Does Anybody Know What’s Going On?

What will be the impact of the ending NCLB will be for public education? When I started teaching in 2002 I taught on the community college level on both an urban and suburban campus. I remember quite clearly the level of work the students. This was the year NCLB was implemented. Over the years I taught full time on the college level, I felt that the student writing deteriorated. I wondered what was happening in the school systems, and I was frustrated with what the outcome was. After going to work in public schools, I very quickly came to understand the impact of NCLB. One school year I taught an entire year of a test prep class. Every class I taught was to prep the students to take the HSPA exam (this was in New Jersey). Every student in eleventh grade took one core class, and one prep class in English and math, therefore two of their classes each day were test prep. There’s some kind of crime there. My experience is of course, purely anecdotal, but in speaking with other long time educators, there is this general sense of a deterioration in academic abilities, especially thinking critically and writing authentically. Whether this is true or not, or if true, it may be because of other factors, such as the use of technology, but I think would be an interesting research study.

I recently spent an entire day at a transfer school conference in Manhattan. I was with school administrators and other teacher leaders. One avenue that we are working on is transforming schools into a fully blended, asynchronous schools, so we’re having intense discussion and bantering ideas. When the discussion turns to Common Core, I had to bring up that it may very well be possible that this will all change, or change somewhat, and soon. New Jersey is already backing away, and the New York press is speaking about New York also changing their use of Common Core standards: Cuomo Taskforce Signals Retreat from Common Core. How can we plan effectively? Who knows what will be coming in the future? Does anybody have a clue what is going on in public education? We live in interesting times.

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Dear Mayor, we need computers!

Mayor Bill de Blasio

City Hall

New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor,

As an educator for New York City students, I have been thrilled with your vision and fortitude to implement life-changing actions for the children of New York City. The start of universal pre-k is very empowering and surely will put children on s strong road to success in their education.

There are many ambitious plans in your recent announcement for your education plan for students over the next ten years. This includes AP courses at all high schools, all students reading on grade level by 3rd grade. I applaud these effort and more.

I would like to call attention to one area that has not been seriously discussed. That is the ability to all student in New York City to be able to truly address 21st century skills by having access to some form of computer in every one of their academic classes (as well as appropriate internet connectivity). Simply being able to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is not enough to ensure students are being educated using technology platforms. In fact, I find it a derelict of duty to ask students to provide their own technology, as we know some simply cannot.

Our students will need to be able to compete in a global 21st century, and we cannot even imagine what careers they will have. However, amongst the skills needed will definitely be a native ability to use computer systems, and navigate the increasing online connectivity that is on 24-7. As an English teacher, I understand the importance of literacy, and this includes digital literacy, technology literacy and information literacy. Students need these skills and unless they have the ability in their schools, they might never achieve full fluency in them. Needless to say, STEM skills also rely heavily on the ability to use computers and software in many different iterations.

I do hope you take into consideration the need for New York City to ensure every single student has a computer available to them in all their academic classes in order to provide for the strongest possible foundation that they will use for the rest of their lives.

Sincerely,

Guinevere Shaw

Digital Natives

Educators need to use new technologies every day in the classroom, where it is not considered a novelty. Our time is revolutionary, on par with the industrial revolution. It amazes me that educators, people who should be the purveyors of new knowledge resist technology. It is insane to think that chart paper and markers are the way to go in today’s world where everyone has a computer in their pocket. To add to this, why are schools themselves digitally deficient? I am appalled that school administrators spend money on other things rather than technology. Every student in every school must have access to a computer in every class they are in, every day. If it is a laptop cart of Chrome books for each classroom, so be it. But they must be available. In what scenario are our students going to not need to use computers? I can’t think of too many *current* jobs that do not use computers, let alone what will be the norm going forward. I didn’t have a smart phone until six years ago, I didn’t have an Ipad until three years ago. They are my total and complete norms today. Things just happen very rapidly, and I don’t see that slowing down.

