Monthly Archives: October 2012

As a principal new to the district, one of the first pieces of advice i was given was “watch your back”. I too tired of comforting weeping colleagues, of wondering why fellow principals of ‘failing’ schools had suddenly disappeared, of being required to adminster programs and practices that I knew were damaging my kids. I understand why people jump ship. But I admire those who weather the storm.

Diane Ravitch's blog

In response to the post from North Carolina teacher Kris Neilsen on why he quit, this teacher has good advice on how to survive the deluge of mean-spirited policies now raining down on students, teachers, and schools. My suggestion: Hang in there until this house of cards collapses, as it will.

As a twenty-year veteran of public education (secondary ELA) I found many of my fears and frustrations in this letter. I could well have written it myself, but I would be hard-pressed to refrain from vituperation. Kris was so much more eloquent than I could have hoped to be. Recently, my colleagues and I have made a pact: We’re determined to share the good things that are happening in our classrooms. We are committed to supporting each other, because no one else will. I am comforted by the words of the Mahatma Ghandi- “When I despair, I remember that…

View original post 53 more words

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Thinking

Screen time and engagement

A recent study in the UK shows that youngsters are spending around four and a half hours a day in front of TV or computer screens, and 97% of 11 to 16 year olds own a cell phone. That’s a lot of time to be engaged with a screen, in one way communication. What do you think we need to do to deal with this? Please share your thoughts after reading ‘Distractions and Engagement’.

Leave a comment

Filed under Thinking

Distractions and Engagement

Everywhere I go now there are TV screens. In the doctor’s waiting room, at the car repairers, in restaurants, at airports. Everywhere. It’s as though we are being told that we don’t know how to amuse ourselves with our own thoughts or with a book.

I remember the great conversations we had as a family when our kids were small. We would go out to dinner every now and then and the new environment, the people around us, the occasion itself were spurs to some great discussions, lots of laughter and questions, questions, questions from the kids. They were curious and intrigued by everything. We relished the opportunities to interact with them and get them thinking about what they saw and heard.

I was in a restaurant last week and at the adjacent table was a family of five. The parents had their eyes pretty much glued to the TV screen on the wall in front of them, two of the kids were profoundly involved with their phones and the third just sat gazing into the middle distance. What else could he do? There was no one to talk to.

The disturbing thing was that my phone was sitting on the table on front of me, and it buzzed. My hand went almost instinctively to pick it up, to check out what piece of utter trivia or earth shattering importance was waiting for me. We were in the lull between having placed our order and receiving it. That space where you dip your bread in the olive oil and balsamic and try not to take too much edge off your appetite. It was the time when you check out the other diners, rearrange your napkin, ponder whether dessert is a likely option tonight. I knew if I picked up my phone, my companion would probably pick up his and there we would be, both tied by our eyeballs to our phones.  Conversation potential zilch!

When did we forget to talk to each other? When did the world around us decide that we could no longer be occupied with our own thoughts and the thoughts of others? Why are we allowing this to happen?

I think we are in real danger of forgetting how to engage – to engage with ourselves and with others. I fear that we are becoming immersed in a sea of distractions that tug us away from one another, and away from what goes on in our own heads. On our phones we flick from email, to twitter, to facebook, and back again. On our computers we hit link after link, scanning articles, leaving them half read and hardly considered as we move on to the next fascinating throw away tag line.

I think we need to learn a whole new set of manners about smart phone use in public. I also believe we need to teach our kids and ourselves to resist the temptation to flit about like intellectual butterflies from one distraction to another, from one hyperlink to the next. We need to teach our kids and ourselves how to engage.

It is possible to set an Ipad so that the opportunities for browsing are limited. With ‘Guided Access’ the teacher or parent can restrict usage to a single application and control which features are available. If your kids are using Ipads at home or at school for a specific purpose you can encourage them to stay on task, in focus and not be tempted to flutter off to the next pretty flower.

My son tells me of a great smartphone game when groups go out to dinner together. Everyone puts their phone in a pile in the center of the table, one on top of the other. The first person to pick up a phone should it ring or buzz has to buy a round of drinks.

Students easily become overloaded by the sheer volume of sources available to them when researching on the internet. Instead of allowing them to jump from source to source, teach them how to thoroughly investigate one or two. Show them how to determine the source of the information, encourage them to read to the end, ask them to compare and evaluate two sources on the same subject, for example www.crazydogtheoriesonhealth.com and www.mayoclinic.com or www.theearthreallyisflat.org and www.nationalgeographic.com.

