps by lunch-program eligibility and disability status are meaningful, take the specific numbers with more than a few grains of salt.
Especially when the demographics change by "force", eliminating all of those below a 3rd grade cut-off point.

Here are a couple of graphs from the article:

Here you see the immediate effect of retention policies and the long-term effect of the FCRR.

Math scores, grade 8

After all is said and done, the change in teacher-training and the change in retention rules ... 12th graders (18year-olds) are pretty much the same as they ever were.

How did that slip in there?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

You'd think SOMEONE would notice.

It is the education department, after all.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Voting and the ID Requirement

All citizens have the right to vote.  You do not need an ID to be a citizen.
You need a license to drive because driving is not a right, not essential to being a citizen, and the citizenry have said that safety requires a license to drive ... but it doesn't have to be a photo ID. If I don't drive, then why would I pay for a license?
  • Does my choice to not drive mean that I am not a citizen and cannot vote?
You need an ID to purchase alcohol because the law said so, but you do not have to have an ID to drink it (you only have to be of legal age) and again, you do not have to be a drinker to be a citizen. If I am in my 50s, why should I need an ID to purchase? If I don't drink, why do I need an ID?
  • Does my choice to not drink mean that I cannot vote?
You do not need an ID to serve on a jury. If that were true, anyone could get out of jury duty by taking the bus and showing up without it. Why is jury duty a prerequisite for voting, anyway?
  •  If I never get called for jury duty or never get empaneled because I don't fit the lawyer's criteria, do I lose the right to vote?

If I am old and no longer need an ID, why should I be required to purchase one just because you have this fantasy that I am someone who might commit voter fraud? If I have no other reason to have an ID other than voting, then we are talking about a poll tax.
  • Is getting old a reason to lose the right to vote?
If I am too poor to own a car, or have a disease or a disability that prevents me from driving, why should I buy a driver's license?
  • Is being blind or poor a reason to lose the right to vote?
If I get married and change my name, or simply decide that my real father isn't part of my life and my adopted parents' name is the one I will use, do I need to schedule things far enough in advance so that legal paperwork can be filed and processed to change my name, social security and IRS information, which then can be taken to the appropriate DMV for a new license, which then can be taken to the appropriate town clerk to change my name on the rolls? Because if I don't and the new name doesn't exactly match the old one, I can't vote.
  • Is a legal name change a reason to lose the right to vote?
And think about the mechanics of voter fraud ... I show up to vote and give my name, and get checked off the list. I vote and then come back in a attempt to vote again under another name - how is that supposed to work out? Do I just pick one at random? Someone who I know is dead but somehow that information isn't known? This scenario makes it a very difficult crime to get away with and easy to get a significant fine.

If I show up and my name is already checked off, then I have to prove who I am and vote provisionally ... if there was voter fraud happening, this would be prevalent. It isn't.

Real voter fraud is more than 1 extra vote.
  • It's denying the vote to huge lists of people based on criteria that have nothing to do with a citizen's right to vote.
  • It's denying the vote for lack of ID which many people have no use for.
  • It's denying the vote to citizens in certain categories that you wish to disenfranchise.
  • It's denying the vote to classes of people who would vote for your opponent.

Why should I have to prove my identity, anyway? Are you saying that I am not a citizen if I do not have an ID?

What you should be demanding is that no one votes twice, like the "dip the finger in ink" trick. What you are actually demanding is that a large number of people not be allowed to vote at all.

That is wrong.

Testing Paradigm Needs to Change

Testing in the United States is a sick, diseased system. It is a malignant tumor that must be excised if we are to ever use testing results to improve students, teachers, schools,

Testing in the USA is NOT intended to help teachers or their students. It is only done to give a number that can be used or not, at the whim of the reader. Since most testing is for evaluative purposes, testing provides numbers to punish people with.

As a teacher, I get absolutely no useful information from standardized testing.


On our "Local Common Assessment", I get to know a RIT range and a corresponding percentile, and breakdowns in "Algebraic Thinking, Real&Complex Number Systems, Geometry, Statistics and Probability."

Then, consider that we have our kids taking a test and one of the categories is Real & Complex Number systems - Really? These are 9th graders in algebra 1 ... is the score range of 233-245 based on their less-than-complete knowledge of real numbers combined with no questions on complex numbers or is that 75%-ile based on questions that they would have no reasonable knowledge of?

