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Posts Tagged ‘individuality’

I stumbled across a TED video the other day, and have not been able to stop thinking about it since.  Salman Khan was talking about his foray into the education arena. Among all the other down-to-earth, practical things he said was a remark he made about how counter intuitive modern (if you can call it that) education is. We lecture, or demonstrate, or show, during class where students are asked to keep up and then sent home to do “homework” where the amount of available assistance is inversely proportional to the degree of difficulty.

Lectures, demonstrations, videos, etc. can all be done online these days where the student can watch at his/her pace, go back, repeat, slow down, whatever they need. There are now pens that will record everything you write, interface with your computer, and then disseminate your notes online however you wish. Cool, huh? Yeah, but your students already knew about this!

That which we call homework, he suggests, should be done in class, where the teacher can give constant observation and feedback (instruct, assess, adjust-remember?) in the form of Formative  Assessment.

I happen to believe that all teachers are wired for formative assessment, but written work (worksheets and the like) are frowned upon because they look so old-fashioned. As I write this, I am trying to brain-storm ways to use this upside-down model in my area, but no brain-storm yet–maybe cloudy with a chance of drizzle later–we’ll see. But I am committed to trying to come up with clever ways to do more lecture and study at home, and more hands on at school. The idea of  upside-down instruction fascinates me.

More to come. Film at eleven.

Kahn’s video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM95HHI4gLk

His website is here:  www.khanacademy.org

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This post is primarily the result of my thinking out loud. I was listening recently to someone discussing various educational initiatives, and how some school systems actually believe that if they set the bar high enough, and task their teachers severely enough, 100% of their students will graduate on time and go on to college. While nothing would make a teacher happier, and while it may be a worthy (albeit unrealistic) goal, we all know that in the real world this will never actually happen.

No matter how we try to slow the instructional pace, and rein in the progress of our high achieving students (in order to allow the less intellectually aggressive students to catch up, or at least not be left behind) closing the achievement gap is still mostly an illusion. One student’s local grades and EOCs may be higher than another, but it is the ACT ans SAT scores that are a true measure of a graduate’s readiness to go on to college. And, I might add, not everyone wants or needs to go to college.

So, we are presented with this idea that no one should be left behind, or fall through the cracks, and this idea of Academic Darwinism rears its head. The truth is, no one gets left behind; they just get off the train at another stop. No one falls through the cracks; they simply sift out to another level. In this light the idea of Academic Darwinism seems a little less insidious.

This sifting has gone on throughout history. In the Middle Ages, not everyone could make it into a craftsman’s guild. Later, not everyone could read or write, or enter a college, or qualify for higher learning. Just because we have more colleges, better teaching tools, and huge systems of instruction does not mean that we have overcome the human instinct to either seek out or ignore higher levels of knowledge and skills.

Now, I’m not suggesting the use of this topic as an excuse for shoddy teaching. But I am saying that not every one of my students is college bound. AND, more importantly, I am not intimating that those who do not seek out higher education opportunities are failures. I am saying that reality cannot be ignored, rewritten, or used as a whip for educators. I may not produce a bevy of PhDs, but I will produce students who do what they do the best way they know how.

And I will be proud of each and every one of them.

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I’ve often said that I cannot fix in a few short semesters what the world has done to damage a student. As a principal of mine once said “The parents didn’t keep the good kids at home today, they sent you all they had!” It’s that home that sometimes worries me.

At a recent teacher conference, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Henry L. Johnson talk about the myriad influences on a child’s education. He mentioned the usual things like economics, neighborhood, civic and religious affiliations, etc. Then he said something that really caught my attention. He said that a family’s conversations had a profound impact on a student’s success.

One family’s conversation might be “How was school? Do you have any homework? Is everything going alright?” Another’s conversation, on the other hand might be more like “Clean up the kitchen! Get off that phone! Shut up!” And all peppered with curses and threatenings.

Negative conversations at home affect learning at school. –Dr. Henry Johnson

Everything a child comes to school to learn is filtered through everything he already knows from home. Children bring their own culture with them, and the fireworks begin when they try to impose that value set on the outside world–that is, your classroom.