Students who are digital natives are most often not that savvy with technology. Young people always need to be taught how to think. Just because someone has always had the ability to Google something certainly doesn’t mean they can discern quality sources. Students will figure out how to use and manipulate different technologies, but the skills to be literate in those technologies is what we need to concentrate on. Every educator needs to be literate themselves in different technologies in order to bring their expertise to the students. Educators also need to use these technologies every day in their classroom. As a function of the classroom itself, students should be self-directed, know where to look for assignments, have an ability to experiment and try different technologies to demonstrate different literacy skills.  It is the blending if skills attainment and technology that is the driving force in the 21st century classroom. As is often said, who know what jobs these students will have? It is our job to prepare them to be malleable, resourceful and comfortable tackling whatever new changes will certainly come their way (and ours too!).

Why Do We Have “Poor” Schools?

There is the constant cacophony of complaints about testing, and common core, and teacher tenure, that rattle my head. Time and again in these discussions I hear arguments from both sides that basically goes like this – teachers who teach in poor schools will leave in droves (if you rely on tests for teacher evaluations, if you implement Common Core, if you take away tenure); or teachers who teach in poor schools just suck, that’s why the kids are poor (and why we need to rely on tests, and the Common Core and take away tenure).

Why is the conversation never about the acceptance, that damn, there just are poor schools? How is it that the people continue to talk about “lower socio-economic schools” and what to do about THEM? Do we just accept that there is no way in hell school can ever be integrated along socio-economic levels? So let’s just accept that poor kids will go to poor schools in poor neighborhoods – and isn’t that just a shame? And their teachers suck too.

Americans are very comfortable with this kind of segregation (and they also are comfortable with racial segregation, which is often is de facto in socio-economic segregation). There is simply no conversation that there should be no POOR schools, that all classes of children should be present in every public school in this country, in every classroom, and that this structure will benefit all the children from all classes.

Can you imagine an America with no more poor schools?

Think on that one.

“Teaching” Diversity

When diversity is mentioned it often is framed in a way that tries to suppress the dominant culture, however because of intensely segregated schools I see that the dominant culture is not as overbearing as completely not understood. This follows socioeconomic lines. And forget about any understanding of “foreign” cultures that exist. So I view teaching diversity as a way for students who are mostly isolated to have some exposure to others who are not like them. Overall I think the best way to address diversity is to enforce integration along socio-economic lines.  A New York Times article on May 4, 2015 (Why Mobility Matters) discusses how children who integrate above their socio-economic status into neighborhoods which is in a higher socio-economic bracket do much better in life. Besides the economic value, it is high time this country face its balkanization. Do we see the need reflecting this in the news about every day? We can teach diversity, and awareness is certainly a positive, but until we have true diversity in schools, I’m not sure how large of an impact diversity lessons really have over time.

Keeping the above in mind, I would teach diversity by immersion. The school where I teach high school shares space with four other high schools. These schools are diverse themselves. My school is a transfer school and is mostly comprised of Latinos of Dominican descent and African-Americans; and the majority are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Another high school, which is traditional, also has the same demographics. There is a school that could be considered in the middle, with a bit more diversity, with finally the last school that is much more diverse racially and economically, and they are higher performers.

How interesting would it be to have classroom intervisitations? Students should be able to work on assignments and projects together. What could happen? I asked a high performing student of mine what he thought of this idea and his response was that there would be more conversation and exchange of ideas, some surprising information learned, and perhaps a beginning of understanding people who are different, on both sides.

This usually is attempted by having “sister” classes with a global partner, but I am more interested in the idea of getting to know your neighbor first. I can envision not talking via Skype but working on a project that is using a foundational technology, like an LMS (always my big push) and for students to be able to collaborate in person and online. The project could be many things, it could be a research project, a multi-media blog, a video production, etc. there are many ways to focus. The idea is for students to have a common goal and by working together, they will get to know each other. It’s an organic way of teaching diversity.

There are many conversations about preparing students to be global citizens, but some of the most provincial students I have had are in Manhattan –  a diverse and global city for sure. It is imperative that students interact with people outside their neighborhoods and start to break down the racial and economic barriers that continue to separate them. At home, using simple technology to connect, is a way to start.