Okay ... I'm ready to adjust my teaching for Algebra 1 ... What changes should I make?

I see none of the questions, none of the individual responses. I have no idea what kinds of things the test-makers considered to be "Algebraic Thinking" nor do I have any sense of what my students might have replied or understood or didn't, except for the kids who told me they just clicked at random just to be finished more quickly.

Okay ... I'm ready to adjust my teaching for Algebra 1 ... What changes are appropriate? Does the kid who scored "LO" really not understand or is she just lazy?

Yeah, that's the breakdown measurement: LO, AV, HI. Useful? No.

And this is a Pre-Algebra class with some 9th and some 10th graders. I would hardly expect them to get anything other than LO. If they could, they wouldn't be in the class.

Okay ... I'm ready to adjust my teaching ... What changes to my pre-algebra curriculum are appropriate here?

But at least I got those few bits of data within a week, because it was a local assessment.

When it comes to SBAC and PARCC, the problems seem to be the same as for NECAP, and before that, the NSRE.  Too few questions, coupled with long wait times for the scores (test in October, scores in April) and very dodgy scoring of the results for the constructed response questions ...

and we're still not allowed to see the questions, see the scoring, see the individual results ... 
And there was no way you could trust those scores because of the manipulation of the raw score conversion tables for "continuity reasons."

Can't have a big improvement year to year because reasons. The first year of every test has to have similar results as the final year of the test we threw away, so yr1 NSRE was first 58% passing, but was re-scored so we only had 30% passing.

If we're getting rid of a test because it isn't working appropriately, why do we insist that the new test's scores match up with the old test's scores?

And about those scores ... I have never understood how the entire public school populations of five New England states can show results in the way they did:

Highly Proficient: 3%
Proficient: 30%
Below Proficient: 40%
No Evidence of Proficiency: 27%

Really? 33% "passed" a test and you're looking at the teachers, not the test? Of all the kids in all the classrooms with all of the teachers (in VT, NH, ME, RI, and somewhere else that's escaping me right now), how is it possible that only 33% of the students passed a test?

At least the SAT is open ... maybe we should use it instead of paying Pearson far more for less information.

If you can so blithely manipulate scores so as to get a result that your statisticians declare appropriate, maybe the problem isn't in your teachers or your students ... your system needs to change.

If you can so blithely assume that the teachers are the only ones who are responsible for scores but shouldn't be allowed to see any of the test papers or any of the questions ... your system needs to change.

If you can so blithely assume that the students are always "participating fully" and that the results on this worthless and pointless (to them) test, then your system definitely needs to change.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This is a test. This is only a test.

In teachers' professional development seminars and in-service meetings, We no longer use the word "test" very much, nor "quiz". It's always an "assessment". I suppose that the words "test" and "quiz" have become loaded with too much negative meaning, implying a bar that must be overcome to avoid "failure".

"Assessment" has no sense of "pass" or "fail" but merely a placement along a scale. It's funny because the kids live in a much more black and white world; they hate "assessment," perhaps because it's a complex word while "test" and "quiz" are short and pithy and to the point but also perhaps because it's non-judgemental to the point of insanity. They want to know, "Did I make it or not?"

Testing shouldn't always be one-shot ... and you're either a winner or a loser. There has to be growth opportunity, too.

When you learn to play soccer, you compete against your teammates to get better, failing over and over before you can ever learn and master the sport. Why should math be any different?

You failed this quiz? Take it again. You can't do this homework? Let's discuss again how to do it. Now take the quiz again. I'm not throwing you off the team because you can't beat the starter.

Parent Threatens Disruption over Islam

So this guy threatens to disrupt classes if World History continues to contain mention of Islam.
Wood told Superintendent Morris that the school is violating his daughter’s “constitutional rights” and threatened to “bring down a shit-storm on them like they’ve never seen.”
Oh, brother. "Lighten up, Francis."

It's World History ... and WH has always taught the religions of the regions, from the Egyptian and Isis and the symbolism of the Ankh through the Greek and Roman religions (and mythology is actually an English course), Hinduism and Confucianism of the Far East, and of course, talks about Islam in the context of the development of Northern Africa and the Middle East, along with Judaism and Christianity.
After the meeting, Wood told reporters that his daughter, a junior at La Plata High, should not be forced to study a faith that she “does not believe in.”
Then take her out of school. Otherwise, World History teaches about History of the World and religion is part of that. But this statement from the teacher cracked me up:
“This is a world history class,” [O’Malley-Simpson] explained. “We are not teaching religion. Part of those world history studies involves the economics of a region and part of that is the religion which relates to the economy of that part of the world. In the Middle East, Islam is the only religion and it contributes greatly to the economics of the region.” (emphasis mine)
Oh, really? The only religion? I'm a math teacher and even I know that there are some other religions present in the Middle East.  Perhaps, you've heard of them?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts about the Time article.

