Sunday, October 16, 2011

Questioning our Mania for Technology

I love technology as much as the next teacher, but I do wonder about the one size fits all, we must have it because it is technology, and so what if we can pay our teachers this year approach. Thought provoking article from the Committed Sardine blog

If money were no object, it would be hard to take a position against educational technology. Especially in less privileged neighborhoods, students do benefit from hands-on experience with the kinds of tools that are standard in white-collar workplaces. At worst, kids like new gadgets, and it doesn’t hurt to give them what they like once in a while.

This, however, is a zero-sum game in which money that goes to technology could just as easily have been spent on other approaches that, though perhaps not scalable, are directly connected to the processes of teaching and learning. Funding projects to improve teacher training, development, and retention, for instance, is less sexy than cutting the ribbon on a lab full of lightning-fast computers. But it’s also more likely to help kids learn.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A desire for meaningful teaching and learning

Anthony Cody interviewed Alfie Kohn who urges us to "take back our schools." They discussed the new and improved standardized tests that the DOE is designing to measure complex thinking. There is not a lot of confidence in the system that any test that is standardized one-size-fits-all, created and imposed by distant authorities -- is inauthentic and is likely to measure what matters least. Teachers want to teach well. Almost every student I have ever taught wants to learn. I have thought a lot about how to provide appropriate assessment methods to determine whether both of those things are happening.

There is no easy answer but I keep coming to a holistic approach. New York City has gotten rid of essentially automatic tenure. Under the city’s new standards, teachers are rated on a four-point scale as highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective, based on students’ tests scores, classroom observations, feedback from parents, and other factors. (Previously, they were simply rated satisfactory or not.) I am not saying that NYC's method is the best (I still resist using test scores for a variety of reasons I will discuss later), but I admire them for taking a step to make the profession more accountable.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Include teachers in the Education Reform Discussion

Jim, a middle school assistant principal wrote succinctly about some of my frustrations with "education reform" in his Open Letter to Education Reformers. There is no easy solution and even when teachers have been involved, it is often easier to just do status quo. And what we are left with are 18th century strategies for 21st century learners.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

So New York City's 1700 school's are reshaping how they evaluate their teachers. This is a great start. All teachers in the struggling schools — schools with low graduation rates and low student test scores — will be rated annually as either ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective. In the current system, in place for decades, teachers have been rated simply satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

What they haven't sorted out yet is what the criteria for the four tiers will be. Will they use test scores? Who decides what "effective" or "highly effective" means

I have posted before about using a holistic, 360 degree approach to evaluating teachers. I have a personal interest in this topic for a number of reasons.

First - I am a teacher. I am a professional. I want to be perceived, evaluated and treated like a professional. In my past career (high tech management), a set of subjective and objective criteria were used to evaluate my performance. I did not expect my teaching performance to be evaluated any other way.

Secondly, as a relative newcomer to teaching, I am laid off every year, while teachers with seniority are not. I am a really good teacher. I am creative, compassionate, diligent and a leader. With every year I teach, I do get better. But time and experience are not the only things that make me a good teacher. We read about teachers who stay teaching because "they don't know what else to do". They may not be good teachers, but they get to stay. There are teachers in the classroom who do not want to be there. I want to be in the classroom and I don't get to be. So my second reason for having an interest in evaluation methods is that perhaps if we had a more rigorous method for evaluating teachers, more teachers who should be teaching will continue to teach and teachers who shouldn't be teaching will be finding what else they can do.

Finally, as a tax payer, I want to know that public schools are held accountable for providing the best education they can. Having properly evaluated teachers will help insure this.

I am still not sure how best to 'properly evaluate', but I glad to know that school districts, unions and community leaders are working on this.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BYOT - iEngage

Last year I was telling my fourth graders how I wished that I could afford to buy enough iPads so that we could use them in class. A few of the kids offered, "I could bring mine from home" which prompted a few more to say the same. In an informal poll,So I set about making it happen. I was lucky enough to be teaching in a small, affluent district. I also have a principal and superintendent with a great deal of trust in me and my ideas. So iDay was formed. I sent out a Google survey to find out from parents how many devices we could get, if they were willing to have other students use them and setting out guidelines (devices would be locked up when not in use, only approved apps could be used, etc.) The first iDay we had 23 devices! Students played math games during 'centers' and explored fractions, percents and number sense alone or with partners. One of the centers was also teacher time with groups of 4-5 students. As much as they loved using the iPads and iTouchs, they also loved having small group teacher time, a luxury in a class of 31.

