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Showing posts from 2013

Overriding Our Negative Instinct

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Under a serious threat of danger, some of us call for vicious and immediate retaliation toward the source of the threat. During difficult times, some of us become consumed with protecting ourselves at the expense of others. For example, we have observed political campaigns during times of hardship or uncertainty that are filled more with negative attacks on opponents versus highlighting the platform of the nominees. 
Even under minimal stress or a perceived threat, many of us become depressed or pessimistic about the eventual outcomes. We have seen how the perception of the decline of US public education has caused many to believe that things will never improve. This belief is leading to the push for alternative educational programs and feed into the mistrust that some have for our educators.
Why are we so quick to go to the dark side? As it turns out, we are hardwired to do this very thing. In our earliest form, cognitive functions were minimal, and our sensory capabilities were our me…

The Importance of Trust

Before diving into any educational change initiative, a solid foundation must be in place. When thinking about building resilient schools, this foundation is no less essential, especially with regard to trust.

Trustin this sense involves the relationships of all educational stakeholders. More than relationships between students and teachers alone, the relations between teachers with teachers, teachers with principals, and school personnel with the community are also important considerations. 

When high relational trust exists, people believe that everyone is competent in their roles.  For example, students believe they have effective teachers who are under the leadership of effective principals. Furthermore, within every relationship, people respect each other and rely on the involvement of every person. Relational trust is based on what people believe and on what they observe. So, not only do they believe in the competence of each other, but they also validate this belief by what they …

Building Resilience

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Our turbulent world offers challenging situations for all of us, most especially for our children. These complex life events, from divorce and death to violence and poverty, are negatively affecting our social and emotional health. In schools, we can counteract these effects by helping students develop strong coping and problem-solving skills. In doing so, we can reduce the negative effects of the real life issues that our children face.
Compelling research focusing on both adults and children shows that when we strengthen our emotional awareness and deepen our social skills, we can reduce anxiety and depression. When anxiety and depression are reduced, we are more effective at work, in school, and in life.  As we build our social and emotional skills and strategies, we are able to persevere, to problem-solve, and to negotiate. We build resilience. We are resilient when we understand our own emotions, and with this understanding, we can control them. have impulse control, meaning that we …

Social Emotional Health Is a Global Issue

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A recent international summit established educational standards of equity and quality with a focus on early childhood for schools around the world. Most notably, this global consensus honored the cross cutting nature of education, from promoting literacy to teaching physical well-being. More than achieving basic mathematical skills and attaining other content area knowledge, this international panel charged schools with helping children deal with real-life issues of poverty, war, violence, and disabilities, among many other realities. Our children must be taught resilience in order to thrive in a turbulent world.

The key to resilience is being socially and emotionally healthy; it is the basis of all successful human endeavors. By acknowledging this on an international level, we are now reminded that the educational process must also emphasize social and emotional literacy. This acknowledgement also reminds us that without having self-awareness, relationship skills, and other important …

The Need for Recognition

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Our efforts to improve public education have created a focus on results and a reliance on technology. We now use sophisticated ways to track learning; our students’ scores on national, state, and local assessments are warehoused in systems that follow them through their educational experience.  Cutting edge technology helps us deliver a national curriculum, evaluate our effectiveness, and prepare students for the 21st century. We use a variety of data as evidence of our progress.

However well-intentioned these reform efforts, they have resulted in unintended consequences. As our attention shifted to results and technology, we lost focus on the only critical components of education: our young people and their educators. They have become invisible. If our efforts are to be successful, we must begin at a personal and individual level. We must recognize our students and teachers.

