Monday, January 28, 2008

An Apology with Further Clarification

Several weeks ago I posted about our school's quarterly summative assessment of reading indicators that were taught during the second quarter. In that post (which I have since removed) I offended parents who found the post via Google.

Specifically there were two statements that were most troubling to parents. There was a comment about the perceived importance of donuts as recognition for a job well done. As a teacher and more importantly a parent I am a big believer in intrinsic rewards.....i.e. doing something because it feels good on the inside...not because of external prizes or rewards. As a tech teacher and classroom teacher I have participated in many morning recognition ceremonies. The focus of these ceremonies is to recognize students for a job well done. However, some teachers feel that with the addition of donuts to the recognition ceremony the original purpose of the ceremony has been lost. Before we had morning recognition ceremonies our school listed the names of students who achieved the different honor lists in the cafeteria prominently for all students to see. It was a concerned parent who thought posting names was a bit too exclusive and asked for a different approach to recognize students. Teachers, parents, and administration decided that a simple breakfast be used to recognize those same students before the school day even began. I am sorry that my comment summarizing teacher observation of these breakfasts and grading practices was offensive.

A second comment was made concerning the reading assessment and the "shattering of dreams". I believe that our most powerful learning comes from mistakes. I want all children to achieve and realize that with the greatest growth will come many mistakes along the way. It is my greatest hope that children who miss questions on the reading assessment have the opportunity to work with their teachers and parents to better understand the tested objective. One purpose of the test is for teachers to use the results to guide future instruction. In addition to a simple grade, teachers receive a variety of reports that will help them understand the test results and organize the results in a way to further enhance future instruction. Teachers are working hard to create mini-assessments to identify "problem" areas so they can be addressed before the reading assessment is given.

While grades may be important to students and their parents, it is important that we all look beyond those to the bigger picture of the learning. Sadly, grades are not always the best indication of how much or well a student has learned.

If one could overlook the two troublesome lines of my post, I hope that they would see my post was directed to teachers asking them to question their own practices. We live in an age of accountability and while I don't agree with everything that is the No Child Left Behind law I find its basic tenet that all children will learn and grow to be an admirable goal. I also agree (but sometimes question the methods of calculation) that a child should "grow" a year in skills and ability during the course of a school year. If we are to be making gains towards NCLB's lofty goal of 100% proficiency then we (teachers) need to look at how we approach our professions quite differently than we have traditionally.

A teacher can no longer simply lead his or her class through the curriculum....because they are no longer teaching a class....they are teaching 24 or depending on the subject/grade level as many as almost 100 individuals. And to truly meet the needs of the individuals we need to know what each individual has learned and is capable of achieving. We need to know what approach or method of instruction is most successful for each learner and we need to document that knowledge so that other teachers may benefit.

Our superintendent often reminds staff that each day we make important decisions about what to teach.....and equally important what not to teach. My post asked teachers to take a hard look at their grading practices and the assignments they give and ask themselves which of those grades/assignments truly is aligned to the standards the state and district has employed us to teach. To ask themselves which grades really give an indication of student learning. It is when our gradebook becomes bloated with assignments that don't clearly correlate to a student's proficiency, ability or acquirement of some skill, that we as educators begin to do a disservice (perhaps even a misrepresentation) to the people we are here to serve -- the students and their parents who want nothing but the best for their children.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Winter Class Ideas

As in the past I was hoping to offer an tech class for Ashland credit this winter. When it is cold and gray outside what better way to spend it than with your teacher friends learning how to use new technologies?!

I have been thinking of making the core of the class related to data driven instruction. We certainly hear the term "data driven" thrown around a lot. But how can you use it to make your teaching more powerful? Right now have access to some data such as the OAT results, WrAP results, QRA results....but those are all somewhat summative in nature and not frequent enough to impact your day to day lessons.