Start a movement! The Bring Back Conversations Movement. Create a T shirt. Ask for a table where you can sit with your back to the TV in a restaurant. Design a bumper sticker. Start a conversation group.  Do whatever it takes to encourage people to communicate with clarity and precision and to listen with empathy and understanding.

In the book Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman I discovered that simply placing children in desegregated schools doesn’t appear to lead to greater racial interaction. Young children when dressed in either a red or a blue t-shirt at school will eventually choose their friends from those kids wearing the same color shirt. It seems to be that only when we talk about something can we begin to influence behavior. We need to talk to our kids about the need for conversation. We need to teach them how to participate. We should be encouraging them to explore the contents of their own mind and the minds of others and then to share their ideas.

It isn’t one thing or another. We should be teaching our kids how to be sociable users of social media. We should also be teaching them how to interact and communicate without always needing an electronic gadget as an intermediary.

3 Comments

Filed under Thinking

Where Are The Poets and Where is Einstein?

Where Are The Poets and Where is Einstein?.

Leave a comment

Filed under Thinking

Where Are The Poets and Where is Einstein?

In a recent blog I was fretting about the future of poetry. The problem is    actually wider and deeper.

Einstein said:

 “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge.”

He also said of his most famous discovery:

“The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition”.

 

And so the inevitable questions are:

  • How do we test for imagination using a multiple choice Scantron sheet?
  • What are we doing to teach more than just the acquisition of factual knowledge?
  • Why is the teaching of music in decline?

A USA report by the Center on Educational Policy in December 2007 found that 62% of schools had increased the instructional time spent on the two major tested areas of English Language Arts and mathematics. It also found, unsurprisingly, that 31% of schools had reduced the time given to non-tested subjects. Another five years has made things worse. Some school systems, faced with budget cuts, have eliminated specialist music teachers from elementary schools altogether.

The reduction in time given to non-tested areas was found to be more prevalent in school districts that were considered in need of improvement. “In need of improvement” can virtually always be read as “high poverty”. If the trend continues we can expect to see the Arts become curriculum offerings for the affluent while the poor will be more and more denied the opportunity to share in these riches of our society, in the same way they are denied the more material riches.

The high stakes testing regime has been alive and kicking in the USA since 2001 and has had plenty of time to do its work on the Arts. In Australia the Federal government, for reasons known only to itself, and not to educators, is heading down the testing path of the USA – as usual about ten years later and just as the USA begins to wake up in more enlightened circles to the fact that this path leads nowhere desirable.

I was disturbed to find that although there was a weekly specialist music lesson, there was virtually NO classroom music in the school I lead in the USA. There was a smattering in the very youngest classes, but nothing more. I recall the astonishment on the faces of the kids and the teacher of one of my grade three classes when I went into the room and had them all stand up, follow me, and learn the song and actions to “A Pirate Went To Sea, Sea, Sea”.

When I was a classroom teacher my classrooms were always filled with music. The CD player was on my desk, we had quiet classical music in the background during writing sessions, we sang songs about numbers, about countries, about ideas. Music was a part of how the children learned.

Often the music was also associated with movement, so we were on our feet singing counting songs, clapping, jumping and stamping our feet as we sang our multiplication tables. I would make up short refrains to help children to learn how to spell difficult words so we could sing them as well as write them and recite them.

I interacted with the music teacher so that she could adjust her music program to expand on the things we were learning about in other curriculum areas, and so that we could sing the songs and play the music she had been working with when the children returned to my classroom.

Here is the problem. As the Common Core State Standards and the Australian Curriculum are implemented in their respective school systems, we can anticipate a flood of testing to follow close behind. Results will be made public in the name of some sort of ‘accountability’ – often more a search for someone to blame. That will increase the stakes for these tests and the inevitable slide will accelerate, as tested subjects take up more and more curriculum time and the non-tested arts subjects are relegated to the frills area of the curriculum.

We need to take at least two kinds of action.

Firstly we need to protest loudly and often if and when we see any diminution in the time and value given to the arts in our schools.

Secondly, we need to find ways to incorporate the kinds of learning that are facilitated by the use of images, non-linguistic representations, the translation of knowledge into visual media and the use of music in our classrooms, whatever we are teaching.

