Author Archives: larrycuban

About larrycuban

I am a former high school teacher and district superintendent who has researched school reform policies, the history of teaching, and classroom technologies for many years

Does Pre-Kindergarten Education Work – or Not? (Isabel Sawhill)

Making policy to improve schooling has been popular for the past century. And constant. Because making policy is a political decision and schools have been vulnerable to every gust of the reform wind, research and best-available- evidence has played a part in that decision-making process. The past three U.S. Presidents and Congress have supported pre-kindergarten programs with both words and dollars. Yet critics have pointed out shortcomings to both the research and argument for bringing three- and four year-olds into a school-like setting. Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., summarizes well the point-counterpoint of the policy debate. This op-ed appeared April 19, 2016.

 

In this tumultuous election year one wonders whether reasoned debate about education or other policies is still possible. That said, research has a role to play in helping policymakers make good decisions – if not before than after they are in office. So what do we know about the ability of early education to change children’s lives? At the moment, scholars are divided. One camp argues that pre-k doesn’t work, suggesting that it would be a mistake to expand it. Another camp believes that it is one of the most cost-effective things we could do to improve children’s lifetime prospects, especially if they come from disadvantaged homes.

The pre-k advocates cite several earlier demonstrations, such as the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian programs. These have been rigorously evaluated and found to improve children’s long-term success, including less use of special education, increases in high school graduation, reduced crime, and higher earnings. Participants in the Abecedarian program, for example, earned 60 percent more than controls by age 30. Mothers benefit as well since more of them are able to work. The Abecedarian project increased maternal earnings by $90,000 over the course of the mother’s career. Finally, by reducing crime, improving health, and decreasing the need for government assistance, these programs also reduce the burden on taxpayers. According to one estimate, the programs even increase GDP to the tune of $30 to $80 billion (in 2015 dollars) once the children have moved into and through their working lives. A careful summary of all this research can be found in this year’s Economic Report of the President. The Report notes, and I would emphasize, that no one study can do justice to this issue, and not every program has been successful, but the weight of the evidence points strongly to the overall success of high-quality programs. This includes not just the small, very intensive model programs, but importantly the large, publically-funded pre-school programs such as those in Boston, Tulsa, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey. Some estimates put the ratio of benefits to costs at $7 to $1. Very few investments promise such a large return. Pre-k advocates admit that any gains in IQ may fade but that boosts to nonacademic skills such as self-control, motivation, and planning have long-term effects that have been documented in studies of siblings exposed to differing amounts of early education.

The pre-k critics point to findings from rigorous evaluations of the national Head Start program and of a state-wide program in Tennessee. These studies found that any gains from pre-k at the end of the program had faded by the time the children were in elementary school. They argue that the positive results from earlier model programs, such as Perry and Abecedarian, may have been the result of their small scale, their intensity, and the fact that the children involved had few alternative sources of care or early education. Children with more than adequate home environments or good substitute child care do not benefit as much, or at all, from participating in a pre-k program. In my view, this is an argument for targeted programs or for a universal program with a sliding scale fee for those who participate. In the meantime, it is too early to know what the longer-term effects of current programs will be. Despite their current popularity among scholars, one big problem with randomized controlled trials (RCTs) is that it takes a generation to get the

answers you need. And, as is the case with Perry and Abecedarian, by the time you get them, they may no longer be relevant to contemporary environments in which mothers are better educated and more children have access to out-of-home care.

In the end, you can’t make public policy with RCTs alone. We need to incorporate lessons from neuroscience about the critical changes to the brain that occur in early childhood and the insights of specialists in child development. We need to consider what happens to non-cognitive skills over the longer term. We need to worry about the plight of working mothers, especially single parents, who cannot work without some form of out-of-home care. Providing that care on the cheap may turn out to be penny wise and pound foolish. (A universal child care program in Quebec funded at $5 a day led to worse behavior among the kids in the program.) Of course we need to continuously improve the effectiveness of pre-k through ongoing evaluation. That means weeding out ineffective programs along with improving curriculum, teacher preparation and pay, and better follow-up in the early grades. Good quality pre-k works; bad-quality does not. For the most disadvantaged children, it may require intervening much earlier than age 3 or 4 as the Abecedarian program did — with strikingly good results.

Our society is coming apart. Scholars from AEI’s Charles Murray to Harvard’s Robert Putnam agree on that point. Anything that can improve the lives of the next generation should command our attention. The evidence will never be air-tight. But once one adds it all up, investing in high quality pre-k looks like a good bet to me.

 

4 Comments

Filed under preschool, school reform policies

Teachers Integrating Technology: First Graders at Sequoia Elementary School

photo 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo 3

 

Six year-olds get excited about almost any activity. In a first grade classroom, energetic, enthusiastic boys and girls would say “whoopee!” over a math worksheet and so it was in Leslie Altman’s group of 27 young children working with an interactive white board (IWB). Altman, an experienced teacher of over fifteen years has been at Sequoia Elementary School for the past three. She did a series of activities over a 45-minute period that largely used the (IWB) screening Scholastic News’  “Rain Doesn’t Bug This Ant,” and a few competitive games in which students from each team came to IWB, one-by-one, and tapped the answer to get points for their team.

Sequoia Elementary is part of the Mount Diablo Unified School District in Northern California. David Franklin, an experienced principal has been at the school for five years having previously served in the Alum Rock district as an administrator. Dr. Franklin, an active twitter user (@SFPrincipal) is enthusiastic about technology in school and supportive of teachers who want to use devices with their students. He has a “Mouse Squad” of fourth and fifth graders (boys and girls) who troubleshoot software glitches and simple hardware problems for teachers and students. One of the new initiatives in the upper grades is about the game Minecraft. I noted that a book about the game was on Franklin’s desk and he told me that a fifth grader had brought in the book for the principal to read.

A kindergarten-to fifth grade school, Sequoia became a Back-to-Basics alternative in the late-1970s. District parents who wanted more traditional academics for their sons and daughters sent their children to Sequoia. Over the decades, it remains an alternative–half of its students come from anywhere in the district and half from the immediate neighborhood. But as principals and teachers entered and exited, Sequoia slowly incorporated a full range of school and teaching activities from homework-texts-tests to project-based learning. According to Franklin, who has hired many Sequoia teachers in his years at the school, there has been an increase in student-centered learning and more computer devices and software garnered from multiple sources. Individual teachers, some of whom are entrepreneurial in gathering devices, also have access to carts of tablets and two onsite computer labs. The school, according to its 2015 Report Card, has 550 students of whom 48 percent are white, nearly 22 percent are Asian, and 20 percent are Latino. About 12 percent are English Language Learners and about the same percentage are eligible for free and reduced price lunch (a poverty measure). Students with disabilities are under five percent.

Just before 9 AM on the morning of April 15, 2016, the principal welcomed Patricia Dickenson* and me. I had asked him to pick two teachers who he believed exemplified strong integration of technology in daily lessons. Leslie Altman, a first grade teacher, was one of two teachers we observed. She organized her colorful classroom around tables for 3-4 students (see photo), each one holding a container of pencils. The 55 minute lesson we observed was built around whole-group instruction yet the classroom was structured as individual learning centers where students rotated through various ones (see photo). Six year-olds moved freely around the room, some going to a chart where they fixed a clothes pin to the phrase that best described their attitude and work during the day (see photo).

When we entered the room, the 27 six year-olds were sitting on the rug in a circle and Altman had the children saying “good morning” and exchange greetings to each other. Afterwards, the first graders moved to their seats and the teacher, using her laptop on her desk, flashes on the IWB a video on “bugs” that includes a range of insects and spiders. This begins the science lesson. Students quiet down and watch for about five minutes. Then Altman passes out Scholastic NewsRain Doesn’t Bug This Ant” to each table.

Using a wireless head-set, Altman reads the paragraphs on the News as each page appears on the IWB. Students read aloud each paragraph from the handout. She asks questions of the class and students respond chorally. On the second page are a series of photos about different insects and how they protect themselves from the rain. One photo shows a hen and chicks. Altman calls class’s attention to the photo and a student asks “How does the momma bird protect chicks from water?” Scattered students offer different answers. The teacher directs the class the last page of “Rain Doesn’t Bug This Ant” a chart displays information about three insects (Rose Chafer, Peacock Butterfly, and Ladybug), their size, and ability to be waterproof are compared. There are multiple choice questions for students to answer on their handout.

Altman flashes on the IWB the chart and divides the class into two teams to answer these questions. She explains that a member from each team will come to the smart board and pick the correct answer about the length of each insect and whether it is waterproof or not. She calls on one student from Team 1 to come to the smart board. She gives the six year-old the smart board pen and the student picks the correct answer to the first question. Her team cheers. Then the student gives the pen to someone else on her team to answer the next question. One student says “can I go next?” Another student says, “it’s not fair to give it only to your friends.”  One of the observers notes that some students on Team 2 had already marked their answers on the handout.

After answering these questions, Altman moves to two online math games the first graders are familiar with–“I’ve Got Your Number” and “Secret Agent.” Both are game show formats. For a few minutes the teacher had a technical glitch and could not get “I’ve Got Your Number” to appear on the smart board. The principal who was also observing retrieves another laptop and within moments, the math game show appeared on the screen.

The game, which also contains funny fake ads for products that children laughed at, displays a number line to 100. Students have to answer game show announcer’s question first on addition (e.g., What is ten plus 90?) with dings accompanying incorrect answers. Teacher continues with team competition and calls on members of each team one at a time. Some children on each side are excited and want to win and they are kneeling on their chairs. For those students who are unsure of adding, Altman leans over and coaches by rephrasing question and giving help before the six year-old taps the correct answer on the smart board.

Altman then shifts to another online game called “Secret Agent” where spy 00K9 must defeat the evil El Gato using his subtraction skills. Children cheer. Catchy chords play over and over again and some students move with the rhythmic music.  Announcer asks question–what is 40 less three? The teacher calls on the first student from Team 1. When needed, Altman helps the student who then taps the correct answer. She scans the room to see which students have not participated and encourages the student with the pen to choose particular six year-olds who have not been selected to come to the IWB. This goes on for about 10-12 minutes. While all of the action is occurring, there are a few first graders getting restless and walking around. Teacher scans the room and notices this and tells the entire class that the game is almost over and one of the teams will be the winner. The online game show keeps score and sure enough announces which team has won. The teacher then announces morning snack at 9:45 and students go outside the room to pick up food that their parents had packed for them. Later they go to recess. Dickenson and I thank the teacher and go to the next observation.

_________________

*Dickenson (@teacherpreptech) is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at National University in San Jose. After reading my blog on integration of technology, a subject she is very interested in and has included in her university courses, Dickenson got in touch with me. She has extensive contacts with teachers and principals through her university courses and teacher workshops in the Bay Area. She proposed that we work together in observing schools and classrooms. She set up this visit to Sequoia with David Franklin. For this post, she and I combined our notes and I drafted the post. I sent a draft to Franklin, Altman,and Dickenson to check for errors and each returned it. Because Dickenson and I combined our notes and she went over the draft. This is a co-authored post.

 

7 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

Rubik Cube, School Reform, and Summit Charter Schools (Part 2)

In part 1, I made the point that while solving a Rubik’s Cube is complicated, designing and implementing a school reform is complex. In that post, I offered nine different yet interacting moving parts that I believe has to go into any reform aimed at improving high schools for preparing youth to complete college. They are:

*Recruit and train teachers who have the subject matter knowledge and skills to work with youth before, during, and after the school day.

*Recruit and train school site leaders who have the expertise and skills to lead a school and be a pillow and sandpaper simultaneously with teachers, students, and parents.

*Students takes a college prep curriculum, aligned with district standards, that enables them to enter any higher education institution in the state.

*Students have access to non-academic subjects that cultivate the mind, heart, and sensibilities.

*Equip all students with the knowledge and skills not only to enter college but have the wherewithal to persist through four years and get a bachelor’s degree.

*Organize the school day, week, and month that provides students with sufficient time in and out of class to learn the prescribed material and core cognitive skills to master a subject, acquire the essential skills of planning and assessing their progress in each course they take, receive tutorial help when student skill levels are below par, and time for students to receive mentoring from teachers they trust.

*Build a culture of respect, safety, and focus on collaboration and learning for both youth and adults.

*Create a decision-making process that is inclusive, self-critical, and strong enough to make further changes in all of the above.

*Do all of the above efficiently within available resources.

 

These different features–drawn from different bodies of research (see Part 1)— of a structural design are within designers’ and implementers’ control. They can be built and put into practice. While fragile and easy to fall apart without attention and care, these interacting parts are essentials, I argue. Note, however, is that I mention no computers. Part of the complex design of these high schools is to use powerful software applications and content seamlessly in achieving desired outcomes. Technology is not central to achieving desired outcomes; it is, however, an enabling condition that surely helps both adults and youth reach the outcomes they seek.

What is beyond the reach or control of designers and implementers, however, are the unpredictable events that inexorably occur in and to schools because they exist in political, social, and economic environments within which both are wholly dependent upon those who fund schools. Consider just a few examples of the unanticipated occurrences that influence teaching practices and student outcomes: district and states cut funds, parental crises send students into  spirals of despair, illness of a highly-respected administrator slows implementation of an innovation; a clutch of veteran teachers exit school in one year.  Such events–and I have hardly listed all of the contingencies that could occur–if coming in clusters or sequentially (or both) can damage quickly the culture that has grown within the structures and, if left unattended, destroy the school. These schools, after all, are fragile creations that can only take so much shaking before they fragment and disappear. The history of successful schools, however, defined, has shown, time and again (see here), that creating and sustaining such schools is as dicey as predicting the locations and consequences of the next El Nino.

A charter network in Northern California has been working and re-working a design containing these moving parts for nearly 15 years. Over the past two months I have visited two of its seven charter schools in the Bay area and in those two schools have watched nine teachers across different academic subjects teach 90-minute lessons.* I have also interviewed administrators. The network of Summit charter schools has been written about often and positively (see here, here, here, and here). In all instances, these teachers I observed had integrated the software they had loaded onto students’ Chromebooks, the playlists of videos and links to articles for units that teachers created, and students’ self-assessment exercises seamlessly into the daily lessons with varying degrees of student engagement.