Maybe you've read it.

A few things jump out at me. Here's a big one:
One research team relied on a "a controversial tool called value-added measures (VAM)" to measure teacher effectiveness, and they "found that replacing a poorly performing teacher with an excellent one could increase students' lifetime earnings by $250,000 per classroom."
That's a pretty big number alright, almost big enough to make you lose sight of the details ... if you're a low grade moron or someone with a axe to grind who doesn't mind being disingenuous.

Lifetime earnings of $250,000 per classroom works out to $10,000 lifetime earnings difference per kid.  Assuming the average person works for about 40 years, that works out to a difference of $250 extra dollars per year, a whopping extra 12.5 cents per hour ... and that's if you replace a poor teacher with an excellent one for all twelve years of schooling.

This is what is known in mathematical and statistical circles as an "insignificant" increase for which we have to use a tool that the Vermont Commissioner of Education (and pretty much everyone else) has said is a "broken measurement system" that "does not work". She went on to say that it would never be used in Vermont because of it's ineffectiveness. "It would be unfair to our students to automatically fire their educators based on technically inadequate tools."

And where, besides a hole in the ground, did that number get pulled from?

Let's not ignore the dubious premise that thousands of "excellent" teachers are just waiting to be hired ... ready and eager to take the place of the losers.

Funny thing is, we're doing pretty well despite the fact that we have been forced to label every single school in the state as "low performing": 
 In 2013, the federal Education Department released a study comparing the performance of US states to the 47 countries that participated in the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, one of the two large international comparative assessments. Vermont ranked 7th in the world in eighth-grade mathematics and 4th in science. Only Massachusetts, which has a comparable child poverty rate, did better.
So Time magazine interviewed a couple of billionaires about their opinions of public education and teacher tenure. "Shocking!" they said. "You can't fire a bad teacher."

Really?  Have they ever tried? The usual reason that principals can't fire a "bad" teacher is because the principal has no way of knowing which teachers are "bad" teachers - the new evaluation procedures are long on typing every word but very short on actually listening to the teacher teaching the class. If you are focused on typing every word said, then you aren't paying attention and you aren't "taking notes" - the inability to multitask is something I warn my students of constantly. Incidentally, and ironically, so does the principal.

The other reason that most "bad" teachers can't be fired? They're not "bad" teachers. Most of the time a teacher who is labeled "bad" is someone who has spoken up at a faculty meeting, stood up for themselves or others, worked against the desires of the principal.

The truly bad teachers are the ones who don't get noticed because they never improve, who hand out the same worksheets year after year, who don't say anything controversial, who allow students to wallow and get mired in an academic mudpit ... but who somehow get As so their parents don't say anything, who have a degree from a prestigious university but who are universally reviled by their students as lousy teachers, who dutifully fill out the silly paperwork and follow every administrative whim with fervor, never considering the best interests of the students, doing just enough to placate but never enough to teach.

Here's how to get yourself fired in public schools WITHOUT tenure:
  • Be gay/lesbian, or any other LGBTQ. (Seen it.)
  • Be Experienced in a cost-cutting era. (Big pressure)
  • Be Muslim, or Black or Latino or other "minority" who is "uppity" or in some other way "doesn't behave" (actually has an opinion and isn't afraid to say something).
  • Get pregnant. (True story)
  • Speak up for the Rights of the students/ disagree with admin is any way.
  • Actually do something bad or criminal.
Except for the last one of course, that will never be the reason on the form letter. That would be discrimination. Rather, you'll find vague job performance metrics and "documented tardiness issues". You'll find overwhelming but never specified "evidence" of misconduct. You'll find everything but the actual discrimination.

Here are some ways you can get fired from a school WITH tenure:
  • Do something bad or criminal.
  • Be a bad teacher.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stop Common Core (and replace it with what?)


What utter dreck.

