Monday, May 25, 2009

Do You Have A 21st Century Brain?

Thought this was intriguing. It comes via the website "Big Think." This is Princeton Neuroscientist Sam Wang answering some probing questions about how we think about learning and knowledge in the 21st Century.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do They Know?

I heard a colleague and friend of mine, a fifth grade teacher, comment to another in passing it was her least favorite day of the school year Friday. This past Friday marked the end of the first round of the NC End of Grade Tests, and the results were back. Teachers conducted one-on-one conferences with their students to share their results, and followed up with phone calls to their parents. 
In the last two posts I've discussed thoughts about our effectiveness as educators, and the mind set pertaining to whether standardized testing results tell us if we've prepared students to be lifelong learners, to think critically, creatively, and work cooperatively. As I left school Friday afternoon I fully understood where my colleague was mentally and emotionally. The push to get to and through EOG testing was draining enough, and pouring over the results was mind-numbing. I have questions.
Do those who set assessment policy know...
  • what kind of pressure teachers put on themselves in preparation for these tests?
  • how much time is spent on "assessment," and the preparation for it, rather than actual teaching?
  • how much school personnel are reconfigured and school-wide routines disrupted?
  • how much principals, assistant principals, and curriculum coordinators worry? 
  • what kind of stress students exhibit during this period (sometimes to the point of illness)?
  • that at no other time do we ask students to sit still and perfectly silent for long periods, an environment almost totally foreign to them and "uncomfortable?" 
  • how many teardrops fall, sometimes even before students hear their actual results?
  • how much impact this process has on students' feelings of efficacy (both positive and negative)?
Just asking the questions?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mind Set

This post piggybacks on my last, which I had hoped would have drawn more comments. We are very appreciative of the two insights we did receive. We welcome more. It also draws from other blog posts which come courtesy of Will Richardson and his blog "Weblogg-ed."
A friend and colleague of mine called my attention to the first of two Richardson posts I want to reference in this one. It was Richardson's "Quote of the Month," and it resonated with me because of my own reflections on my effectiveness as an educator. Richardson pulled the quote from Education Week's article called "Bridging Differences."
The subtitle for this letter of response is "Test Scores and Reinforcing the Wrong Connections."

The writer is Deborah Meier:
"As long as we use test scores as our primary evidence for being poorly educated we reinforce the connection—and the bad teaching to which it leads. If by some course of action we could get everyone's score the same—even by cheating—I’d be for it, so we could get on to discussing the interactions that matter in classrooms and schools: between “I, Thou, and It.” I’ve spent 45 years trying, unsuccessfully, to shift the discussion to schools as sites for learning. Such a “conversation” might not produce economic miracles, but it would over time connect schooling to the kind of learning that can protect both democracy and our economy. Because that’s where schools are (or are not) powerful."

BTW - I'm not proposing or supporting cheating. Those are Meier's words.

Richardson followed on May 6 by blogging in "Wanted: School Chief Learning Officer" that he had recently asked a school superintendent - "What percentage of the teachers at your school do a good job of preparing kids to take meet the requirements, pass the tests, and get prepared for college, and what percentage do a good job of teaching them how to learn?"
The response he received was - “I think 90 percent of my staff is really good at delivering the goods, but only about 10 percent really get student centered, inquiry driven, lifelong learning.”
I would have hoped for the inverse, but Richardson's point was, "how much more we could do in emphasizing the process of learning as well, not just for students, but for everyone in the school."

At this time of year we play the numbers game with standardized testing - the preparing for and administering of it. And I'll reiterate that accountability is necessary and ultimately good. But I fear that we sometimes miss the point of it all when we struggle so hard to get our students to "earn" that number. If we let it all end with the formal test result have we truly prepared our students to be lifelong learners, and to think critically, creatively, or cooperatively? All educators have to answer that question for themselves.

As for me, I think it's the teaching between the testing that gets our students to that point of learning how to learn. That's how it connects with what we have started at our school with this Teach21 initiative. Most, if not all of the kinds of activities we have looked at, implemented, and planned for future use requires our students to think critically, creatively, cooperatively. And I believe it has started to connect our teachers as well. What we are doing requires a certain mind set. I see my role in all this should be to support, encourage, research, and collaborate with all my colleagues. That's where I hope my career is headed. To facilitate means to make easier.

Until our measures of accountability change we will continue to prepare our students for the test as best we can. Whatever the method, I just hope we look at what it really tells us, and keep it all in perspective. Teachers - value those moments of teaching between the testing. Students - good luck with the testing!
Photo by Sidereal via Flickr