Friday, May 17, 2013

#14 Assessment isn't about the student

So there are many things that people say about taking tests.  Some think tests are evil, some say you can't have school with out them.  And I am sure there are many, MANY more view points.

But really when you look at assessments - what is it that you are trying to measure?  That can usually help determine what kind of test you are writing and what kind of test the student should be taking.

Traditionally - the idea of a test in school was to give the student a ranking or grade of where they stood on a certain set of data.  It was pretty straight forward - this is what you are suppose to learn, then you test to see if they know it.  Yes there are some faults with that line of thinking - like can the students actually USE the data - or is it just memorized, but that is another discussion for another time.

Now, tests are being used to evaluate teaching programs and even teachers themselves - but often times the test look exactly the same as the old style of tests that is just about a certain set of data.  The obvious problem with this type of evaluation is the fact that you are using the students to do the testing - what if the student has a learning disability or just had a bad day.  Or even worse the student KNOWS that the test is a reflection on the teacher/school and bombs it on purpose because they don't like the teacher or school.

And think about some of the tests . . . let's say a timed math test in 1st grade.  You are NOT actually testing the students understanding of math concepts, you are testing how QUICKLY they can apply them.  Or - after seeing the homework and rote memorization of addition of single digit number - you are seeing how quickly they can regurgitate simple addition equations.  How is that a good test of their skill - and even further how is that an appropriate evaluation of the teacher?  The teacher can get students to memorize something . . . is that teaching?

So the big question is - how to do test for "learning" without punishing the student?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

#13 Teach the child in the seat

Recently a friend of mine and I were talking about teaching and how things should work in our world.  

She said
 "we should be teaching the child that is in that seat."  

I know, I know - it sounds so simple, but it is pretty profound - we should NOT be teaching a curriculum, we should NOT be teaching a system - we should be teaching that child!

Yes - of course we have curricula, and we have state guidelines, and we have different systems and different philosophies - but when it comes down to it - we are teaching our students.  

That student it what matters - learning is our goal!

I know that our jobs depends on the scores (I have a love/hate relationship with Kirkpatrick) and our annual reviews come down to how well students can take a test - UGH - but if we can focus on that child and what he or she needs - then we WILL get better test scores and they WILL pass the test.  

Yes of course it is hard to focus on one child when you have a room of 36 screaming bags of hormones (yes, I am flashing back to my middle school teacher days) . . . but the answer is not to become a robot teacher that repeats the same message despite the students in front of you.  It is also not an option to just "teach to the test" or "follow the curriculum" - if the students don't get it - or if they just aren't learning - then it is time to reevaluate the curriculum or make a change to the system.

There is a place for "best practices" and "tried and true" methods - but remember just because it is best for 75% of your class - you are still missing 25% and what they need.  You might be getting a "C" in your class teaching, but what is the "grade" for that 25% - what happens to them?

Teachers - What do you do to make sure you are teaching to each and every student in your class?

Thank you Mary Sue for your words of wisdom - hopefully we can help many people find a way to teach that student in that seat!

Friday, May 3, 2013

#12 Be a Champion

I don't really need to say much about this one - Rita Pierson says it better herself:

Thursday, May 2, 2013

#11 Redistribute Resources

This one may seem simple or way too complex at the same time!

Recently I was in a small charter school, unaffiliated with a district - and was pleasantly surprised that they had some specialists (full time even) that would be a direct benefit to the students.  I wondered how a small, independent school could afford these staff members.  Then I realized that the money the charter school received per student is the same that a public school would receive, yet they didn't have the salaries, rent, or maintenance for a district office.  HMMMMM - resources per student being spent MUCH closer to the students themselves.  Interesting concept!

So then I started to wonder - how can we actually apply this in a smaller instance - maybe just a single classroom?

