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Saturday
Dec132008

Progressives and public mistrust

 

One of my educational favs, Alfie Kohn, offers a "progressive" alternative to the names most often mentioned for Obama's Secretary of Education in his forthcoming Nation article, Beware School "Reformers". (Thanks to Scott McLeod and Gary Stager for pointing this article out and for many far more politically astute bloggers for their analyses.)

Kohn suggests that those currently being regarded as "reformers" support:

  • a heavy reliance on fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests to evaluate students and schools, generally in place of more authentic forms of assessment;
  • the imposition of prescriptive, top-down teaching standards and curriculum mandates;
  • a disproportionate emphasis on rote learning—memorizing facts and practicing skills—particularly for poor kids;
  • a behaviorist model of motivation in which rewards (notably money) and punishments are used on teachers and students to compel compliance or raise test scores;
  • a corporate sensibility and an economic rationale for schooling, the point being to prepare children to “compete” as future employees; and
  • charter schools, many of which are run by for-profit companies.

and observes

Notice that these features are already pervasive, which means “reform” actually signals more of the same—or, perhaps, intensification of the status quo with variations like one-size-fits-all national curriculum standards or longer school days (or years). Almost never questioned, meanwhile, are the core elements of traditional schooling, such as lectures, worksheets, quizzes, grades, homework, punitive discipline, and competition. That would require real reform, which of course is off the table.

On Minnesota Public Radion the other day, an interesting comment was made by a caller. He wondered why, if a plane in flight got in trouble, the passengers would not say, "Professional pilots got us in this mess; we need someone who is not a pilot to get us out." But society seems to often say, "Professional educators have messed up our schools; let's get someone from outside the profession to straighten them out." How is it that everyone seems to love individual teachers, but hate the profession?

How has the educational profession lost the public trust? Why do we as a nation love our own neighborhood schools, but remain convinced that public education as a whole stinks? Why are political pundits (many who simply want to bust union and increase public financing of private schools rather than improve education) honored and professional educators ignored?

Distrust of professional educators is the only reasons I can think of why we continue to use bubbled, normed tests in this country instead of formative, criterion-based assessment. More importantly, how does the profession gain public confidence in public schools? Or is it possible?

Regardless of whom Obama choses to lead the Department of Education, most of us will soldier on doing what's right by kids -  just adjusting our level of subversiveness to fit the educational climate.

Thursday
Dec112008

Seven brilliant things teachers do with technology

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Marianne Williamson

Last week I listed seven stupid mistakes teachers make with technology. Easy marks, these teachers.

But to be fair, I see just as many brilliant teacher uses of technology. Here are things i see teachers do that just make me marvel and feel proud to be a part of the profession.

1. Empower kids with technology. Technology is an amplifier of natural abilities. Brilliant teachers see that good writers become better writers, good debaters become better debaters, good French speakers become better French speakers, good mathematical problem-solvers become better mathematical problem-solvers etc. by helping their students harness technology. They do not see technology as a crutch, but as a propellant. Brilliant teachers have experienced the empowering power of technology themselves. Brilliant teachers use good assessment strategies to rigorously determine the quality of technology-enhanced projects.

2. Creatively find and use resources. I can't believe the technology found in some of our teachers' classrooms. And it was provided by neither our department nor was it stolen (I don't think). Through personal purchase, through PTOs, through grants, through business partnerships, through parental contacts, through fund raising, through classroom supply budgets, brilliant teachers amazingly amass digital cameras and doc cams and clickers and sensors and such. One of our brilliant teacher McGyvered his own doc cam out of an old video camera, plastic pipe and duct tape - and calls it his Grover (not his Elmo).

3. Make conferencing real-time. Brilliant teachers don't wait until parent-teacher conferences to communicate with homes. Through e-mail, websites, online gradebooks, blogs, wikis and even telephone calls, technology gives teachers the ability to help make parents partners who help assure students' timely, quality work. They post newsletters, spelling lists, assessment tools, assignments, grades, calendars, discussion lists, and tips. They read and respond to parent emails. Parents want to be involved, but they like knowing how.