If specialist arts lessons are reduced, let’s bring them into all the areas of the curriculum that will be tested. Let’s teach our kids mathematics, poetry, grammar, science, social studies – the whole panoply – with color, with images, with music and with movement.

We need poets and we need more Einsteins.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Thinking

As I said, our children are NOT hamburgers.

Diane Ravitch's blog

My first impulse was not to write about the debate last night. But then a reader contacted me to ask why I hadn’t written anything. I oblige.

The debate was about foreign policy, supposedly, but the candidates still managed to restate their talking points about education.

I was hoping they wouldn’t mention education because neither of them says anything that is accurate. They are out of touch with what is happening in the schools and seem to have no clue about what is needed.

Mitt Romney still claims credit for the Massachusetts reforms, even though they were enacted 10 years before he was elected, and even though his own education platform today rejects the Massachusetts reform strategy of more funding, higher standards for teachers, and improved standards and assessments. His reform strategy today can be summed up in one word: privatization. Also, attack teachers unions and any certification for new…

View original post 193 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Thinking

Our Kids Are Not Hamburgers

 “Education reform movements are often based on the fast food model of quality assurance: on standardization and conformity. What’s needed is a much higher standard of provision based on the principles of personalized learning for every child and of schools customizing their cultures to meet local circumstances. This is not a theory. There are schools everywhere that demonstrate the practical power of these principles to transform education.

 

Standardization tends to emphasize the lowest common denominator. Human aspirations reach much higher and if the conditions are right they succeed. Understanding those conditions is the real key to transforming education for all our children.” SirKenRobinson.com

 

It seems that every education system in the world is trying to reinvent itself. My interests lie mainly in two systems – Australia and the USA. Of course, neither of these can be understood without reference to what is going on elsewhere in the world. What bothers me is that the focus in both systems is on end points and how to measure if we have reached them.

 

In Australia there is no fudging that the development is all about curriculum, assessment and reporting. A complex process is afoot to write a curriculum (or standards, since we hope that the implementation and delivery will be left to the professional judgment of educators)and alongside that to design assessment materials that will measure in a standardized fashion the extent to which those end points have been reached at the conclusion of each school year.

 

In the USA we wait with bated breath as the Core Curriculum State Standards are implemented and each state develops its own standardized assessment tools.

 

In other words, both countries are standardizing a set of expected outcomes and a battery of ways to measure outcomes in a standardized fashion. For every child, in every context.

 

Since the standards cover schooling from K – 12, we are making assumptions about the kind of knowledge a child entering school today will need when he or she leaves school in 2025. Wow!

 

How many times I have listened to the experts tell me that we don’t know what the employment needs will be in five years’ time, let alone thirteen. The rate of technological, economic and social change is accelerating. Our kids walk around with cell phones in their hands today that do the work of large desk computers of five years ago – and more. Yet we believe we can reform education by setting standards for curriculum that specify the kinds of knowledge our kids will need when they leave school.

 

Don’t get me wrong. We need standards if we are not to flail around in a free for all soup of educational practices. The standards as expressed are sound and significant but the dangers lie in the implementation and evaluation.

 

Let’s not fall for the standardization myth, the one that says unless every kid reaches the same standard with the same material in the same time frame, our system has somehow failed. Our kids are not assembly line products. The assembly line, quality control model works well for cars and hamburgers. We can control and standardize inputs, ensure a high, common standard of processing and then evaluate each item as it rolls off the end of the line.

But some kids grow up on farms and others in high rise tenements, some kids love to bury their noses in books, others need to push their bodies around, move and do stuff with their hands. Some kids’ brains are eager to accept abstract concepts at an early age and some want images, pictures and sounds with their learning. Some kids can’t sit still. And we really don’t have a clue what they will need to be successful in thirteen years’ time – except for one thing. They will need to be able think flexibly, creatively, effectively and efficiently. Whatever the world looks like in 2025, we know this ability will be a foundation for whatever their lives look like.

 

My hope is that as we continue to reform our education systems in Australia and the USA we don’t lose sight of the fact that the declaration of standards needs to remain flexible, adaptive to the needs of kids and open to change. The teaching of thinking needs to be explicitly embedded within the standards. It should be foundational, not incidental. In addition, our methods of assessment need to reflect the rich and totally desirable variation among children. We limit our aspirations when we expect every child to meet the same set of expectations, whatever they may be, and penalize those who do not.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Thinking