Tag Archives: effective

Pearson: a Rant

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For all the research to the contrary, US public education continues to bow down at the feet of the mighty monopoly that is Pearson publishing. Although study after study demonstrates the need for education to be interested driven and project based in order to develop critical thinking skills, states, districts, and administrators turn to the easy solution, a one-size-fits-none approach provided by a single company.

Pearson has aggressive lobbyists, top-notch marketing and a highly skilled sales team. Until the New York attorney general cracked down in late 2013, Pearson’s charitable foundation made a practice of treating school officials from across the nation to trips abroad, to conferences where the only education company represented was Pearson….

The story of Pearson’s rise is very much a story about America’s obsession with education reform over the past few decades.

Ever since a federal commission published “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 — warning that public education was being eroded by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people” — American schools have been enveloped in a sense of crisis. Politicians have raced to tout one fix after the next: new tests, new standards, new classroom technology, new partnerships with the private sector.

K-12 superintendents and college administrators alike struggle to boost enrollment, raise graduation rates, improve academic outcomes — and to do it all while cutting costs.

In this atmosphere of crisis, Pearson promises solutions. It sells the latest and greatest, and it’s no fly-by-night startup; it calls itself the world’s leading learning company. Public officials have seized it as a lifeline.

How can a company meet the individual needs of students in a diverse nation such as the US? The short answer: it can’t. Yet every year, more schools turn to Pearson for a quick solution to a political problem. Teachers in the classroom are painfully aware that with every additional test from Pearson students fall further behind. They lose interest in the learning process as creativity is discouraged and interest-driven study is relegated to after school activities. Is it any wonder the home school movement is gaining steam? Critical thinking is developed by problem solving, collaboration, and desire to progress. Pearson’s single strategy does nothing but develop excellent test-takers who do not retain information because there is no context or relevance for any of it once the test is over.

Parents and teachers and voters need to insist that education is customized for the students in their districts. Student needs change from urban areas to rural, and geographical variances.  There are some common elements required, but once the basics of reading and mathematics  is established, education must offer flexibility if US students are to be competitive on a world market. Until the system values innovation, creativity, and self-driven learning, US students will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026.html#ixzz3S3UhOYVk

#walkmyworld: Doctor Who Edition

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There comes a time in every project where the unexpected happens and things just get better. This is true of #walkmyworld. This week’s learning event was a “virtual high-five” intended to allow participants to create community within the broader scope of the project. In a sense, #walkmyworld became a portal to an affinity space (Gee) wherein participant made new connections based on a common interest. Some participants high-fived each other for classroom interactions or favorite foods or exercise. These new revelations created bonds between people who have never met–and possible never will in a non-digital environment.  Some shared inspiration, some silliness (never, ever take yourself too seriously!), and others posted adorable images of baby animals. A few even reached out for employment, which was unexpected, but hopefully led to something great!

#walkmyworld: It's bigger on the inside

#walkmyworld: It’s bigger on the inside

I happened to observe a familiar mug in one post: an exploding TARDIS. For many people (maybe most, but I cannot fathom why), this detail may have gone undetected, but for me, a dedicated nerd, this homage to Doctor Who made me happy. I quickly poured a cuppa for myself and sent a high-five to the poster. Someone saw that and added a favorite, along with a comment about her Van Gogh TARDIS mug. And there we were: three Whovians from different places who also happened to be educators participating in a common project.

It was fun to connect and talk about something fun and trivial even as we pretended we were participating in an educational learning event.

It just doesn’t get better than that. Unless you add fish sticks and custard.

References

Gee, J.P. (2009). Affinity Spaces: From Age of Mythology to today’s schools. Retrieved from: http://www.jamespaulgee.com/node/5

Wow.

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Honored and Humbled

Tonight was truly inspirational. And humbling. I knew back in August that I had received a scholarship from the Leitalift Foundation, but I had no idea until tonight just how significant it was. I have joined the ranks of a very few educators in Georgia to be recognized for passion and determination in spite of obstacles. In my case, the obstacles came in the form of age and financial need. The passion, however, was what the scholarship committee saw. I had no way of knowing, but my desire to make education about the students again caught their attention.

