“Contemporary pundits, politicians, and activists continually suggest that our educational system is broken, when in reality the opposite is true. Over the past century, we have perfected our educational system so that it runs like a well-oiled Taylorist machine, squeezing out every possible drop of efficiency in the service of the goal its architecture was originally designed to fulfill: efficiently ranking students in order to assign them to their proper place in society… (p. 56)
How can a society predicated on the conviction that individuals can only be evaluated in reference to the average ever create the conditions for understanding and harnessing individuality? (p. 58)
… but once you free yourself from averagarian thinking, what previously seemed impossible will start to become intuitive, and then obvious.” (p. 72)
20 years ago, I was interviewed by a local news station. They wanted a Kindergarten teacher’s perspective on what kids should best do over the summer. Camp? Summer School? Activities? While I described an ideal childhood summer — reading, activities, outdoor time — I also cautioned against too much structure. Young children need time to simply BE … run, play, do nothing, be bored, figure out how not to be bored.
According to a recent NY Times article, it appears as if everything old is new again:
As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading, an outgrowth of the federal No Child Left Behind law and interpretations of the new Common Core standards, even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states like Vermont, Minnesota and Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten …
Using play to develop academic knowledge — as well as social skills — in young children is the backbone of alternative educational philosophies like those of Maria Montessori or Reggio Emilia. And many veteran kindergarten teachers, as well as most academic researchers, say they have long known that children learn best when they are allowed ample time to go shopping at a pretend grocery store or figure out how to build bridges with wooden blocks. Even the Common Core standards state that play is a “valuable activity.”
But it’s still controversial. Read the entire article here.
Things that make you go hmmmm.
It wasn’t so long ago in our history that kids were expected to go to work at a young age to help support their families. It has been considered a hallmark of an enlightened and progressive culture that we provide schooling as a time for childhood.
Is it no longer okay to just be a kid?
…the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools, announced the initial results of an attempt to quantify the current state of testing in America.
Their survey of large districts showed students taking an average of 113 standardized tests between pre-K and grade 12, with 11th grade the most tested.
Another recent study by the Center for American Progress looked at 14 school districts. It found that students in grades 3-8 take an average of 10, up to a high of 20, standardized assessments per year. That doesn’t count tests required of smaller groups of students, like English-language learners.
What may be a little trickier is defining just which tests qualify as “unnecessary.” The CCSSO survey describes testing requirements that have seemingly multiplied on their own without human intervention, like hangers piling up in a closet.
They found at least 23 distinct purposes for tests, including: state and federal accountability, grade promotions, English proficiency, program evaluation, teacher evaluation, diagnostics, end-of-year predictions, or to fulfill the requirements of specific grants.
They also found a lot of overlap, with some of these tests collecting nearly the same information.
Read the entire post here.
Ask students what they are learning, not what they are doing. This seemingly small change in questioning allows a shift in focus that can help teachers better gauge students’ understanding of content. Rather than asking students what they are doing—that is, asking them to explain a task—teachers should ask students what they are learning—that is, asking students to explain the purpose of a task and how they are learning from it. At Health Sciences High and Middle College, where Fisher and Frey teach, staff—and even visitors—regularly ask about learning rather than doing. Try this change in your classroom to see how it shifts the conversation and helps you to better determine your students’ levels of understanding.
Automate responses to recurring events. Principals are faced with daily demands that take away from the time they can spend in classrooms focusing on the teachers and students. More and more, principals are asking the question, “How can I spend more time focusing on instruction in my building?” The answer is to analyze the systems within your school and create automated responses to recurring events. Buses arriving late? Have a response team ready with a standardized checklist of action items. Cafeteria won’t be open for lunch on time? Plan out the response in terms of personnel and schedule revision. Planning for automaticity in a system means that principals can have more time in the classrooms focusing on the most important aspect of their job: instructional leadership.
Establish the purpose of a lesson. Determine what students should learn and why they should learn it. One of the most important ways we motivate learners is by establishing a good reason for the learning to take place. Without a clear goal, students rightly perceive their work in school as artificial, and this may lead to compliance or even defiance. If we instruct without a purpose—or fail to convey that purpose to our students—then we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t meet the learning target.
