Quick Hits, Oct. 14
Good morning! Thanks for visiting; I have upcoming visits Thursday to Oakland's College Preparatory School; Friday to Stockton's public high school, Franklin, and its IB program; and Monday to International High School in San Francisco.
1. I hope others are also paying attention to and enjoying the teacher blogs the NY Times is hosting this school-year. Great stuff. On Saturday they published a great one from Matthew Kay, a teacher at Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy, (a school, from the sounds of it, I would love to see. Listen to its three word motto: Learn, Create, Lead). This column confronts the laptop dilemma, and opens marvelously with the story of how upperclass students shake their heads when applying 8th graders express enthusiasm for the laptops, because by their upper years, they have learned "to put technology in its right place." Integrating technology, this fine teacher explains, requires a lot of trial and error, and a lot of "maturation," and he draws a beautiful analogy regarding the evolution in the usage of ed. tech between that of an individual student and that of an educational program (a brilliant example of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, by the way). Mr. Kay recounts his own experiences being distracted by, and misusing, the technology available, and recognizes that his students will do so too, as freshmen. But as he has matured as a teacher, so have his upper grade students: ""they know that the distractions that attract thirteen year olds and confound young teachers are only themselves distractions from the real benefits of technology." Kay then identifies the key benefits technology brings: better communication and collaboration both between teachers and students and among students; better opportunities to publish for the outside world and receive feedback from outsiders; and better development of critical thinking and discrimination of information. Kay concludes with recounting an answer he gave to undergraduates asking him how best to use technology in the classroom ("Very carefully"), and then says, and I endorse this highly: "When prudently used, the technology prepares our students to make the most of a world we can't yet imagine."
2. Another interesting little piece in the Times about cheating in high schools, which, statistics report, is nothing short of rampant. As problematic as it is, it can be diminished by focussing attention on school culture, on the "bad soil, rather than the bad seed." Create school cultures where integrity and honesty are emphasized, and schools establish a strong honor code, and cheating will drop.
Myself, I am all for promoting school cultures where the meaning and importance of integrity and ethics are explored, clarified, communicated, shared, examined, (critiqued), and teachers and students jointly pursue a trusting community. I prefer the concept of integrity to the honesty, which I fear places too much emphasis on strict adherence to rule following and a too greatly simplified concept of the virtue of truth-telling. Honor codes can take many forms, and some are brilliant, and others too rigid; hence it is hard for me to blindly endorse honor codes without exploring the details: do they allow students (and adults) to learn from mistakes? do the recognize complexity and acknowledge circumstances?
Finally, about cheating: I have to believe that much of the time cheating in intertwined with "playing the game of school." If we structure our class-time and our student assessment in ways that are about authentically doing, and in ways which promote honest collaboration, students will have much less inclination to cheat, and cheating will provide much less advantage-- or isn't even possible to do.
3. Another great blog to watch is Curriculum Matters over at EdWeek. It is run by two of that publications best reporters, who very intelligently comment on developments in the education business. Both of todays postings are useful. One discusses the topic of teachers wearing political buttons in the classroom-- a hot button issue right now. Does doing so dampen political discourse, does it negatively impact students ability to debate and discuss in a safe and open environment? The second posting today addresses evaluating student technological literacy, and that NAEP is developing new tools for that. In their entry here, they cite an EdWeek article last year about other initiatives in technological skills assessments, including iSkills from ETS, which I am eager to bring to my next school.
4. Jay Matthews at the Washington Post has a Andy Rooney-like grumble in reaction to the new 21st century skills report. It is titled "Why I Don't Like 21st Century Reports." Now, I appreciate Matthews for his enthusiasm for the IB (Supertest), but I greatly dislike his ranking of schools nationally based on their participation in the AP, which many of us are realizing is putting too many eggs in the basket of breadth over depth, of content coverage over thinking skills. In this column, he writes his frustration that the call for a 21st century school revolution is too detached from the day to day realities of the classroom, and that the authors have no appreciation for the challenge of just teaching students how to do fractions. Some of this piece reads as crotchety. Now, to his credit, he endorses the concept of teaching 21st century skills, and he is completely right we must avoid "All-at-Once-itis." But I think he is wrong to say that the writers of these reports are too far ahead of the practice of this kind of teaching and learning. I have seen it happening, and seen schools doing this teaching brilliantly-- schools like CART in Clovis/Fresno, New Technology in Sacramento, and Bay and Urban in San Francisco.