In this sense recognition does not refer to praise or reward for some behavior. Recognition is instead seeing th…

Social Emotional Health Creates Readiness for the Core

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When a new initiative is being introduced into a system, most of the efforts focus on planning, training, implementation, and evaluation. The Common Core, an initiative on a level never before seen in educational reform efforts, shares this focus. For several years we have anticipated the implementation with curriculum development and educator training. We are making progress toward meeting the technology capacity needed in every school. Lately, the discussion is moving toward the assessments based on the Core.
What is often missing in the design of reform efforts is readiness. Despite the capacity needed on so many levels for the successful implementation of the Core, readiness is a critical first step.
Readiness goes beyond the capacity building, and instead refers to the school climate and group norms that must be in place before the implementation occurs. The climate must be a safe and positive environment conducive to learning. The development of norms among educators is just as…

Social Emotional Health at the Core of the Common Core

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While the push for academic content standards continues at a constant rate and with a looming launch date, the social emotional health of our children must be at the forefront of this initiative in order for the implementation of the Common Core to be successful and to make the  greatest difference.

The Common Core standards assume a level of social skill ability that cannot be ignored. Before the Core is in our classrooms, we must first be sure that our students are ready for this substantive change on an emotional and social level.

Some educators are overwhelmed at the thought of having students perform at the high level required of them by the Common Core. One way to shift perspectives to a proactive stance is to tend to social emotional needs now and make it a part of every moment in the classroom.

Teaching students to become better decision makers, increase their self-awareness, and develop strong and healthy relationships will help them in all aspects of their lives, including t…

Shovel-Ready Bullet Points 101

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In a recent Ed Week blog post, Nancy Flanagan urges her fellow teachers to speak up and offer their perspective on the Common Core. She encourages them to develop salient ideas, and then asks teachers, "Can you put them into shovel-ready bullet points, for the limited attention span of your average legislator?"

Having teachers weigh in the Common Core is so needed, after all they are the first-order Core users. The much-needed voice of the teacher has been almost absent from the Common Core policy making table. Even as the weight of  educator accountability evolved to the misguided connection between standardized assessment scores and teacher quality, the public has so rarely heard from the teacher. Even as conventional wisdom seemed to turn on the teacher, and as teacher unions were dismissed as self-serving, the teacher voice is missing.

One explanation, and one that I have heard most often, is that teachers are so busy doing the thing they know and do best that they have…

We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For

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"What do we want the students we teach to be like as adults?"
This question is at the base of the research conducted by Ron Ritchhart and Project Zero at Harvard University. The responses he has received from educators are rather consistent. Rather than content knowledge, educators indicate that they want students to be inventive, risk-taking, responsible, compassionate, creative, reflective, meta-cognitive, and skeptical. These dispositions, coupled with thinking skills and abilities, produce good thinkers. If this is what we envision for our students, Ritchhart poses, how do we create schools that develop good thinking?

Good thinking is developed by students being able to communicate their ideas and by interacting with one another. It occurs in classrooms and schools where everything about the culture communicates the importance of wondering, noticing, and problem-solving.

While not likely to gain political attention, there is an important finding here. Ritchhart and colle…

We Know Better (Part II): No More Research!

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Previously, I wrote about our failure to learn from the successes of other countries, namely Finland, and their educational reform efforts that now provide international models for success. Our competitive nature got the best of us, and we missed the true lessons in our quest to be #1.

Not only have we ignored the important lessons in international practice, we have also dismissed research conducted over the last several decades that gives us powerful methods with sound reasoning to improve teaching and increase learning. Maya Angelou says, "We do what we know to do. When we know better, we do better." This is not the case in education.

Long before we started racing to the top, ranking educational systems by state, and comparing ourselves to Finland and Singapore, we were provided with some very compelling research and meta-analyses that show how to increase student achievement scores on standardized tests without using standardized tests. Yes, we have almost 40 years of e…

We Know Better (Part I): No Need for Competition!

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Over the past few years or so, and with increasing frequency, international comparisons have been made about student achievement, and thus, the quality of schools, across the globe. The American response to these comparisons reflects two very different perspectives.

On one hand, our lawmakers have used these comparisons to note the weaknesses of our system. They then propose reform efforts that race to the top in order to leave no child behind. Over the last 10 years, we have watched how our policymakers have moved from looking at student achievement to looking at individual states and now to individual schools and teachers. In Michigan we went from the Michigan Curriculum Framework to Grade-Level Content Expectations (GLCEs) and now to the Common Core State Standards in less than 20 years. The Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), our measure of quality, has morphed over the last decade, reflecting these changing standards. Now, we anticipate yet another standardized test…

Where Is Our Outrage Over Non-Writing Writing Assessment?