4. Put kids in touch with the world. The classrooms of brilliant teachers *hokey metaphor alert* have no walls. These teachers "get" the flat world metaphor, understanding that tomorrow's citizens and workers will have an advantage if they can work successfully with other cultures. From "keypals" back in the day to Vicky Davis's Flat Classroom Project today, brilliant teachers give even the most remote and least advantaged students a glimpse and dream of the bigger world - and help them both communicate and empathize with those in it.

5. Accept the role of co-leaner. One of the best signs of intelligent people is that they tend to willingly admit when they don't know something. Brilliant teachers, not only accept the dismal fact that they will never know all there is to know about technology, but turn the condition into a classroom advantage by having their brilliant children teach them how to do something techie now and then.

6. Use the kids own devices to teach them. Brilliant teachers understand the old Arab proverb, "It's easier to steer the camel in the direction it is already heading." Students are increasingly and unstoppably bringing in personal communication devices - cell phones, cameras, game devices, iPods/mp3 players, netbooks, laptops, and PDAs. Brilliant teachers know how to use cell phones to poll their classes; create podcasts of lectures; use games to teach difficult concepts; and make "Google-jockeys" of wireless laptop owners.

7. Delight in the discovery, the newness, the fun technology holds. It's not about technology. It's about finding out and doing "cool" things. We knew that ourselves as kids. Brilliant tech-using teachers have never lost the thrill of doing something "cool" with the toys. They are pleased with their tech-using students and pleased with themselves. Brilliant teachers use technology's engagement (not entertainment) power. Technology is not "just one more thing" but a vital experience that brings discovery, excitement and, yes, fun to the classroom.

I hope you all know teachers who make brilliant uses of technology. What do you see them doing?

Thursday
Dec112008

11 ways to increase your staff

Sent to LM_Net. Reposted here with permission of the author. - Doug

... I get the impression that most school library media centers are understaffed and as a result their services shrink. Like a locomotive, the library media center facility can and should be a driving force within the school.

Here are some suggestions on how to increase staff:

1. Strive to make the high school library media center the true hub and center of the school by:
   a) move the Xerox machine into your domain
   b) provide a comfortable facility exclusively for faculty ( an interdepartmental area with a coffee machine, computers and a large table)
   c) Increase the noise level tolerance a little and make the library as welcoming as possible to all

2. Make the library media center the "center of all media" both in the area of impression (books, magazines, etc) and expression (media production - PowerPoint, video editing)

3. Establish a center of the center - that is to say, within your library media center at its center, create a stage or platform that is well lit and has convenient amplification and make it available for more special programs (music, author visits, celebrations, etc)

4. NEVER allow your library to be reduced to a computer lab. That is the doom of any real library media center. The main floor should never have fixed immovable computers - rather a central seating area.

5. Keep the stacks arranged so that there is one main central seating area

6. Provide "live" opportunities for students to keep up on the current news, preferably from an international perspective from a television source like BBC - avoid the glib and commercialized channels

7. Find ways to become an integral arm of school administration - work closely with them.

8. If we consider ourselves just librarians, we are doomed - we are library media specialists and we need to provide a FULL spectrum of library media center services to the school - that includes providing
information, keeping an updated and interesting web site, include all media and communication forms under one room, and extend your reach through broadcast

9. Keep excellent relations with the home school associations

10. Provide special opportunities for all students

11. Never shrink your services, rather always try to increase them

David Di Gregorio
ddigregorio (a) tenafly.k12.nj.us  <http://www.librarymedia.net/>
Supervisor Library Media Services
Tenafly  (NJ) High School's Lalor Library Media Center

Very practical suggestions from a practicing media specialist. And of course, I would add, put in a coffee shop for students. Thanks, David, for sharing this with the Blue Skunk Readers. - Doug