I got sidetracked by an article about a troubled school that diverted its path to "doom" by getting rid of its security detail and then hiring art teachers . . . maybe it wasn't something in a small classroom setting - but for sure in a single school setting.  Impact being made by reallocating resources.  NOT ONLY were the students more positive and they were seeing a reduction in disciplinary cases - the school actually saw test scores improve.  Now anyone reading this knows that I am not very excited about measures being taken to improve test scores, however I also acknowledge that it does have to happen.  But in this instance - where something can be done to benefit the students and it helps the schools - that is a win-win in my book.

Okay - back to a smaller implementation - how can this idea be put to use in a single classroom?

So that is my question - how can a teacher, in his or her own classroom, redistribute resources to provide a better education to the students?  PLEASE let's share some ideas!

Friday, April 26, 2013

#10 - Keep PLAY as part of learning

The title of this TEDtalk is "when education goes wrong" - and there are many people (myself included) that spend a lot of time talking about how "education is broken" and "what is wrong with education today" - but the simple fact is human beings do learn naturally - its something that is pretty cool about us.

So - sometimes we do need to guide/coach/and even teach . . . but don't forget about play as a valid "learning environment."  Are kids going to automatically figure out advanced engineering without help? (Or fractals as mentioned in the previous post")  NO - probably not - BUT, as educators we can use different techniques to help the students figure it out and understand the concepts - rather than just "drill and grill."

On the younger end of the spectrum, my son is very good at understanding concepts and actually being able to apply intangible thought processes to different problems, however he struggles with learning the symbols.  But he is tested on the symbols - and  - well, let's just say that the American public educational system doesn't think he is performing that well.  But talk to some other educators, they say he should be skipping grades because he gets the concepts (luckily he does have a few advocates on his side that are helping him).

As educators and parents and administrators and executives, everybody - HOW do we all work together to make sure that we don't kill that part of the human brain that really makes us learn? How do we keep PLAY as part of education?

# 9 - Mix it up!

I was happy to get a Facebook email from a friend (from school no less) that is a teacher on the international circuit . . . I am jealous of her international travel adventures sometimes - but I really LOVE hearing about her experiences in the classroom - it reminds me that being an educator is still being an educator anywhere in the world!  The age of the class and the topic being discussed can change, but sometimes things just "make sense" and it all comes together.

I love this lesson plan idea - not a new topic to teach for her, but doing something different and incorporating several different techniques - no wonder the students were engaged and interested in what they were doing!  Great job Paola!!!

This is what she writes about her lesson:

"I introduced kids to fractals* in different forms and had them do some activities and also asked them to research something new about them and share with the class. They BLEW me away. And it was soooo fun to see them take something and run with it, especially in a new area of math! Great use of technology too."

FRACTALS?!?!?!  Not necessarily a topic that I have ever found myself standing in front of a class working on . . . and I have done some seriously weird classes!

BUT - let's break this down . . .

     1. introduced different forms with some activities (okay standard, but its a       new concept so GREAT place to start)

     2. research - the kids did the research - PERFECT - motivation from something other than "you have to" - good idea!

     3. share with the class - ooooh - give the kids the opportunity to be experts and to share what they have learned. Increased motivation AND giving them the opportunity to really shine!  GREAT!!!!

     4. Excitement!!! - they blew the teacher away - how awesome is that?!?!?!  And you know that if she was excited then so were the kids!

     5. New area of math - BONUS

     6. Use of technology - BONUS

This is fantastic - I love hearing about these stories and learning how people are working to make education better!!! (If you have any - please send them along!)

A curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole.
Photo Credit: geoftheref via Compfight cc

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

#8 Take it Outside

This may seem pretty simplistic, and maybe it is.  But what if some of our teaching actually takes place outside?  I know, I know we have specially designed classrooms and hermetically sealed windows to keep us safe.  But I know MANY a child that opens his or her mind when simply sitting outside!

Working with adults - yep - it is a little bit more of a challenge to actually get adults to go outside, but sometimes a change of pace works.

But there is also something just about being out in nature - even if you are in a city - the air is different.

And I bet it is pretty easy to find analogies for many educational situation using nature - let's all give it a try.

So - for one aspect of teaching - all I can say is "Take it Outside!"

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc