Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The business of education?

Ever since I left ‘big business” and started working in education, I have thought about how to apply efficiencies of a business environment top help make ‘the business of education’ more effective. When I started teaching, I was advised to ‘put my patience hat on’ and not make waves. It was so frustrating to see that decisions made based on what has always been done or not done. Rather than find all the reasons why we can’t do something (RtI, CCSS, implement new technologies, etc.) I prefer to figure out how we can do it.

A lot of that attitude comes from a business background. I believe my background and experience make me a better teacher than I would have been without it. Notice I did NOT say I am a better teacher than anyone without the experiences, just that I am a better teacher because of it. The work and travel that I did have given me a perspective of skills needed beyond education. Yes, you can get through a day without knowing how to diagram a sentence! I can communicate with parents in a language they understand and I am open to improving my practice by learning new ways to do things, and using latest technologies. I have actually heard teachers say, “why do I have to do to this training, I am already a good teacher?”
In what other world can a worker say, I know enough, I don’t need any more training on new products or ideas? I am always learning.

Of particular interest to me when looking at how to apply business acumen to the field of education is how to fairly evaluate and compensate teachers. As a new teacher, I regularly have been re-assigned or even laid off in favor of teachers with more years of teaching experience. Merit didn’t matter, time did. There has to be a better way. I have read what I can on the subject, looked at proposals from the ‘experts’ and still nothing rings true. If we were creating widgets, sure, you could say I get paid on the quality and quantity of widgets I produce. But we are teaching children. They come to us with their lifetime of experiences, abilities and knowledge, and hopefully they leave us, 9 months later, with more. But if Johnny didn’t learn ¾ or a year of knowledge from me, can we say for sure it was because I was not a good teacher? Of course not.

One idea from business might work - a 360 review. In business, I received evaluations from my boss, my peers, my employees and my customers. All of those inputs were considered in determining my compensation. We did not all work the same and we were not all compensated the same.

Anthony Cody writes in Education Week’s blog, “The Nine Most Terrifying Words in the English Language: "I'm From Big Business, and I'm Here to Help"

There are two overriding problems with the help our business buddies want to offer us. The first is their primary motivation tends to be whatever will benefit their bottom line, not what will help our students. So they are willing to market solutions that are not truly helpful. They want an ever larger share of the education dollar, so they have, in effect, put the various moneymaking ventures in competition with classroom teachers for scarce resources.

The second is that the policies they advocate place education in a highly competitive framework, as is demanded by their market-based paradigm. This drives us towards the overuse of test scores as a means of measuring performance, so that we can determine winners and losers...Students who do not test well should not be liabilities to their schools or teachers...The market system demands winners and losers, and the biggest losers of all are the students who find themselves left behind in schools that are unprofitable, or because they are more difficult to educate, and thus are liabilities to whatever schools they enroll in.

There is no simple, pat answer to how big business can help education. Educators can stop waiting for someone to save them and we can continue to do what we have always done (and this one I agree with)…do what is best for our students!

How funny - this was just posted to CTA's facebook page today

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reading Centers in Upper Elementary

A colleague, +Shannon AviƱa, recently asked me how I use literacy centers to differentiate learning with upper grades.  Though I have doubts about how easy it is to differentiate with 35 kids, I do try to incorporate small group time to meet them where they are as much as possible.    What I have done is based loosely on the book, The Daily 5, by sisters +Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.  You can read about it at The Daily Cafe.  You can also follow Gail and Joan on twitter.

I am no expert, however over the past 7 years, I have found this approach, with reflection and modifications, to be engaging and effective, based on assessments.

At our school, we use a form of RtI (response to intervention) where readers are leveled and taught in groups across the grade level, Monday through Thursday for one hour a day.  This presents its own opportunities and challenges which may be the subject of a future post.

Once a week I meet for 15-20 minutes with one group (Monday group 1, Tuesday group 2, etc). While the group is meeting with me, the rest of the class does word work on Monday, nonfiction reading/comprehension or vocabulary on Tuesday, comprehension work on the novel we were reading on Wednesday and on Thursday they would work on whatever the rest of the class did the day they were with me.

Clearly, classroom management routines must be in place before you can start this.  Students must know how to work independently.  In my classroom each student has a self-decorated index card on their desk which reads 3B4ME.  This reminds them to do three things before they ask me a question.  Number 1- ask myself, do I already know this? Can I just think about it and know what do do?  Number 2- consult a reference, look up a word, look it up in the table of contents or index of a book, check any written instructions, look it up in the web.  Finally, as long as its not during a strict test, number 3 says they can quietly ask a helpful neighbor.  Once they have completed all these things, they can ask me. However, during center time, there is a 4th step - is there is anything else (including free read) I can be working on while I wait for Mrs. McConnell? If yes, do it, if not, then you I ask. And since they always have free read as a back up option during centers, they never need to interrupt my group work. These rules are posted in the room.

I have used this 'center'  process with lit circles using a choice of books around a chosen theme, but that's a lot to change at once. This year I did not use lit circles but did use novels. I try to use novels that are aligned with the curriculum, for example Island of the Blue Dolphins, Sign of the Beaver, Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607, and Boston Jane.

The kids not with working me may work together quietly. Depending on the maturity of the students, I may  let them choose one of the three things to work on, as long as they finish it all by the end of the week. If they complete all their work, they can free read (at their reading level) or they sometimes grade their papers, to save me time and get instant feedback.

The other 40 minutes of the hour are spent reading the current novel, during which time I can meet one-on-one with students, as needed, for conferences.  How we read depends on their reading ability  - if high readers, they read 1-2 assigned chapters independently then we discuss what they've read, to ensure comprehension. They are allowed to read ahead, but may not share what they have read, so as not to spoil it for slower spoilers allowed! Sometimes we'd read aloud, though at higher ages that is less effective.

Sometimes I let them buddy read. I think that is my favorite, if they stay on task. In the beginning of the year we discuss and model strategies for buddy reading, as well as independent reading. Usually we'll use the alternate reading format of buddy reading, but with a lower reader, sometimes I have them listen then reread.

At the end of a novel students are assigned a response to literature essay to evaluate comprehension.

I hope this makes sense. Please contact me with comments, questions or suggestions!