The cliched statement said over and over again by advocates of new technologies in schools: “It is not about technology, it is about learning,” captured what I saw. The overall aims of Summit students acquiring academic content, cognitive skills, “habits of success,” and the know-how of students assessing their own progress–all of that involved online work during and after lessons. Clearly, the school did not have to use Chromebooks and extensive software to reach the schools’ overall goals and each student’s personal ones. The technology did enable, however, the process of learning to be more efficient, more timely, and give real-time feedback to students. In the words of one of the teachers who emailed me his thoughts on using the available technology**:

Technology and the model we are currently using at Summit has transformed my classroom and changed me as a teacher….  As we have relatively recently embraced a model that puts students as drivers of their own learning further into the center of their academic experience,  we have moved the teacher further outward, acting more as a facilitator than a traditional teacher much of the time. This could make some teachers feel uneasy and others even disillusioned at the perceived prospect that all the knowledge students need is online and the essence of the teacher-student relationship has been subsumed by the technology. Having now helped develop the curriculum for this model, used it and iterated on it for nearly three years, I view this model as a powerful, mostly positive way to educate young people….

I am now able to provide a much wider variety of experiences to my students because I have access to a wealth of data about both their learning performance and preferences. Changes in my practice that took days or weeks based on our previous assessment cycles are now reduced to days, hours or even minutes. That said, as we iterate to improve the academic tools we use, we also need to be equally mindful, innovative and proactive in building and maintaining the ethical and character culture(informed by a knowledge of adolescent development)that marks an excellent high school education from a merely good one. Moreover, we need to similarly work on building a more powerful, authentic sense of common purpose with the varied backgrounds of our families and communities that overlap with our school community. This requires tremendous empathy and solidarity, and I feel it is the greatest challenge ahead of us….

Such a culture that this Summit teacher speaks of is not engineered by new software or machines. The culture and structures that support it are built by administrators’ and teachers’ hands, hearts, and minds. It is a work-in-progress. It is complex with many moving parts. And it is fragile.

What is missing, of course, from this description of Summit’s complex design and its execution is any evaluation of what students are learning (In my observations, I focused on what teachers did in their classrooms), whether all Summit high schools (or just the two I observed) are succeeding (however measured) in achieving its goals, or whether you need all (or just a few) of the features outlined above. There is a great deal absent from this limited account of lessons I observed.

But I did learn a few things very well.  If the Rubik Cube can be solved in either seconds or minutes with algorithms, I am confident that building and sustaining an improved high school for minority and poor youth is a long-term affair, lacking algorithms, that needs smart and patient leaders, and years to accomplish. Such schools are live inventions that keep adapting to their environment as problems arise and fade.  But these works-in-progress are vulnerable and delicate creations. They need constant attention.

 

 

 

 

 

_____________

*Diane Tavenner, a founding teacher at Summit Prep and director of Summit Schools Network and Chief Academic Officer, Adam Carter–also a founding teacher at Summit Prep–picked the two schools. In both schools, I interviewed the principals (called Executive Directors), and they suggested various teachers I should visit. Because of scheduling difficulties, I could not see all of those recommended to me. So in both schools, I reached out to other teachers, introduced myself and asked them if I could observe their classes. Of the nine teachers who permitted me to spend a 90-minute block, I had selected five to have a broad coverage of academic subjects and grades 9-12. All nine lessons taught by English, social studies, science, math, and foreign language teachers have been published on this blog on: March 13, 2016, March 16, March 21, March 23, March 29, April 1, April 6, April 12, April 18.

**In my possession. It was a confidential exchange between this teacher and myself.

7 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies, technology use

More Cartoons on Teaching and Learning Math in and out of School

Cartoons about teaching academic subjects have appeared in this monthly feature many times. Teaching and learning math in and out of school, it seems, gives cartoonists’ pens ample subject matter to make fun of. This month is no exception. Enjoy these!

funny_math_cartoon1-1

 

87e950a0edd9a0bb16c16c8f20ddf34f

 

funny-math-cartoons7

 

 

 

calvin5

 

20150114

 

cartoon6801

 

7c6c769a2cf2260e5e7d3404781ad8ec

 

 

c6df766a35d3f9d7586b3627736707a1

 

images-1

 

images

 

773750_f496

 

7f75a0d2cf014d947c4d8bc85aeca521

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Fundamental Dilemma Facing Teachers: Performing Both the Academic and Emotional Roles in Classrooms

Over four years ago I wrote a post on a new teacher’s dilemma. In that post I defined what a dilemma was and distinguished it from a problem. Then I presented an instance of a dilemma in a novice’s classroom and asked readers what they thought. Since then, I have written about dilemmas often in this blog (see here, here, and here). Because “dilemma” is so  often used as a synonym for “problem” and because these tensions over choices are constant in our personal and professional lives, I want to dig deeper into one facing all teachers be they teaching kindergarten or Advanced Placement courses. Whether they are new or experienced, whether they are white, African American, Latino, or a first generation college graduate in their family they inevitably face a core dilemma built into teaching when they have to perform both an academic and emotional role in teaching five-year olds or fifteen year-olds.