We expanded the program to include language arts as well as other devices such as Kindles. I included IT in plans to make sure they were on board with my unofficial pilot. Like Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, we discovered that students were more engaged and were turning in higher quality work. Teachers also saw fewer discipline issues and better class attendance. What's more, students showed significant improvements in district benchmark tests conducted during the pilot's first year.

Sadly, I have been laid off from the district I was with, but wherever I end up, I hope to continue what I started. Forsyth's program has some good suggestions for starting your own BYOT program.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

So much has been write about standardizing what teachers do and say. I truly believe that evaluating teachers on their ability to be good teachers is key to improving our educational system. Yet how to come up with a reasonable, fair way to evaluate teachers really is a complex issue. Teachers are getting bashed in the press and in movies! It was nice to read about supporting our teachers in the Huffington Post.

Esther Wojcicki wrote, The center of a classroom is not a test, a textbook, or the posters on the wall. It's not a state or district policy, and it most certainly is not a federal law. The heart of the classroom is found in the unique relationships between students and teachers. In the same way that a family turns a house into a home, a physical and emotional transformation takes place when teachers and students work together in community to reach common goals. We see it in the trust, the expectations, the experiences and the knowledge of every person in the class.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

iStuff Apps

My friend Julie is an awesome Special Ed teacher. She got an iPad and wants to use it with her kids. I have a few suggestions. Please feel free to add your own!

First - here is a link to my classroom blog where my kids made recommendations about apps they like.

Probably my top recommendation for special ed is Dragon Dictation - this free app is a simple to use voice recognition tool, useful with reluctant writers. It does take a little getting used to and will require some punctuation editing, but it easily converts speech to text that can be imported to a word processor.

The (free) Kindle app is my favorite for ereading. I like the ease of looking up words while I am reading, as well as the ability to change font size, paper color and brightness.

Adobe Photoshop Express is still free and quite fun for creating effects on photographs. Doodle Buddy (or any similar drawing app) is nice to have for kids with motor issues.

Math Games - I use iPad with math centers. I am all about the free apps. Some my kids really enjoy include: Portion Platter, Mancala with multi-player support, NumberLine, Pearl Diver and Lobster Diver.

Language Arts
apps I use with the kids include Hangman, Grammar Dragon, Bluster

Nicole Dalesio has a whole website set up about Digital Storytelling. She is awesome and has some great ideas.

Google Earth another free app I would certainly include.

Teacher Productivity tools that I use frequently include Evernote, DropBox and Splashtop remote.

Katie Stansberry posted on the ITSE blog, "Special education classrooms are finding iPads to be extraordinarily useful for language delayed students and individuals with communication challenges. Several Montessori teachers have even gotten involved with the new technology by building apps designed to tap into children’s natural observation processes and promote self-directed learning."

Scribd has compiled an extensive list of apps for Special Ed.

iPad Curriculum is a helpful site with some suggestions and useful search criteria.

For a limited time the Everyday Math games are free for iStuff! Get em while they are free!

Googling "ipad special ed apps" will get you about 1,190,000 hit so I hope this helps get you stated.

Finally, Appolicious is an app/website which provides info about Aps! Reviews, notification of sales, etc.

Monday, June 27, 2011

State board on verge of overhauling teacher evaluation process - The Boston Globe

State board on verge of overhauling teacher evaluation process - The Boston Globe Part of me wants to say WAAAH.

A look at ways to create a fair teacher evaluation system

In an article written in the Westchester Journal News by Alfred Posamentier argues the value of experience in teacher evaluation. However, experience alone cannot be the sole criteria for determining teacher effectiveness. Ultimately as we strive to maximize the effectiveness of our schools, we need to universally define the traits of a good teacher and develop ways to measure them, just as we do — often subconsciously — when we evaluate lawyers and doctors. Then we need to establish a panel of evaluators that would minimize any prejudices that could both negatively or positively affect the assessment of a teacher.