I would like to have a class in which teachers learn how (and have time to do so) to create shorter assessments that can analyzed on a shorter term basis so they impact instruction much sooner and frequently than our QRA. How can objectively know our instructional strategies are working if we don't stop to measure and then track change over time?

Of course, I am always willing to entertain other ideas for this class which brings me to this posting. Do you have ideas of what you think a winter tech oriented class should cover? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Best Albums of 2007

I can't help myself and feel the need to list my "most listened to" albums of the year. These aren't in any particular order...but if you are looking for some new music to give a try I would recommend any of these.

Amy Winehouse
Andrew Bird
Arcade Fire
Avett Brothers
Bat for Lashes
Bishop Allen
Brandi Carlile
Jens Lekman
Josh Ritter
Lily Allen
Lucinda Williams
Nicole Atkins
Rilo Kiley
Ryan Adams
Sarah Borges
Tegan and Sara
White Stripes

Scientists are amazing people….thinking outside the box

Some of our best scientific discoveries were happy accidents or happened when someone was thinking outside of the box.

While teachers are worried about hitting achievement goals (remember 100% in 2014) with their students some leaders in the US are worried whether or not we are creating the type of thinkers we need to meet the needs of the the 21st Century workplace.

Type 21st Century Skills into Google and you will find multiple reports about how the US is falling behind other countries and their technological "know how" and science and math competence.

One of the 21st Century Skills is creative thinking and the ability to solve higher level problems. Wired magazine features an article on how scientists are “hacking” the Earth to solve or attempt to solve our growing problem of global warming.

For example, cows and other livestock emit more than 80 million tons of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is 20x more potent than carbon dioxide. It seems that certain stomach bacteria that exists in these animals creates the methane as a product of digestion. Scientists are trying to solve the problem by getting less volatile digestive bacteria into cows. Through research they have found that the bacteria in the stomach of kangaroos produces no methane. So now the process of getting kanga bacteria into the cow has begun. Garlic in the cow’s diet also kills the methane producing bacteria…now scientists just need to figure out how to make the beef taste less garlickly (seriously).

Acquisition of Vocabulary...for Teachers

Acquisition of Vocabulary is an important content standard for our students. Actually vocabulary growth is also important for teachers. Have you ever heard one of your students say something and you weren’t sure what it meant?

A couple of years Gwen Stefani had a hit song called “Hollarback Girl”. I was making an end of the year video for the students with lots of photos etc. and I want to include some popular songs they would recognize. I was able to find a clean version of the song but was unsure about using it since I wasn’t sure what a “hollarback girl” was. For all I knew it had to with something that a teacher shouldn’t be playing in the classroom.

After consulting the Urban Dictionary, my favorite guide for the vernacular of the students, I learned that a hollarback girl is someone who won’t get in a fight with you…they only yell at you. Sounds safe enough.

It really is a fun and useful site although I think it is for teacher eyes only since the dictionary is user generated and some of the language isn’t appropriate. I recently signed up to receive an email of a new word every day so I can continue to remain as “hip” as I was….when was that….oh yeah, I never was. :) Still fun to read it though.

Yesterday’s term was “blackout”. That is when you turn off all electronic devices to avoid communication with someone.

Urban Dictionary

Copyright and Fair Use Rules in the Classroom

Copyright laws and rules on Fair Use of video materials in the classroom are quite confusing…and sometimes downright silly (IMHO). Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this informative yet humorous video using clips from one of the most litigious companies around (Disney). This one has to take some serious time to edit together.

Love the end of the Year Lists...

I love the end of year lists that everyone seems to put out at the end of the year. I enjoy my music and quite a bit less I enjoy my music videos (who has time to watch them?). But when I see a favorite song of mine actually won an award for best video I had to share. This is from Bats for Lashes.

I know the video is a bit weird...I'm not sure what it symbolizes but I do like it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fun Video to Watch...

Who comes up with these video ideas anyways? Make sure you watch the whole thing.