This problem is too vast to try to give you some simple answer (even if I had one–and I don’t) but my hope is that when you spot “that student,” (and you’ll recognize them,) you’ll stop to think about what kinds of conversations created that behavior.

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I am all about instructional differentiation. I know that each of my students is different and needs to be appreciated as an individual. I know they are the product of a unique set of circumstances. They do, however, have one thing in common: they are all in my room at the same time learning the same information and skills from the same teacher.

In that respect, they must all learn a valued life-skill: adapting to different learning styles and environments. I believe we have mis-interpreted the learning styles paradigm. Whether a student is left-brained, right-brained, kinesthetic, aural – whatever, that preferences only describes that particular student’s natural predisposition toward learning. It does not, however, mean that the only learning that student can experience is that which is presented in his/her preferred manner. We, in fact, do our students a great disservice when we give them the illusion that the great spinning world outside the walls of our school awaits with open arms to custom fit it’s square peg to their round hole.

I do not remember a time when any college professor presented English composition in any manner other than their tried and true methods. We sat in a large lecture hall with 100 other students and LEARNED to LEARN. I do not remember any employer differentiating their instructions to me on the job. Bosses expect you to adapt to them. I have never heard a member of the military tell me that their CO adapted instructions to make following orders more acceptable to them. I can hear you veterans laughing from here.

In short, the most valuable thing we can teach our students is how to learn the subject at hand. This skill, once mastered, will last them a lifetime.

Hopefully, it will be a long and successful one.

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I remember my first online course. It was a continuing education course from a nearby college which, even though just a few towns away, was still beyond a convenient driving range. I signed up by phone, got the course materials by mail, and began logging in nightly to get assignments, turn in assignments, or-and here’s the important part-enter comments on a discussion board.

The discussion board was to take the place of peer interaction. Members (students) would post their comments and invite comment or discussion, or even start entirely new discussions. A single topic and its attendant responses was called a “thread” and could be discussed at anytime during the course. Many of the instructors even required a certain number of entries to be posted, or discussions started as part of your grade.

That seems like ancient stuff now. Our students now have smart phones, i-pads, and many have digital notebooks or i-books. Add to that devices like Kindle and other e-book readers as well as the ubiquitous phone apps which allow students to access the internet for more information than we as teachers have time to ask for and you can see that our thirst for knowledge has us drowning in information.

BYOT (not an official title but one I heard recently) is becoming the paradigm for the future classroom. Students are encouraged to “Bring Your Own Technology” to access information beyond the confines of the school room. In this setting the teacher serves merely to pose the question and moderate the discussion of answers. The building of relationships becomes obsolete. We become abject facilitators.

Ok-so maybe it won’t be as bad as all that, but if we are not really careful, public education will become obsolete. We can already take college courses online, and virtual public high school courses are now available. Soon there will really be no need to sit in a classroom with a real teacher.

I suppose, however, if I can sit on the beach with my laptop and grade electronically submitted assignments and still get paid for it…hmm…let me think about that.

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One of the most important things to remember about the weaving of the tapestry of life is that each one is supposed to be different. We each came into this world to work on our own image and not others’. That’s difficult to remember when dealing with our industrial style educational system. Oh yeah, I know how we are to differentiate instruction, but when it comes testing time they expect the widgets to conform to the same specs. (See earlier post about “widgets”)

So here’s our solution: We say “I have been to college to do this, and I know how to do this job. I have been out there in the world ahead of you and I have the experience to help you. Now I want you to do this my way and perform in the way that makes me proud and makes me feel good so I can give a good report to the principal and keep my job and make your parents happy with me.   Got it? Good! Now the first thing you have to learn in life is to stop thinking it’s all about you!”

I hope you’re laughing right about now. We can easily fall into this trap. The pressure of the grade is ever upon us. It can take perfectly good teachers and reduce them to cold-hearted widget makers.

The challenge, then, is to try to see the image on each student’s tapestry and discern what it is they truly intend to become. You have to somehow lead them out of their self-defense shelter [educate: from Latin-educare  to pull or draw out] and into your world where their individuality is valued.

Yeah, I know it’s a tall order. I also know you think you can do it.

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