Thursday, December 18, 2014

Does flunking students teach them a lesson?
Does flunking students teach them a lesson?

It almost sounds silly as I write it.

Obviously, if they fail, they aren't learning the material.

But are they learning "a lesson"? Are they learning that there are consequences to their actions? Do zeros teach responsibility?

Not in my experience.

All F's do, all zeros do is slam self-efficacy, further destroy confidence, squash any last glimmer of interest in learning, and send kids further down the doom spiral.

And yet we persist in pushing the curriculum through, by, and over these kids, stream-rolling them underneath it, if necessary, as long as we can say we "covered" it. In the end they fail to learn at all... and we fail.

How about this? It's not about the curriculum. It's about them.

But let's take it a step further. Let's make the curriculum about them--about what they really need to know and be able to do, starting with honest-to-goodness meaningful standards (no, I don't think that's a contradiction in terms), and backing them up with whatever time and support it takes for them to master them.

The curriculum should not be a filter, filtering kids out of school and society. For goodness sake, it's supposed to be for them, isn't it? Aren't we?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Musings from a high-rise

I stepped out of the elevator on the 19th floor of an office building in Hartford into a lobby looking out at the city... and the hills around it... and it hits me: It would be nice to work in a place like this. And then... someone remind me why I got into teaching...

But then I remembered. Skylines and skyscrapers are awesome. But so are kids.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Technology as the hedgehog accelerator
According to Jim Collins, technology is never the cause of going from good to great. Instead, companies become great because of a the right people, a disciplined culture, level 5 leadership, and dogged devotion to a clear, simple, central crystallized purpose (a "hedgehog concept") and then ask which technology (if any) could help you facilitate that. Tech can accelerate change, but it doesn't cause it.

I see his point. No use having rockets if you don't know where you are going (or if you don't already have the right culture and people). And it is a good reminder not to rush into tech for tech's sake in the school and classroom. Instead, as I've written before, technology is not about new gadgets (or apps) for the sake of new gadgets or apps (as cool as they are). It's about making old things easier and new things possible.

But Collins' ideas adds another layer. Get your hedgehog concept right first.
Hedgehogs, after all, operate on one, excellent, effective principle. Danger=roll into a ball.

What's mine? Not quite sure yet. At this point, it's got something to do with every student succeeding. I'm hoping to avoid the trap of letting tech distract me from that.

Our jump into Moodle may have jumped the gun just a bit, but we started using it to bring online learning to E. O. Smith, and it turns out that's a great facilitator of differentiated instruction and a promising component of a system in which every student can succeed.

At this point, I think online tech will play a key role as an accelerator of change in education. But it's not about the apps, it's about the hedgehog.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Who says, don’t be their friend?

Who says don’t be their friend?

What else am I, their enemy? Their tormentor? Am I for them or against them? Am I here to support them or help destroy them (actively or passively)?

False dichotomy? I don’t think so.

I want to say to them: I am your friend, not your enemy. I am here for you, not against you.

My goal is, unconditionally, your success.

My job is not to filter you out, but set you free.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Let's get rid of ability grouping

Came across this great post today by Susan Fitzell about the evidence against homogeneous grouping in schools, and it further convinced me that we need to get rid of levelling in schools.

(Among high school-level teachers, this kind of thing is liable to get me burned at the stake, but here it goes.)

I once made the argument that offering various levels of the same subject (general, college prep, and "honors") was a form of differentiation. I can still understand this argument to some degree: It's sort of like differentiating according to readiness and motivation, but with one BIG difference: The kids are not together.

The students with lower levels of readiness and motivation are grouped with kids with lower levels of readiness and motivation. The students with more are grouped with the students with more. While this may make it easier for teachers, for students, it's more like:
"For whoever has, to him more shall be given... but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him."

Could students struggling with motivation benefit from being around students with high motivation? Could students with low readiness benefit from being around students with higher readiness? Could students with poor social skills benefit from being around those with great social skills?

Seems obvious, and there is research to back up this heretical idea of delevelling.

And philosophically, I think we need to ask ourselves what we are all about. Are we here primarily to make sure the "best and brightest" are well served, or are we here for all students?

Not that the most advanced students are not well served by heterogeneous grouping. According to Marzano, any effect of heterogeneous grouping on advanced students is tiny. And that's assuming differentiation is being done well.

The needs of the many shouldn't be sacrificed for the needs of the few, and the needs of the few needn't be sacrificed either.

I may be a dreamer, but I think it can be done, and well, with every student appropriately challenged, together.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Next time, gather more data before it's too late

I can't believe how long I have been teaching like this--giving big summative assessments without really knowing if they were ready or not.

When my students turn in a test or formal lab report and it becomes clear they haven't mastered major objectives, I have no one to blame but myself.

Had I known they were missing key pieces of the puzzle, I could have adjusted, re-taught, added more practice, or changed the summative assessment.

Instead, I didn't find out until it was too late.

Next time, Bill, gather more data before the big one.

After all, your job isn't to measure ability, but to increase it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What looks like laziness...

"What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity...
What looks like laziness is often exhaustion...
What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem."

-Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

These three keys to driving change have become my mantra as a teacher.

And number 2 comes home especially strongly every Friday.

When I find myself reacting to students' apparent lack of motivation, especially on Fridays, I have to remind myself how ready I am for the weekend. I have to ask myself if it's realistic for me to expect them to be as driven as I am.

I have to ask myself if it's realistic to be as driven as I am, period.