Get kids to produce language, not just hear it. Encourage collaborative work using academic vocabulary. Teachers need to scaffold and assess language needs so students can better access content. The Common Core, in fact, asks for students to use rich academic vocabulary. One of the keys ways to support students in learning language and using academic vocabulary is to ask students to produce and practice using language more. Collaborative work time should be used to have students speak and use academic vocabulary. Fisher and Frey recommend that teachers aim to set aside 50 percent of a lesson for collaborative work. While this will not always happen, teachers should always keep in mind that collaborative work, where students are encouraged to communicate and interact, will help students build language skills and increase academic vocabulary usage.
Remember that the gradual release of responsibility does not have to be linear. Many are familiar with the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) framework, which articulates how responsibility should be turned over from the teacher to the student. Focus lessons (“I do”) and guided lessons (“we do”) place the responsibility on the instructor, while collaborative work (“you do it together”) and independent work (“you do it alone”) put most of the responsibility on the student. There is a common misconception, however, that this framework is linear—that is, that the different types of instruction have to go in order. In fact, good teachers use formative assessment to pick which element of GRR is needed for individual students and differentiate accordingly. Here is an example from Fisher and Frey’s YouTube channel that shows that the GRR framework does not have to be implemented linearly.
As all of these different take-aways show, participants at the FIT Teaching Academy were able to dig into the FIT Teaching model and consider how it resonates with them. The Academy was a full three days of amazing conversations about current practices and how FIT Teaching can provide an integrated and streamlined approach to make teaching more responsive to student needs. Participants left energized, motivated, and encouraged.
Cross-posted at ASCD In-Service.
Meredith Broussard in The Atlantic:
Last June, the state-run School Reform Commission—which replaced Philadelphia’s school board in 2001—passed a “doomsday budget” that fell $300 million short of the district’s operating costs for the 2014 fiscal year. (The governor of Pennsylvania had already cut almost a billion dollars from public education funding in 2011.) Philadelphia schools were allotted $0 per student for textbooks. The 2015 budget likewise features no funding for books.
It may be many years until Philadelphia’s education budget matches its curriculum requirements. In the meantime, there are a few things the district—and other flailing school districts in America—can do. Stop giving standardized tests that are inextricably tied to specific sets of books. At the very least, stop using test scores to evaluate teacher performance without providing the items each teacher needs to do his or her job. Most of all, avoid basing an entire education system on materials so costly that big, urban districts can’t afford to buy them. Until these things change, it will be impossible to raise standardized test scores—despite the best efforts of the teachers and students who will return to school this fall and find no new books waiting for them.
It’s enough to make you weep. Read the entire article here.
NJ policymakers are finally noticing that the runaway train of teacher evaluations needs some brakes applied. After several intensive sessions last week, an agreement was reached on key issues related to standardized testing and its use in evaluating teachers. A commission has been established to take a look at the entire standardized testing environment. At the same time, student growth objectives have been reduced (to 20%) of a teacher’s evaluation rating.
More on the story here.
Will other states take notice?
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found that 4- and 5-year-olds are smarter than college students when it comes to figuring out how toys and gadgets work …
Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children … Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working. That’s inflexible, narrow thinking.
Or, is it possible, that schools encourage kids to “unlearn” their natural problem-solving abilities? After all, it doesn’t take much flexibility or expanded thinking to color in bubbles on a standardized test.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the country’s largest donors to educational causes and a strong backer of the academic guidelines known as the Common Core, has called for a two-year moratorium on states or school districts making any high-stakes decisions based on tests aligned with the new standards …
“No evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition. The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests and offer their feedback.”
Although Diane Ravitch doesn’t think 2 years is enough:
“If the sanctions and punishments tied to test scores are wrong now — promoting teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, cheating and gaming the system — the sanctions and punishments will still be wrong two years from now,”
When did we brainwash kids into thinking that math was about getting an answer? My students truly believe for some reason that math is about combining whatever numbers you can in whatever method that seems about right to get one “answer” and then call it a day. They rarely think about what they are doing as long as at the end of the day their answer is “correct” …
If we are to truly make progress in getting our students to understand the concepts presented in the Common Core to the depth intended we must help them learn to stop looking for a right answer and start looking for a right reason. I still don’t know who broke my kids but I know it is up to me to fix them one argument at a time.
The entire post is here.