Amplify Your Lesson with UDL

Universal Design can be, simply, a way to diversify your teaching and empower as many students as possible. It is not, and should not be considered, a way to dumb down your lessons. It is a way to engage everybody and increase the learning potential of everyone.

 http://app.emaze.com/@AOTFTTLZ/amplify-with-udl

Technology is not Cheating

I have heard in meetings teachers lament the use of online dictionaries (amongst other technologies). Why? Because then students will never know how to use a real dictionary. I’m not sure that that is the case, but also I can’t envision a world where a person must spell a word correctly but not be able to access an online dictionary. The Zombie apocalypse? The only “world” that may happen in is a school. So what are we testing? If spelling is the test, then I can see the use of any dictionary would be “cheating” but if the assessment is for other purposes, why not? I’d rather a student concentrate on higher level critical thinking than be a super speller. But there are always those who lament the loss of the old world to new technologies.

The argument that these supports will not be available to students once they enter the “real” world rings false too. It’s an advantage in the private sector to know how to use technologies. We all use tools to help us, why when we’re in school is this a “crutch”? I suppose I could pop popcorn on my stove like it’s 1973, but I microwave it instead. It’s still popcorn. If educators take a one size fits all approach, then I can see why they do not like supports, it can give advantages to some students, who say are great spellers, but not to the “bad” spellers or whatever label you want to insert here). But if a teacher gives dynamic assessments, then the use of individual support fades away, and true assessment can be had.

Technology is not cheating, use the tools!

Common Core is a Bore

The resistance and furor over the Common Core has confused me from the start. I think it is often confused with curriculum. And depending on what you teach and where you teach it, the Common Core may be a great change or nothing. It is nothing for me. I have always been in charge of my curriculum, and attaching Common Core standards – things I already do, means that no change has taken place. The idea, that all states have the same standards is something I’m rather agnostic about, in its current form. I can see the allure of saying that every state has the same exact standards is that by 10th grade no matter what state a student is in, they have the same skills as every other student in the nation. That seems like a fine concept, but I sincerely doubt the outcome. On the other hand it does make me uncomfortable to think of a uniform system that is dictated from up high, attached with money to sweeten the deal, which does not even begin to address different needs.

If I view the Common Core through the lens of diversity, I do not see it supporting that. The longer I am an educator (and my experience runs form high school through university teaching) the more I am convinced how little education serves a diverse population. I am in fact rather in horror with the stupid idea that every single student needs to leave public education in one way. I mean the buzz words are “career and college ready” when hardly either one is really addressed. Because one can not be pushed through a system that standardizes education and expect that all those millions of individuals will be able to continue to jump through the hoops and using that one lens, be either career or college ready. What does that even mean?  Why does every single student need to go through 12 years of schooling learning under the same umbrella of standards? When we have an expectation of 100% compliance in anything that is related to humans, we are set up for failure. I doubt that every single student in America (or really anywhere in the world) all can and should be able to master all these standards that are presented in CC.

While the arguments against the core invoke the need for “state’s rights” and other paranoid effects, I see the simple idea that not every person can or should conform to these standards. The happy Common Core cheerleaders who feel that now, finally, with standards, students will learn (because the haven’t until now?) are disillusioned too. More “rigor” is not needed, (by definition rigor means strict, inflexible, hence rigor mortis) and I do not see that serving the needs of individuals or society.

The one area I am absolutely sure of is the use of testing tied to these standards is a crime. I see a long stream of disengaged students trying to just get through the system being even more disengaged and stymied by these tests. I have an ex student visit me the other day. Charming guy, he’s 21 and still has not passed enough Regents exams to get a high school diploma. He’s going to try for it again. He did complete course work, and it seems he completed the coursework to the level he was able to complete it. Why is that not legitimate enough in light of our current system? My argument would be he needed to have a different education provided to him, but that’s not happening in this current system. He works in construction, he would like to get licensed, but the requirement is a high school diploma. Maybe the requirement should be something else, a tech diploma. For sure I don’t see how Regents exams is serving his needs. This is the current system, with the CC tests, it will be even worse.

