Search this site
Other stuff

Follow me on Twitter at:


All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

Locations of visitors to this page

My latest book:

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Fan Page on Facebook


Must-read K-12 IT Blog
EdTech's Must-Read K-12 IT Blogs





Engage or entertain?

Engage: to hold the attention of : to induce to participate

Entertain: to provide entertainment [amusement or diversion provided especially by performers]

It's a fallacy to believe today's students are unhappy unless they are entertained.

In Tuesday night's PBS show, Growing Up Online* (an episode of Frontline) a classroom teacher lamented that given the amount of time kids are spending on line that they now need to be entertained if you want their attention. It's not an uncommon complaint.

But I don't believe it is a valid one. The terms "entertain" and "engage" are being used synonymously. There are important distinctions. 

  • Entertainment's primary purpose is to create an enjoyable experience; engagement's primary purpose is to focus attention so learning occurs.
  • Entertainment is ephemeral, often frivolous; engagement creates long-lasting results and deals with important issues.
  • Entertainment needs have little relevance to the the reader/watcher/listener; engagement experiences most often relate directly to the learner.
  • Entertainment is an escape from problems; engagement involves solving problems.
  • Entertainment results through the creativity of others; engagement asks for creativity on the part of the learner.
  • Perhaps the greatest distinction is that entertain is often passive, whereas engagment is active or interactive.

I am not convinced that kids need constant entertainment anymore that any of us do. But they do demand, and should, learning that is engaging.

Lolipop-the-Clown.jpgJust a few random thoughts early this morning as I finish preparing for the three workshops I am giving today at Indiana's ICE conference [today's educators are as demanding as any Net Gen student], I hope I remember the distinction myself.

Is there a difference between entertaining and engaging the learner? How do you make the distinction? 

 * I thought the Frontline program was excellent and balanced. I especially appreciated experts like Anne Collier and Danah Boyd rather than some spooky guy from the FBI. Some good parenting lessons in it as well.


The president on standards

AASL President, Sara Kelly Johns, that is.

Sara left this comment in response to Paula Yohe's guest blog entry a few days ago. I thought it deserved a more prominent place on this blog. She is the president, after all. (And I'm thinking we might all want to start getting used to saying Madam President.)

Hi, Doug, et al-- [I think you Blue Skunk readers are the et al. Get over it.]

The Learning Assessment and Indicators Task Force is working diligently to do just what you are saying needs to be done...those pieces were   never intended to be part of the standards themselves though the writing team did work on them already as part of the writing process.

That work is the core of what they are doing now. MUCH progress was made in the face-to-face meeting at Midwinter's All-Committee meeting. DO take a look at the nine standards of IP2, they certainly needed further expansion and explanation for those of us in the field to implement! The standards only worked with study, reflection and discussion of the entire book, not just the nine standards. As I said on LM_NET and the AASL Blog, The Task Force is following all the commentary, will take it into consideration and there will be opportunities for comment and input as part of the process.

What you are being asked is not to immediately implement these standards but to consider them, examine your library program and identify how these standards might push your program to be more learner-centered. At least that is my personal quest for the year in order to provide input to the Learning Assessment and Indicators Task Force as their work progresses. I hope that everyone commenting has taken a look at Sharon Coatney's article in the Feb. 2008 School Library Media Activities Monthly, "Standards for the 21stCentury Learner," in which she compares the new standards with the IP2 standards (p. 56-7). The chart on page 58, "SLMAM Skills Correlations--New (2007) to Old (1998)" is very useful during this transition time.

As far as people outside the library profession "getting" the standards, I had the experience on Jan. 9th of meeting with the provost of Teacher's College, Columbia with Barbara Stripling. Of course, I put together a packet of materials about school library programs. Provost James picked out the standards, couldn't take his eyes off them, and said that it would be easy for TC to partner with school libraries with library standards that obviously correlate with the kind of teacher and administrator prep program that is needed to teach the students in our schools. He "got" what we do as teachers to promote information literacy from our standards.

The other comment that I heard at Midwinter [ALA conference] (wish I could remember who told me!) was that when one district's librarians did a study of the standards, the SLMSs who graduated more recently "got" them easily, saying they had the concepts that they learned about in undergrad ed programs and their library degree programs. That was heartening. And made me think of how many years I have been out of library school. Yikes!

So, stay tuned for the "rest of the story." There is much yet to happen and this careful scrutiny is VERY healthy and should result in great input for the Learning Assessment and Indicators Task Force. Thanks!

Thanks, Sara. I can't wait to see the work of the Task Force.  


Evaluating teachers

As reported by a number of horrified bloggers, the New York schools are experimenting with evaluating teachers based on their students' test scores. Bad, bad idea. Right? No control over the input; therefore not control over the output:

... teachers are being measured on how many students in their classes meet basic progress goals, how much student performance grows each year, and how that improvement compares with the performance of similar students with other teachers.

But put yer parent hat on for minute, and consider this scenario...

Your child's school district gives a "value-added" test like the NWEA MAPS test. These computerized tests are given in the fall and again in the spring and are designed to measure individual student growth on specific skills. RIT scores show just how many months/years of progress each individual makes between tests. Whether a student has a 1st grade reading level or a 10th grade reading level on entering the 5th grade classroom, the test will tell whether that student makes one year of skill growth - or not. At least that's the theory.

teacher6.jpgNow, my little boy Skunkie Jr is going into 4th grade and there are three possible 4th grade teachers that he might get. Might not I, as a parent, want to look at the track record of each teacher the Skunkster might get next year - as demonstrated by the percent of students that made or exceeded a year of growth in each of those teachers classes, over say, the past three years. The records indicate that an average of 75% of Mr. Chip's kids make a year of growth; 90% of Ms. Brodie's kids made a year's growth; but only 50% of Mr. Holland's get that year of progress. Might that not be a good thing to know - as a parent or an administrator or a staff development coordiantor or as a taxpayer?

It certainly wouldn't be the only factor I would consider in choosing a teacher (or school) for my child, but I'd rather like knowing it. I do want little Blue to be able to read and do his sums.

Norm-referenced standardized tests can't be used to measure the quality of teachers, of course. But that doesn't sound like what NYC schools are doing. I can't see how it would be a bad thing if my son making a year's worth of progress on a set of standards was seen as very, very important to his teacher.

I suspect there are plenty of really good teachers who would welcome some form of objective evaluation criteria for the work they do. Even without merit-based pay.

I'm not that horrified. Should I be? Why?