Let me unpack first what I mean by  dilemmas. I mean situations where a teacher, principal, superintendent, school board member has to choose between two or more competing and prized values. The choice is often hard because in choosing one ends up sacrificing something of value to gain a bit of satisfaction on another value. One learns to compromise in negotiating between two things they want very much.

An example of a common dilemma might help. One that each of us faces is the personal/professional dilemma. You value highly your work and you value highly your family and friends. Those are the competing values. But your time and energy are limited. So you have to calculate the trade-offs between doing more of one and less of the other. You have to make choices.

You map out options: Put in fewer hours at work and more time at home. Or the reverse. Take more vacations and give up thoughts of career advancement. These and other options, each with its particular trade-offs, become candidates for a compromise that includes both satisfaction and sacrifice. If you do nothing–another option–you risk losing out with your family and friends or with your job.

This is not a problem that one neatly solves and moves on to the next one. It is a dilemma that won’t go away. It is literally built into your daily routine. There is no tidy solution; it has to be managed because the compromise you work out may unravel and there you are again, facing those unattractive choices.

Within U.S. age-graded schools, whether they are high schools or elementary schools, whether schools are in neighborhoods where wealthy, middle class, or poor families send their children, two imperatives face all U.S. teachers: know your subject (the academic role) and know your students (the emotional role). Teachers value both roles. Yet these two roles, valued highly by teachers, place huge demands upon them. The academic role requires teachers to maintain a certain social distance from students while the emotional role requires teachers to get close to students. And here is the dilemma.

In the academic role, teachers teach first graders to read while upper-grade teachers teach Algebra or Biology. They convey knowledge and cultivate cognitive skills of students. Then these teachers have to judge the degree to which students achieve mastery of each. Evaluating achievement requires evidence of performance and social distance in treating all students the same in applying criteria –even if a teacher admires a hard-working, serious student who keeps failing key tests. Emotion is not supposed to sway a teacher’s judgment of students’ academic performance.

But U.S. teachers are also expected to get close to students. Professors, mentors, and principals urge teachers to know their students as individuals, their background, interests, shortcomings and strengths. Why? Because that personal knowledge will help the teacher draw students into learning what the teacher teaches. In displaying sincere interest in students, bonds of affection grow.  The relationship, the emotional ties between a teacher and her students, then, becomes the foundation for learning.

Balancing these competing roles and the values they represent, however, is hard to do. Many teachers only embrace the academic role: “My job is to teach science; my job is not to befriend my students.” Other teachers clasp the emotional role to their heart wanting so much to be closer to their students that they whisper to themselves: “Like me and you will like what I teach.” Finding the right mix is very difficult.

There are, of course, teachers who figure out how to balance these competing roles artfully by developing a classroom persona that is a distinct mix of both values. Their voices, gestures, clothes, verbal tics–all are part of the daily performance. They blend the academic and emotional roles into a mix that appeals to and prods students at the same time. They give genuine, heartfelt performances. Students, who can easily smell a fake, come to appreciate such teachers’ performances.

 

8 Comments

Filed under dilemmas of teaching

Part 9: Summit Prep Teachers Integrating Technology: 9th Grade Biology

“With-it-ness” and “ripple effect” are seldom heard in university teacher education courses today. Over four decades ago, Jacob Kounin, A Wayne State (MI) professor coined these phrases based upon his observations in elementary and secondary classrooms. His point was simple: teachers can prevent misbehavior in their classrooms and get students to accept classroom norms if they organize their lesson, plan for student participation, and anticipate student behavior. With-it-ness is the ability of teachers to constantly scan their classroom during a lesson while lecturing, guiding a discussion, or listening to student answers and simultaneously calling out students before they pass a note to a classmate, get disengaged from assigned task, or secretly text from cell phones on their laps. Such teacher behaviors convince students that the teacher “has eyes in the back of her head.” Kounin also noted that when teachers cautioned a student prior to a misbehavior or inattention, the students near the admonished student controlled their behavior and became attentive. Hence, the “ripple effect.”

Both these and other teacher actions during a lesson, researchers argue, contribute further to socializing young students to the norms, behaviors, and attitudes embedded in the school culture and, they further argue, are essential for academic achievement.

I saw these 9th grade student behaviors in full view while observing Biology teacher Kristel Hsaio’s class on March 22, 2016. Of course, I saw much more in that 90-minute lesson than “with-it-ness” and “ripple effects” reinforcing socialization to Summit Prep norms. So here is my description of that lesson that included many tasks students worked on their new unit on DNA Barcoding including student presentations, self-assessments of their work, frequent pairing of classmates and whole-group discussion.

