Posts Tagged ‘success’

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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My Principal once told a story of a speaker at an educational conference who was from India. This Indian presenter summed up the major difference between education in America and the rest of the world when he said “In America you spend all of your time measuring the elephant. In India we spend our time feeding the elephant.”

How I wish I could spend more time feeding my students than I do measuring my students. Teachers with high stakes testing courses feel even more strongly about this than I do–I teach in the arts.

I was all inspired to blog about this but I was having difficulty putting it all into words. Then I read Canadian educator Jack Miller’s “Education and the Soul.” It sums the topic up so well I decided to just paste in my favorite paragraph and then let you go to his article if you wish.

The accountability movement  is another example of mechanization in the curriculum.  Teachers are expected to be constantly testing students so that the public is satisfied with the what is going on the in the classrooms.  Unfortunately, the tests focus on a very limited portion of the curriculum and ignore the important areas such as personal and social development.  These tests tend to  stress information that will be soon be forgotten by the student.  The student begins to see school as a game where succeeding is based on passing tests that seem to have no relevance to anything except what we might call useless knowledge.   When school is seen as a game, there is no vitality.  Classrooms become lifeless places where students focus on achievement in a narrow and competitive manner.  A curriculum of meaningless tests is another example of education without soul. 

Education without soul…what a frightening thought.

Link to Jack’s document: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp=kjrmc&cp=63&gs_id=72&xhr=t&q=The+accountability+movement+is+another+example+of+mechanization&pq=education+and+the+soul+john+p+miller&pf=p&sclient=psy-ab&safe=active&source=hp&pbx=1&oq=The+accountability+movement+is+another+example+of+mechanization&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=&gs_upl=&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&fp=9380054e42786d49&biw=1024&bih=600


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Martini by Bond

“Shaken, not stirred” is a familiar phrase to James Bond fans. It also describes many of our students.  We frequently throw some new idea at them, based on some retired administrator’s book, or some other’s expert “experience” and then wonder how we could have adopted some plan clearly ten years too late. The effect on the students is a mild shaking up of routine, but rarely a stirring of their souls.

Those in the upper ranks of edutopia regularly send down the “next new thing” to revive the schooling of children and when it doesn’t work, they blame the teachers, drift off in mid-tirade, and latch onto another equally ineffective initiative.

My own teaching experience teaches me that students don’t seek things “new and exciting” in education. They seek that in their private lives, yes, but when they enter the classroom they want only one thing-what works. Tried and true, time-tested, you-can-count-on-this learning gives them a sense of trust and security.

Granted, you’ll have to figure out how to do this yourself as it applies to your particular subject, but save the dog-and-pony-show for the circus.

Give your students real knowledge.

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Years ago I was leading a small team building conference. The leaders were trying to get across the idea of moving from committee models to team models. In retrospect, I fear it was more of a “We’re gonna be a team, darn it, now do what I tell you!” kind of thing. The members wanted to be perceived as sincere when they entered the workplace, and not just as an esoteric group who had attended a seminar and wanted to share their pie in the sky.

At one point, I tried to assure them that if everyone on the team honestly bought in to the new vision, everyone else would follow suit and soon the new behavior would become routinized. I then told them what I call the 100th Monkey Theory. The theory is based on the study of Japanese Macacas in the 50’s, but I can’t recall where I heard it first, but Ken Keys wrote a book on the effect

The theory goes like this:

Imagine a monkey in the jungle looking for food. He eats the same thing day after day. Then one day, he finds a banana or mango in a stream, or perhaps washed clean after a rain. (In the real story, researchers gave the monkeys sand caked sweet potatoes) He realizes he likes clean food better than dirty food just lying on the ground, AND he figures out that if he puts his food in the stream it gets clean. This monkey begins to wash his food on a regular basis.

Soon, another monkey sees this behavior and tries washing his food as well. In time another joins, and soon many of the monkeys wash their food.

Now, at some point, let’s say when the 100th monkey begins to wash his food, if you were to see them washing their food, you would simply say “Yeah, monkeys do that,”  when obviously in the beginning they did not.

Routinized behaviors become the norm.

Then the point I was trying to make took and unexpected and beautiful turn. One of the people at the seminar leaned back and said:

“So what we need is 100 people talking good about our organization.”

I smiled and said “Yes, I suppose so.  Are you willing to be the first?”

He returned the smile and answered “Yeah, I guess I’ll be your first monkey!”

We had a good laugh and a good seminar, but the lesson outlived the session. So let me ask you. If what you need at your school is 100 people talking good about it…

Will YOU be that first monkey?

(To read the original story go to http://www.worldtrans.org/pos/monkey.html )

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Die-cast car collectors are all excited about GMP’s release of the 1:18 scale replica of the famous Ford Thunderbolt from 1964. This little car is so cool to look at (well, if you’re a car enthusiast.) But the most important thing that strikes me about it, and indeed other 60’s die-cast miniatures–HotWheels, et al–are how nostalgic they make me feel.

I once heard nostalgia defined as how you feel when the past seems better than the present is or the future looks. We long for the good old days. We remember how education was when we were the student. We remember high expectations and no toleration for disrespect. We seem to remember things being better.

The reality is that some things are worse. But many things are better. We must not fall into the black hole of gloom and doom. You still have good students, right? They still inspire you, right? You still get to give a lot of good grades, right? Then as far as the act of teaching goes, it is probably still rewarding in most respects.

Walk into that room everyday expecting the future to be better than the past or present. Build on those positives. Repeat those positives. Duplicate those successes.

Because the past is just that: passed.

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I love traditions. I’ve blogged earlier about our Christmas tradition called the Parade of Toys. Many school traditions are centered around seasonal sporting events, like homecoming, a bonfire, a dance, or some other rite.

But when I ask someone why they do something year after year that has no apparent value so far as student growth is concerned, I cringe when I hear “It’s just tradition!” Why are there some subjects we teach the same old way year after year and say “That’s just how you teach this!” It may interest you to know that the exponential rise in the use of multiple sensory inputs used by our students (games, phones, mobile browsers, cams, etc. and many time all rolled up into the same device) has had a surprising effect on student learning: they can learn faster than we can teach. I’m not saying they can assimilate it all or even use all of the information correctly, but as far as simple acquisition of knowledge? It’s fast!

This means I have to get creative. I have to think in a new way. They’ve been there-done that, and they are under-whelmed by most teaching methods. Students have a bad habit of devaluing knowledge. They only want to know what’s “on the test.” They think knowledge is only good for passing tests, getting the credit, graduating, and going on to get a job so they can spend the rest of their lives paying for things they want or need. “Knowing stuff” is no longer it’s own reward. Growing as a creative entity is not on their list of things to do. Making sense of life is no longer a priority. They are surrounded by uninspiring, uncreative, traditional people who tell them “Don’t get your hopes up,” and “Just graduate and get yourself a good job.”

Granted, graduating and getting a good job are worthy goals, but is that the end? I look at students everyday who I fear are just going to “settle” rather than go on and excel. I am outnumbered by the nay-sayers. I am not heeded like their peers and kin. I feel like John the Baptist  in the wilderness crying out “Get ready!” But all they see is this life.

So each day I have to try to be bigger than life. I have to try to create curiosity and foster hope and show patience and love to them. And somehow I still have to teach them .

But if they ask “Why are we going so slow?” or “I’m bored!” will I answer “It’s tradition?”

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