Monday, June 20, 2011

I Don't Want to be a Teacher Any More

I Don't Want to be a Teacher Any More... Not my words and not my opinions,yet, but a very important message. Sacramento, Torlekson, Duncan, are you listening?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pink Slips a Way of Life? I hope not!

NPR posted an article about pink slips being a way of life. I know that our current ed code says that a district should send out pink slips in March for possible layoffs - even though there is a possibility of rehiring. What they don't get is the emotional upheaval this causes in the morale of staff. It seems that better planning on the part of districts and better budgeting process on the State's part would help decrease the number of "possible layoffs".

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Education reforms are signed into law

Education reforms are signed into law

I am glad to see a case where seniority is not the first or only criteria. I want to know more about the evaluation criteria which is being used to make firing and layoff decisions.

Great to see such collaboration between government, union and administration. Could be an interesting model.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Letter to the Editor

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Daily Journal - 4-tier rating system proposed for Colo. teachers; half of score would be based on test results

Daily Journal - 4-tier rating system proposed for Colo. teachers; half of score would be based on test results

I get why it is easy to use a standardized test in an evaluation system. But as a teacher who gets moved to a new grade level every year, it is difficult to master the new content while preparing students for a test - I should be preparing them for the next grade!

There are so many reasons why standardized student tests cannot be a reliable measurement of teacher effectiveness.
From PSEA: Some advocates of teacher evaluation reform suggest that student test scores are an appropriate measure of teacher quality. While contrary to a common perception, it’s essential to recognize that student performance and teacher performance are not the
same thing. The fact that client outcomes and professional practice are related only indirectly has been accepted in other professions: patients’ health outcomes may not reflect a doctor’s performance; nor can the size of a tax rebate say much about the quality of an accountant. Suggesting that one person’s job performance and another person’s outcome are directly related shortchanges both.

Using student outcomes to measure teacher practice is problematic for several reasons:
1) it assumes that the teacher controls all student behaviors that impact achievement, such as attendance, studying, eating well, sleeping well, and not abusing drugs or alcohol;
2) since the focus is on student, rather than teacher performance, it provides no clear information about ways teachers can improve their practice;
3) student outcomes may identify teachers who generate a particular test score, but they cannot be used to develop higher levels of effectiveness among all teachers.

PA Secretary of Ed Questions Teacher Assessment Methodology

According to Harrisburg Patriot News almost 97% of teachers are rated 'satisfactory or better" when 25-33% of students are scoring below proficient on standardized tests.

Raises obvious questions:
1 - How effective is your teaching evaluation system?
2 - Is there any link between teacher effectiveness and standardized test scores?
3 - Should student test scores be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness?
4 - How valid are standardized test scores in evaluating student learning?

In the meantime, PSEA (PA's version of CTA) has proposed reforms on teacher evaluation processes

More to follow. Your thoughts?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Spencer's Scratch Pad: Fifteen Paperless Math Strategies

Spencer's Scratch Pad: Fifteen Paperless Math Strategies: "BEFORE #1 - Critical Thinking Description : Students answer critical thinking questions such as, 'Are numbers neutral?' or 'When are decima..."

Friday, June 3, 2011

5 Tips for Success - in school, business and in life

5 Tips for Success - in school, business and in life

David Andrade relays 5 tips for success from Naveen Selvadurai, one of the founders of Foursquare (He is from Connecticut).

In a nutshell:

Be Curious

Keep Learning

Don't Be Afraid to Fail

Be Passionate

Keep Good Company

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pay More Teachers or Pay Teachers More?

So my friend and colleague, Bill, and I were talking about the current, sad state of affairs in Education. On the one hand, districts throughout California are making hard decisions about increasing class size to reduce the budget impact (for those of you unclear: larger classes mean fewer teachers = less expense. On the other hand, we decry the woeful pay that teachers make (I cannot use the word earn, because I do believe we earn more than we make).