Kristel Hsiao is a five year veteran of teaching in Chicago at Solorio Academy High School–she was one of its founding teachers. While there she developed science curricula and piloted the use of iPad carts in classrooms. After moving to the Bay area, she applied to and was hired to teach biology at Summit Prep. She organized her classroom furniture and used white boards to reflect her goals for the courses she taught.

photo copy

 

 

photo copy 3 photo copy 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As students entered the class, Hsiao greeted each one with a hearty “good morning” and a high-five slap of hands. Two and three students sit at each table. There are 26 in the room. Precisely at 10:40, the time for the block class to begin, the teacher calls the 26 students’ attention to the Warm Up on a slide projected on the front screen:

“Answer three questions:

*What did you do over the weekend?

*What are you looking forward to this week?

*What are you concerned about this week?”

Students open Chromebooks and click away. Two students are dallying and Hsiao says: “Everyone should be working, no talking.” After five minutes, teacher says “eyeballs and ears up here. Close computers.” She counts down from 5 to 0. She then proceeds to give students a preview of the DNA barcoding unit over the next month by projecting slides on the screen. She then returns to the agenda for the day:

*Warm Up

››Group Work – Step 1

*Presentations!

›*Exit Slip

Student presentations are the center-piece of the lesson–the student sitting next to me tells me she is nervous about hers. But there is more that Hsiao wants to cover before students present articles they read. She goes over key features of the new DNA barcoding project that the class will work on for next four weeks. She describes the work they will do each week, the upcoming Spring break, the two weeks away from class to do Expeditions, and when they will finish the DNA barcoding unit. “Any questions,” she asks. Three students want to know about dates, lab reports, etc.

Hsiao then asks students to turn to next task, Group Work-Step 1 on cognitive skills (students and teacher calls them “cog skills”) they will be covering for today’s activities. Class knows the process to do this and Hsiao lists what each pair and trio is to do (for list of cognitive skills, see here).

*Right Partner: Read Cog Skill 

›“Today’s cog skill is…”

›“To get an A we must…”

*Left Partner: Read Objective

›“By the end of class, students will be able to…”

*Middle (or Right) Partner: Read Agenda

›“First, we will…Then, we will…Finally, we will…”

After 5-7 minutes of this group work, Hsiao tells class that they now have to do self-assessment for STEP O (SDL PLAN) in their PLP (Personal Learning Plan). This is the first thing that students do when they begin a new project. Students are familiar with process of setting goals for themselves and determining what level they wish to achieve–rubric lays out specific behaviors for high grade. They begin reading and clicking away on their Chromebooks. A few put in earbuds and everyone switches their seats to face the rear of the classroom. When I asked a student why they moved their chairs, she told me that it is less distracting to face the back of room when they are setting goals and figuring out what level they should set for themselves. Students tap away and go over each part of  STEP O (see here)*. Hsiao asks student next to me to show what is on her screen and what she is doing. She does.

I scan the classroom and everyone is now facing the rear of the room and is tapping away in their Chromebook.

This activity continues for about 15 minutes as teacher moves around the classroom answering questions, checking individual students entries, and asking particular students why they have assessed themselves at the level they chose. As students work through STEP O, Hsiao says to class that if there are students who want comments on their presentation–the next activity–they should let her access their presentations and she will look at it. Teacher brings this activity to a close and moves to student presentations.

Before calling on the first student to come to front and present the article she had read–she had sent her slides to the teacher’s laptop–Hsiao goes over a slide listing the class norms for when students give reports:

“BEFORE PRESENTING:

Send Mrs. Hsiao a link to your presentation.

The audience will clap politely as you walk up to the stage.

WHILE PRESENTING: Your peers will grade you using the Oral Presentation Scoring Guide. Your teacher will take these scores into consideration when she grades you.

AFTER PRESENTING:

Audience will clap calmly and politely.

Audience will ask up to 3 questions.

Mrs. Hsiao will input your grade by the end of the day.”

 

In the five presentations I heard, students follow a template of tasks that frame each presentation.

*What claim does author make in article?

*What is my analysis of claim? Evidence author used and what I thought of it.

*Why is claim important?

*Why did I choose this article?

After each presentation, student asks for questions from class-mates.

Hsiao had passed out sheets for students to evaluate each of the presentations.

In scanning the class while each of the five students were presenting, I noted that every student was attending to presenter.

Rather than describe each PowerPoint presentations I and the class listened to, I will describe one.  This student analyzed an article about colorblindness entitled: “Your Color Red Could Really Be My Blue.” The student went over each of the above questions in an especially clear and concise sentences , showed a video of monkeys being injected with a virus that would change cones in the eyes to see other colors, and added information drawn from the article about color-blindness. At the end of her PowerPoint, she asked for questions and there were a half-dozen. The class applauded vigorously. Each student, then, as they had done with the earlier PowerPoints rated their classmate’s presentation (See Student Rating of Presentations).