But it’s true. I am so fed up with a system that makes test scores the sole measure of a child’s worth. We have ceased as a society to value creativity and independent thinking and problem solving in favor of some “objective” measure of knowledge. The problem is, teenagers are too smart for that measurement. They know how to game the system. They become expert test-takers, but retain little actual knowledge because is isn’t relevant to their lives. Their learning happens outside the classroom where they are sometimes subject to ideas and processes they may not be cognitively ready for. But as a society, we have forced them there. School is boring. The tools of business are largely ignored in the public schools; worse yet, they are often blocked. We live n a digital world, but the education system is locked into a formula devised in the 1950s and last updated in the 1980s. We may have standardized tests, but we are not standardized individuals. To reduce anyone’s value to a test score is wrong on every level.
I was expected (unknowingly) to say a few words about my passion and inspiration. Because so much of my feelings on education were articulated by Madeleine L’Engle, I quickly pulled up a quote that became the centerpiece of my moment on stage:
“The creative impulse can be killed, but it cannot be taught…What a teacher can do…in working with children, is to give the flame enough oxygen so that it can burn. As far as I’m concerned, this providing of oxygen is one of the noblest of all vocations.” (A Circle of Quiet, 1972)
My passion as an educator is to fan the flame of creative passion, of excellence, and of delight in learning. This passion is not at home in the current public school space. My goal, then, is to offer a point of view that is student centered, practical minded, and relevant in the long term. My hope is the my work going forward inspires those who follow to rebel against a culture of standardization in pursuit of something greater: beautiful individuality that leads to innovation, excellence, and independence.
Wow.
Me and Denise, 2014 recipients
Denise and I both received this scholarship. She is a single mom who already has an MBA but felt compelled to get her Master of Arts in Teaching with an ESOL (non-native English speaking students) specialty. We are both driven and determined women who are motivated even more now to give back by pursuing excellence.
I received a certificate saying,
” The Directors of the Leitalift Foundation unanimously selected Stephanie Loomis to receive a 2014 scholarship. Leitalift scholarships are granted to women who have exhibited an extraordinary desire and commitment to enriching their lived through furthering their education.
Leita Thompson founded the Leitalift foundation is 1956 with her own earned funds as a working woman to assist working women find a fuller life. Clarice Bagwell was Leitalift Foundation President until her death in 2001. The spirit and tenacity of these two women are behind this scholarship grant.
The scholarship recipient by accepting this grant commits to do her best to accomplish her education goals in this coming year.”
Challenge accepted, with gratitude and humility.
Thank you Clarice Bagwell/ Leitalift Foundation. With the Lord’s help and blessing, I will prove myself worthy.

Principal: school doesn’t work for most kids

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School doesn’t work for most kids, which is why some schools are starting to be more flexible in their teaching and learning. Shutterstock

“Secondary school, at least, only really works for about a third of students,” according to Templestowe College principal Peter Hutton. Speaking in Melbourne last week, he also asked how “we made learning, something that in younger years was so innately pleasurable, get so bad”.

Hutton used the metaphor of schools as a bus, where 30 kids get on the bus, the teacher sits at the front and, no matter how much the view is of interest to the child sitting on the bus, we can’t stop. Instead, we say, “I’m sorry, son, we can’t stop to look at that, we have a schedule to keep.”

But at Templestowe College in Melbourne, Peter Hutton is doing something different. Not only are students able to take classes outside their year level, they are actively engaged in the school in hiring and firing staff, in offering specialised courses based on their own areas of expertise and in challenging expectations around school days. But why and how?

Students take responsibility for their learning

At this school, students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning. They are able to make decisions about what they study, in what year level and in what order. This approach, which mirrors what is done at many democratic schools, is known as student-directed learning.

This style of learning is popular at universities and in schools. However, it may be vastly different from many of our experiences at school. This approach involves allowing students to direct the topics of study, the length of time they study a topic and the way they are assessed. At Templestowe, the school has partnered with La Trobe University to meet students’ interest in studying computer gaming.

Students whose subject choices are not offered by the school complete what is known as a Personalised Learning Project (PLP). They set the objectives of the project, choose a staff mentor and then complete the project.

Students who are given the ability to plan their own learning are said to improve their achievement and build on their capacity to learn. They work in partnership with their teachers to encourage independence and take charge of their own learning.

Hutton gives the example of a student who was in Year 7, but wanted to sit in on a Year 12 Physics class. The student was able to do so, but only if he didn’t interrupt the learning of the Year 12 students. They found that the student was not only surviving, he was thriving.