10. Your child is unique? Yeah, no two snowflakes are exactly alike, but they are all basically the same. After 30 years of teaching, I think I can lay this ego-driven, touchy-feely garbage to rest. Your child is special to you but he isn't different enough from the rest of the crowd to warrant special teaching.

9. Yup, CCSS was created by special interests. No, it's not perfect. No, I don't endorse all of it and I probably won't hold my breath and teach every part of it. I'm a math teacher. I have the intelligence to modify it when necessary. It is, however, better than that mess of garbage that it replaced.

8. I really don't want the legislature voting on math standards. They have zero experience in education. I don't want them to ask my opinion on the intricacies of healthcare for the same reason.

7. Does it matter that this is false? Does it matter that districts are spending that money on testing regardless?

6. The CCSS do not collect information.

5. The lack of attention for gifted learners is not the fault of the CCSS. And your child isn't gifted.

4. Again, not by CCSS. And again, this is false in many states. Mine for instance wrote definitively that test scores have not, are not and will not be used to rate teachers because it is inappropriate and wrong to do so.

3. Yup, this is the only thing you got right. We are not forcing them to read as much of the classics. Instead the English teachers are using SOME different works, such as essays and non-fiction. Unfortunately for your rather uninformed little screed, Shakespeare and Edith Hamilton Mythology are still very much in evidence.

2. No one changed who was in control. School Boards are still the only controlling bodies. Homeschoolers are not in any way, shape or form, under the control of any CCSS.

1. You have the power to stop common core but in #2 you didn't have any power? Come on, at least be consistent in your paranoid ramblings. The last people who should be exercising control over their kids schooling are people who can't even make a coherent argument.  Fortunately for me and my job, deluded paranoiacs like you are keeping me employed -- although usually I don't get your kid until after you've messed up his education and nearly ruined his chances at living a good and successful life.

But don't let me stop you. The Internet is free to use.

Missing the Point.

Shadowing a student is a valuable idea, but she misses the point in the end.
I have made a terrible mistake.
I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. 
Which is a fine idea ... for an experienced teacher. The newbie? Not so much. That first-year teacher is just out of college and has no sense of what is appropriate for 15yo students, and probably would miss or misunderstand the important details in all of the other data and facts.

So, this teacher-turned-Learning Coach shadowed 2 kids ... for a day.
My class schedules for the day

The schedule that day for the 10th grade student:
7:45 – 9:15: Geometry
9:30 – 10:55: Spanish II
10:55 – 11:40: Lunch
11:45 – 1:10: World History
1:25 – 2:45: Integrated Science
The schedule that day for the 12th grade student:
7:45 – 9:15: Math
9:30 – 10:55: Chemistry
10:55 – 11:40: Lunch
11:45 – 1:10: English
1:25 – 2:45: Business
Here we begin to get the glimmer of the real problem. The block schedule was sold to faculty in schools as an improvement on some or all of the following grounds:
  • The students could focus on fewer things throughout the day, making for more deliberateness. The phrase "Mile wide and inch deep" is usually tossed in here, as well.
  • They'd have fewer passing times and those minutes could be filled with instruction or projects or meaningful discussion or labs.
  • 80 minutes was a better chunk of time.
  • Teachers would have fewer preps.
In some buildings, including ours, the change was implemented over vacation and the teachers returned to a different schedule. "Surprise!"
  • It's better. We decided. The schedule has changed.
Not a single thought was spared to ask whether 9th graders should be in 80 minute classes or whether Special Education students would benefit from the extended periods. Nobody considered whether having 8 periods for which students could have one or two "free" periods was better than requiring the students to have four academic courses per day and no down time. And nobody dared to question whether 80 minutes was too much math for one day.

Anyway, back to our Coach.
Key Takeaway #1
Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
Thinking is exhausting. Focus is exhausting. Learning is exhausting.  If you're doing it right, education is hard, learning new things is difficult.  I'm not saying that students shouldn't move more, but that's not the issue.

Block scheduling is predicated on the idea that students will be allowed to focus on fewer things for longer periods, that mere "rote memorizing" of content would be subordinated to the intense, "deeper" thinking, critical thinking and problem solving.

If our coach could change the past, she would have implemented "a mandatory stretch halfway through the class", installed "a Nerf basketball hoop on the back of my door and encourage kids to play in the first and final minutes of class" and have built in "a hands-on, move-around activity into every single class day." 