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When someone enters the teaching profession as an English language arts teacher, it is with eyes wide open. One of the biggest challenges these teachers face is learning to manage the paper load; essays that are frequently traded from teacher to student and back come with this territory. ELA teachers are known for taking stacks of papers with them on vacations. Report card markings are brutal, and marathon essay grading at the end of semesters are common. While teachers do become more efficient in grading essays over time, the process of evaluating writing consumes much of their time.

Despite the time and effort involved in evaluation, ELA teachers continue to require students to write. It remains one of the important methods by which students show how they understand logic and organization and how they connect with literature. In writing students show more than knowledge of the rules, they demonstrate this ability within a context. Because most of the writing in ELA is literature b…

Data: A Love Story

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I was recently engaged in a lively #edchat on Twitter, and one of my Tweeps asked if the term data means the same thing as the term information. This is the gist of my not-so-reverent response:

Once upon a time, we made good decisions based on solid evidence. Then one day, someone said, "Data." The End.
Oh, how we are enamored with data. We love collecting them, talking about them, and using them to drive decision making. We aggregate, analyze, and map them. We are so in love with data that we use them to rationalize every major decision made in education, from the classroom to the board room.
Unfortunately, our love affair and extended honeymoon with data have blinded us to the realities and limitations of data. We have yet to wake up during an item analysis and ask ourselves, "What in the world have we done?" We need to separate ourselves from the allure of data and the presumed answers they provide, and take a step back to look at data with fresh eyes.

For exam…

Abuse, Misuse, and Overuse of Standardized Tests

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Fifty years ago American students and teachers were subjected to the administration of standardized assessments on a semi-regular basis. A portion of a school day was repurposed for the administration of the test. Most understood the need for standardized assessments; these tests had a particular purpose and provided meaningful information to policy makers and chief educational leaders. Furthermore, the results of these tests provided the means to make comparisons across buildings, districts, and even across states. The test results could be also be filtered by categories such as gender, ethnicity, and special populations. The information was general, but powerful at the bird's eye level only. After all, if a teacher wanted to know how she could improve her practice to better meet the needs of her individual students, she would be looking at evidence of learning at the classroom level.

Something alarming happened, though, over the last 15-plus years that caused a shift in how we …

Multiple Issues About Multiple-Choice Items

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It's amazing how a late-night email to Diane Ravitchgrew into a charge for me. As I wrote before, my friend Christine asked me why I was upset about the use of the NWEA MAP , especially when it would likely replace the MEAP, Michigan's statewide assessment. I wrote to her the following statements:

The NWEA MAP is a computer adaptive, standardized test that uses selected-response items that were written from national standards. The test items are aligned post hoc to state standards and the test results are used to measurestudent growth in language, reading, and mathematics.
I underlined the concerns I had about the claims attached to tests like the NWEA MAP and the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP). In hindsight, I omitted many other issues, such as teacher evaluation, cut scores, data, and proficiency. I will return to all of these in time. Today's topic for consideration is the selected-response item, also known as the multiple-choice item.

Assessment experts,…

Concerns about Online Assessment? Yes! It's CAT.

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When I forwarded my desperate email to Diane Ravitch to my good friends and kind listeners, my friend, Christine, always so observant and such a careful reader, wondered what my concerns were with the NWEA MAP assessment. I realized that I had about 100 concerns within that email, and that if I am to help grow the national conversation, I need to take my rant down a notch. In this first blog, I am going to try to clarify my concerns with online tests, such as the NWEA MAP test because of computer adaptive tests.

Advocates of computer adaptive tests (CAT) say that the program behind the assessment tailors the test to the student's ability. No longer are students frustrated by an exam with items that are too difficult. Teachers and students are given immediate results; no longer do we have to wait for months before test results are given. The tests have RIT reporting that allows all to see how student learning grows over time and over years. Educator evaluation is required by law for…