As a pure anecdotal aside, when I first started teaching, I taught full time at a local community college. This was before NCLB, and that crop of graduates from public education was nicely prepared for college level work. As the “graduates” post NCLB started to filter in, I saw a significant drop in performance, which is unabated to today. Nothing scientific, but my observation (and of other colleagues). Since being involved in secondary schools, I can see what had happened. There was hyper attention to tests, no school wanted to be “failing”, and rote teaching. Will Common Core bring more of this? Undoubtedly.

Seat Time Is A Joke

Is seat time outdated?

Yes!

I was teaching a course last night at a community college that I have taught at for over ten years. I used to teach there full time, and even after I left I kept on as an adjunct. In other words, I have a disgusting amount of experience teaching the same courses – English Composition I and II.

I know my curriculum. Yeah, I change things and add stuff, and use new knowledge to teach my courses as effectively as possible.

But there’s a bunch of “stuff” that I used to include in my in class sessions that seem ludicrous to include today.

For example. I would show short film clips in my classes. I had to show them in the physical classroom – I certainly could not duplicate all those VHS tapes. Yes, I said it, VHS, that’s what we had ten years ago, we were fancy if we used DVD.

Even as I was teaching fully online classes in order to show a film, I had to trudge that VHS tape to the multimedia department and have them copy it into a digital video file (I doubt it was a MP.4, but anyway…). And this hassle meant less films for online classes.

Then YouTube happened. Problem solved. Online you go.

I also gave the same damn lectures over and over. Even I was bored of my own voice. How many times can a person pontificate on the elements of fiction?

Then free screencasting came about.

Then it got even fancier with multimedia lecture capture and… on and on.

I used to give quizzes in class. Gotta keep those kids honest – you did the reading right? Help me, I used scantron O_0

Doesn’t it make more sense that a student should be able to take the quiz right after they have done the reading? For retention? For clarification? Yes, it does, so the quizzes I used to give at the beginning of class are now online.

That’s easily 45 minutes of a three hour class. 45 minutes that doesn’t have to happen in the classroom.

Even discussions can have a more focused purpose online than in class. The student needs to compose her ideas, organize them and present them in writing. As there is less room for error when writing (rather than being able to convey emotion, etc. in a verbal dialog), the student is forced to practice writing and communication skills.

I took a class last year in the spring semester. It went from 5 to 8:10pm, and the professor kept us there for every minute. Why? To show video. To listen to lectures, to discuss with classmates well beyond what we needed to discuss. For what purpose? To instill deep learning? No. For seat time.

I did not return to that school.

Seat time is a joke in the context of our changing educational landscape. Students should have the right to access their learning when they want it, when they can, and not be forced to adhere to some outdated concept of “learning”. As if sitting in a seat means one is learning, I guess through osmosis.

Seat time is doing time, and who wants that connection?

This needs to change.

Presentation Mode

‘Tis the season…  for professional conferences.

Maybe I’m just nostalgic for our recent holidays (and the time off).

Conferences are in full swing and I have two presentations lined up on ed tech. And while I am just fine with the content, I am wondering what tool to use to present.  I definitely will stay away from PowerPoint, what ever I finally choose it must be cloud based. Ditto for Google Docs – their PP imitator is just plain ugly – and there are far better, more robust choices.

But I don’t want to use Prezi – again. I am starting to feel Prezi is becoming as dated as PP. And in this Web 2.0 world, things become outdated very quickly. Prezi is a huge step above PP, and if you’re just beginning to enter this world, then Prezi is great. However, I am finding that the software is in need of some updates – why can’t I simply embed videos or links? It’s awkward to leave the presentation to view something outside of it. I also feel too constricted with their templates. I want to use them, but then adding slides looks out of place. And how does it save me time to format an entire presentation myself? 

I used Emaze recently, which has its pluses over Prezi, but it largely seems to be a Prezi poseur. 

I’m mostly looking for the world – a dynamic cloud based presentation program that is dynamic and visually engaging but also easy to use (and free!). 

In this highly competitive market, I hope something will fill the void.

In the meantime, DO NOT use PP again or Comic Sans – the world has suffered enough.