After last student presents, class applauds, and questions are asked, Hsiao counts down from 5 to 0 to get students’ attention. After the volume of noise approaches quiet, Hsiao compliments the presenters: “they were excellent,” she says. Then she segues to final task of lesson which is to get students to move to Step 1 of DNA barcoding unit (“Learn Basics of DNA). They will study DNA of different Huskie dogs and later seafood animals.**   She asks that students get in their teams (teacher had preassigned students to each team and names appeared on a slide), assign roles for which member of team is to do, and use readings and video materials. To reinforce understanding of task, she has students repeat chorally: “What Step will we be working on?” “Step 1,” students respond. Class ends shortly after as students continue working in teams.

Here was a lesson designed and implemented by an experienced teacher that reinforced class norms–what academics call socialization–while simultaneously aligning lesson activities for the beginning of a project, having students report on their analysis of articles they read, and for 90 minutes having “eyes in the back of her head” to prevent misbehaving. The sheer complexity of teaching was on full display during the lesson.

___________________

*This link and others were created by a team of biology teachers in Summit high schools that included Hsiao.

**According to Hsiao, “The purpose of the activity was to build background knowledge about DNA so that students are ready for the DNA barcoding unit. In the DNA barcoding unit, students will collect samples of seafood from local restaurants and then analyze the DNA in the samples to determine if the seafood is mislabeled. Then they will make conclusions about whether or not the seafood sold in their communities is sustainable. Throughout the project, students will practice writing and inquiry skills, as well as apply their knowledge of food webs and DNA.”

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under how teachers teach, technology

Learning to Code vs. Coding to Learn (Michael Trucano)

Michael Trucano posted this on his blog December 8. 2015. From the World Bank blog: “Michael Trucano is the World Bank’s Senior Education & Technology Policy Specialist and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, serving as the organization’s focal point on issues at the intersection of technology use and education in middle- and low-income countries and emerging markets around the world. At a practical working level, Mike provides policy advice, research and technical assistance to governments seeking to utilize new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in their education systems. Over the past 18 years, Mike has been advisor on, evaluator of, and/or working-level participant in, educational technology initiatives in over 45 middle- and low-income countries.”

 

“Coding”, it is said by some, is the “new literacy”. The ability to write and understand computer code, some contend, is increasingly fundamental to understanding how to navigate one’s way through, to say nothing of succeeding in, a modern society where more and more of our lives are enabled and/or constrained by the actions of devices and information systems that run on computer code.

Few would argue with the notion, I would expect, that efforts to expose some students to ‘coding’, and to develop some related skills, is a bad thing. That said:

Should *all* students learn how to code?
All? That’s ridiculous! some would answer.
All? Absolutely! others respond.

I’ve sat in on a number of related discussions in ministries of education and at education policy forums around the world. At times, it can seem like members of these two groups are not only on different pages, but reading from totally different books. Those people just don’t get it, I’ve have heard representatives from both groups lament about each other after the conclusion of such meetings.

For what it’s worth, and in case it might be of any interest to others, here are, in no particular order, some of the most common arguments I hear made both in support of, and against, educational coding initiatives:

Coding education will help students acquire vocational skills that are immediately relevant to today’s job market.
Look at all of the IT-related jobs available in the world, coding education advocates say. Shouldn’t our schools be specifically preparing our students to compete for them? Setting aside larger questions about the proper place of vocationally-oriented classes and approaches within an education system (some folks have a bit more expanded view of what ‘education’ should mean than something that is only meant to prepare the workers of tomorrow) and agreeing that some perspectives are a bit extreme (“Latest Craze for Chinese Parents: Preschool Coding Classes”), critics respond that many related efforts are a waste of time in practice for a number of reasons. These include that: (a) they focus on developing largely mechanical processes that are easily learned in other venues; (b) they are largely concerned with “job-relevant” skills of today, not tomorrow; (c) initiatives of this sort are largely driven by the business sector (a group whose motives they view with great suspicion); and (d) many current efforts have little pedagogical value in and of themselves. Often cited with particular disdain are projects purportedly about coding but which amount to little more than learning how to use basic office tools such as word processors and presentation software. Proponents counter that arguing that something shouldn’t be done in the future because it is often done badly today doesn’t always make for a winning argument, and that just because the private sector supports a particular activity in schools doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad or that nefarious intentions are at play. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, they respond.