In other words, 80 minutes is too long and teachers need to pretend it's really two 40 minute periods ... or 75 minutes, with a break in the middle and some games at the end.

The most telling comment? "Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine."

Really? The block schedule selling point "Better use of time" goes out the window.  Her point in her article, and presumably to the teachers in her building, "I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective."

Instead of questioning whether or not students should get more of a break between classes, or have a free period to unwind, she is willing to advocate for giving that free time in the middle of the only time her students have to be with her. 
Key Takeaway #2
High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.
So change that, if you feel that it's more appropriate to your discipline. The idea that you need to start
every class with discussion, blitzkreig-like mini-lessons is entirely dependent on what you're doing rather than an appropriate plan for every day.

Likewise, worrying overmuch about the length of time you speak (and setting a timer) is not terribly good practice. If you're talking *at* the students rather than talking *with* them, you have a problem. A good lecture, on the other hand, can keep everyone in the room engaged for hours. A constant droning lecture, like pre-recorded videos in a "flipped classroom" or a Rocketship academy or Khan Academy, won't work for much more than as a substitute in your absence.

The bigger issue is the admin's constant refrain that the teacher needs to fill the 80 minutes with something. My admin, for instance, mention that we should "teach bell to bell." I am certain that everyone reading this can also hear the drumbeat of "testing", "accountability", and the political pressure to "excel" and "fire the bad teachers". Remember, too, that one promise of block scheduling was that MORE would be learned, MORE would be retained, and MORE would be understood.
Key takeaway #3You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.
I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention ... you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention ... that need to just disconnect, break free, go for a run,  ... That is how students often feel in our classes, ... because they have been sitting and listening most of the day already. They have had enough.
And what is part of that cause? In my mind, it's that we seem to have this idea that 80 minutes of math with no time between periods to unwind is a good idea. I am impressed that the schedule quoted above has 45 minutes for lunch - we have 22 - and that there is 15 minutes between classes - we have 3.

I'm going to ignore her comments about sarcasm, because they don't really matter to this discussion beyond the fact that kids not paying attention is a problem for us and that the whole multi-tasking thing is messing the students up something fierce.

We do need to pay attention to that but also remember that kids are kids, they're not allowed to vote, drink, smoke, drive a car, rent, sign a contract, go to war, or make decisions that matter ... and they're learning something entirely new.  Why should we be surprised that Johnny is not focused on the math for 80 straight minutes?

We need to remember that not every kid will be as enthusiastic about math, or learn at the same pace, or be 100% proficient by the year 2014, or care about all subjects equally, or have a home life that's stable, ... and so on.

But let's explore the aspects of Block Scheduling that our Coach didn't touch on, mostly because she seems to feel that it's "obviously" the correct schedule.

To a man, block schedule proponents claim that "more will be done" and that "students will understand the topic better because they'll have more time to work on it and discuss it" and be able to avoid that dreaded "mile-wide and inch deep curriculum."

As someone who has had roughly identical groups -- in the same year -- in 40 minutes classes yearlong and in semester-long block classes, I can tell you that the block classes do less, achieve less, learn less. Other teachers in my district report the same thing.

The differences are subtle but one thing sticks out to me: students in blocks run out of steam. You can't do twice as much all the time. You can't do lesson 6.1 for 30 minutes, stop and stretch, do a little practice, and then do lesson 6.2 immediately and expect that the two sets of homework are possible. Simply doubling the expected work isn't feasible. Sometimes, it works, but not always.

What you often get is Teach, practice, try a little more, and then let them get started on homework. The long period is just too long. If you restructure your course and completely change the way you teach, you can improve things a little but I would maintain that you should be doing that anyway ... and in 50 minute periods.

Other issues? The school's habit of constant interruption for assemblies, sports dismissals, announcements, calling students to the office, and so on. Snow days get in the way, too, as do Fun-time Fridays, and all of the days previous to holidays and days off.

And what of the Special Ed kids, the ADD/OCD/Ed/ODD and the kids who just aren't really thrilled to be there? Why 80 minutes? They have enough trouble settling down for 20; 40 is a stretch but 80 is unfair.

Look at those schedules above. 1.5 hours each of Geometry, Spanish, World History and Science. We don't even do that to college students. It's no wonder they're tired.

And yet, with no significant change to standardized testing or SATs or ACTs or even the state-wide final exams, you get vastly "improved" grades. Interesting, no?