When asked about this, his classmates said:

Well it’s a bit weird actually … because he sometimes knows more than we do.

Much like in democratic schools, the school offers students the chance to control their learning to meet their needs. This chance to control learning is in line with school improvement practices that empower students to shape and direct the education they experience and the management of the school.

Research has shown that students who are engaged in active inquiry investigations of different concepts enjoy greater learning gains than students who are not. They are also more likely to learn more about how they learn, to meet their learning goals and to experience school as more pleasurable.

Students’ learning plans are individualised and flexible

One of the more controversial aspects of Templestowe is its flexibility. Start times for students vary according to what the principal describes as research around sleep patterns for adolescents. They received media coverage for their staggered start times of 7.15am, 9am and 10.15am with finish times of 1.15pm, 3.30pm and 5.15pm.

There is a good deal of research that indicates that adolescents should be able to start later if they feel the need. Some research has said that teenage moodiness and poor school behaviour could be mitigated by better sleep patterns, including later sleep and later rising, with schools factoring that in to their starts. Similarly, a 2010 study concluded that even modest delays in start times improved adolescent moodiness, health, alertness and achievement.

Students choose when they go to and from school. Shutterstock
Click to enlarge

What are the problems with this flexibility?

Some of the problems will stem from epistemological differences between this school’s approach and the established expectations of parents and education commentators. For example, some parents may not trust their child to take responsibility for their own learning, believing that curriculum experts and teachers are better placed to make those decisions.

Further, they may find it difficult to understand students taking control of the hiring and firing of staff. Some may struggle with the idea that it is a students’ role to mentor and tutor other students, or to offer courses and activities to other students. It may be seen as a conflict of interest to have students working for the school as receptionists and maintenance staff.

Or it might be difficult to understand why a student of Year 7 age might want to enrol in Year 12 Physics. Or why, for that matter, the Year 12 students wouldn’t roundly object to that child being in their class.

Similarly, when it comes to start times, the idea that children can choose when they start might be shocking or horrifying for some parents. If only because they may not like the idea of having to make multiple student drop-offs!

Original article found here.

Unorthodox but Effective

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Years ago a principal wrote “Her teaching style is unorthodox, but effective.” I took that as a tremendous compliment and I’ve made it my teaching mantra.

Why unorthodox? Well, I have some unusual philosophies about teaching literature and composition. I don’t believe in tests. I use tests only as a consequence of non-participation by a class on any given day. The test covers the material that the Socratic discussion should have done more effectively (and interestingly.) Generally, if I give a test, the passing rate is low: students who came to class prepared pass, those who hoped to ride on the backs of their prepared classmates, fail. As a result, I rarely have to give a test to any given class–and if I do, it’s only once.

I encourage students to use the study tools available to them. Those tools are always insufficient for class discussion, but many students find that reading the material, reading the notes, and re-reading the material is an effective method for them. I also encourage audio book use for my auditory learners.

I don’t teach grammar or vocabulary. By the time a teen is a sophomore in high school he should understand the basics of mechanics. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of on-line sources and tutors available. I also use peer editing to strengthen those skills for both writers and editors. Vocabulary is best learned by reading good literature, not by matching unrelated words to definitions. I expect my students to look up words they don’t know. By the second month of school, they usually do. Students will rise to elevated expectations.

My primary form of evaluation is the essay. My students read and write a lot. They are required to keep a daily journal (ten minutes per day) and I walk them through the essay writing process from thesis to works cited. By the end of sophomore year, my students write a highly developed, well-researched 10-12 page paper with confidence.

I also integrate art into literary analysis regularly. Too much of school is relegated to left brain activities: lists, memorization, numbers, facts, etc. Good thinkers use the creative right brain to formulate ideas before engaging the left brain to organize them. Altered books, altered puzzles, photography, digital art, paintings—all of these have a place in my classroom.

Effective? Yes. In 20+ years as an educator, my students have consistently outperformed their peers in college courses that include writing. A number of my students have determined to pursue writing and communication in their careers, based partly on strategies learned in my class.

This blog will be my place to share these strategies and to share a new approach to literature I am currently developing. Test these ideas in your own schools (whether large private school or home school) and see whether or not unorthodox can be effective.