As teachers we are encouraged to differentiate and meet each child where he or she is, to provide learning opportunities to address all the learning styles and multiple intelligences outlined by Howard Gardner. I would love to do this and create a truly child centered classroom. But Bill is right, this is hard to do with 30+ kids.

So perhaps we keep the pay the same for teachers but hire more teachers. Reduce class size, not increase it. Radical idea. Doesn't do much for the budget, but it certainly helps us provide a learning environment that allows children to not only develop assets necessary to thrive today, but also to guide our students as they develop the 21st century skills needed to thrive in their future.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We Need to Unlearn!

From Edutopia
‎"If we’re going to keep making sense of an ever-shifting world, we need to unlearn the idea that learning occurs only in school. We need to unlearn that our own learning and our students' learning is limited by time and space, " educator Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. What else do you think we should "unlearn?" Bonus points for posts that begin with.."We need to unlearn.."
Passion-Based Learning: An Interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-BeachBy Heather Wolpert-Gawron.
We need to unlearn that learning is an individual pursuit. We need to unlearn that we have to be the experts in our classrooms. We need to unlearn that leading is only for the leaders in the front office. That means we have to really help many teachers learn how to unlearn.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Open letter to the School Board

I do not write in hopes of changing your minds; I understand that the Ed Code and budget situation controls many of the hard decisions you have to make. I write to put a face on the problem. For the last 5 years I have been laid off and somehow, I keep coming back. It breaks my heart to think that this year, I will not be so lucky. Most of you know I became a teacher late in life, after retiring from a very successful career in telecommunications. To make the point that I teach because I love it, I used to tell people I didn’t “have to teach, that I wanted to teach.” But lately I have realized that is wrong. I do have to teach. I am passionate about teaching. It is in my blood, it is what I was meant to do. I give myself mentally, physically, emotionally and financially to my students and my school.

One reads in the paper about the difficulties in retaining new teachers. The Washington Post reported that half of teachers quit the profession in the first 5 years. I would be happy to be able to teach a 5th year! Why do so many of us new teachers leave teaching? Many say it is because the lack of support, large class sizes, and mostly lack of appreciation and pay. Speaking for myself, I have had wonderful support from my administration, including the Board, my colleagues and my New Teacher Mentor. I have taught class sizes from 20-32 with no complaint. I feel wonderfully appreciated by my students, parents and my principal. My pay is much higher than I ever thought a teacher could make, and for all of this, I am grateful.

So what makes me think about leaving the profession? Every year in January the rumblings start – enrollment is down, the state and federal governments are slashing budgets, revenues are lower than expected. Then March 15 comes around and just because I am one of the last ones hired, I get a pink slip. After enduring endless questions and suppositions from concerned colleagues, family and even students, I attend an administrative hearing represented by a union appointed lawyer who says there is nothing he can do for me. Then May 15 rolls around and I receive my final layoff notice. More questions, rumors and “what if” questions swirl around me during the interminable posting process. Parents ask if there is anything they can do. Administration says they are helpless, bound by Ed Code. And unsuspecting students in 3rd grade say, “I hope you are my teacher next year.” Well I hope so too, sweetie. What makes me think about leaving is this depressing yearly cycle of rumor, innuendo and inefficiency.

During this yearly cycle, I am still teaching my 31 kids with a smile on my face every day. I stay late to grade papers and coach a girls’ running club. I come in early to help students who are struggling in math. During prep, I help colleagues integrate technology into their lessons. I work with a 5th grader to help design a sign for the garden. I answer emails from my students and parents from home in the evening. Yes, I think about leaving the profession and the thought breaks my heart. I love teaching. I am passionate about it. I spend my spare time and my own money developing as a professional. I love watching the light bulb go on above my students’ heads. I am thrilled to expose them to new ideas and new information. I am lucky to be able to share my expertise and knowledge of technology. Watching my students grow along with our school garden makes my heart soar. But this sad yearly cycle has a weakening effect.

When you vote to lay us off, know that you are voting us off the island and some of us may never come back. Who wins?