Coding helps develop important logic and problem-solving skills.
Steve Jobs remarked that “coding teaches you how to think”. Few would argue against the notion that, when taught well, education in coding can help develop important logical thinking and problem-solving skills. Indeed, most coding education is at its very heart about logic and meant to be oriented to help people identify and solve specific problems (whether they are as basic as “have a greeting appear on the screen” or “move this turtle up and to the left” or as complex as trying model projected rainfall patterns or the transmission of a virus throughout a population). In response, critics argue that coding courses have no monopoly on the development of such skills, and that in fact such skills should be embedded throughout an entire curriculum, not the focus of a single school subject 

Understanding coding helps students better understand the nature of the world around them, and how and why increasing parts of it function as they do.
Computers play increasingly large roles in our lives, and so it’s important to understand how they function. There tends, I find, to be general agreement about this statement among education policymakers, although different groups nevertheless disagree on its practical relevance, given many competing priorities. That said, it is perhaps worth noting that many critics of educational coding efforts may perhaps not fully grasp the potential import of this observation. Computers don’t have minds of their own (at least not yet, anyway!), they act only according to the instructions that have been programmed into them. The price you are charged in the market, why your government or a private company thinks you might do (or not do) something, why a search result appears on your screen – such things are increasingly not directly determined by the whim or a person, but rather by an algorithm (or combination of algorithms) that someone has created. Understanding what such algorithms enable, and how, will increasingly be important to understand our increasingly digitized world. (Technology is neither good nor bad, Melvin Kranzberg noted, nor is it neutral.) Those who acknowledge the potentially profound insights that might follow from such observations may still argue that there is a very practical and immediate opportunity cost here: If you add coding to the mandatory curriculum for all students, what comes out? Some places are considering doing things like letting coding courses be used to meet foreign languageor basic mathematicsrequirements – is this a good thing?

Teaching students to code can serve as a gateway to subsequent study of STEM topics — and hopefully to jobs and careers in related fields.
Reasonable people can disagree about the exact nature and magnitude of the ‘STEM challenge’ (i.e. problems that arise because insufficient numbers of students are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics … a topic for another blog post, perhaps). That said, even where critics concede that such a challenge exists, they may ask: Is ‘coding’ really this really the ‘best’ gateway to boost general interest in STEM? If coding is not well taught, might it in fact dissuade some students from further study of STEM topics, and thus decrease the likelihood that they pursue STEM-related careers? Is coding education in schools indeed a gateway to coding, or is it in practice just ‘edutainment’, something to do with all the computers that schools have purchased and still haven’t figured out how to use productively — better than nothing, to be sure, but not better than many potential alternatives?

Introducing coding in schools can be a force for greater equity and equality of opportunity.
There can be little doubt that the tech industry suffers from a real problem related to diversity (or, more accurately, a lack of diversity). Efforts to introduce coding in schools in some places are seen as a measure that can help with this. Advocates maintain that, when coding is something that everyone does, it is no longer something just e.g. for boys, or for kids with computers at home, or for people in California or India, or who are Caucasian or Asian or ___ [feel free to insert your own stereotype and/or ‘privileged’ group]. Providing more exposure to coding for a wider variety of kids can certainly help to some extent, critics might counter, by helping to providing some initial opportunities for those who may not otherwise get them and by chipping away at some stereotypes, but the situation is rather complex, and much more needs to be done. Such critics worry that, because there are coding initiatives in schools, certain leaders will declare that the diversity challenge is being ‘solved’, or at least ‘handled’, and leave it at that. Supporting international efforts like Girls Who Code or more localized programs like GirlsCoding (in Nigeria) is all well and good, such critics say, and certainly a good start, but it isn’t ‘solving’ the problem.

Being able to code enables new avenues for creativity and creative expression.
Efforts to teach coding skills to young students through the use of tools like Scratch, or as part of robotics courses or initiatives to promote “making” (and/or “physical computing”), are often cited as compelling examples of what (good) coding education efforts may comprise. Here again, many critics may laud such efforts but still argue that, even if you concede that coding is a new literacy in our increasingly technology-saturated world, it is still worth asking two rather basic questions before moving ahead with new, large-scale, mandatory educational coding initiatives in school:

*How are we doing with the old, basic literacies of reading, writing and arithmetic?

*Shouldn’t we ensure that these fundamental “literacy skills” are in place before we start tacking new ones on to our already bloated curricula?….

 

 

Should we teach coding in schools? What does ‘coding’ mean in our context? Who should teach it, and who should learn it – a certain few, or everyone? Can we afford to do this do? (Conversely, given that our neighbors and competitors are doing this, can we afford not to do this?) Are we interested in making sure more kids ‘learn to code’ and then stop there, or is it more about developing the skills that would help students eventually ‘code to learn’?

Whatever the situation or context, how a policymaker answers these and many of other related questions is probably colored quite a bit by how she views the role and process of education, and the activity of learning, more broadly.

 

 

16 Comments

Filed under school reform policies, technology use

Part 8: Summit Prep Teachers Integrating Technology: 9th Grade English

Classroom questioning of students is an art, not a science. Whether a teacher does it one-on-one or in a group of five or for an entire class of 30, questions are at the core of the teacher’s quest to have students grasp content and concepts. Or to have students probe more deeply what their classmates and the teacher assert. Or to stretch students’ skills of speaking in groups. Or fixing mistakes when students stumble. Getting the best sequence of questions asked of students, that is, using an initial one and then follow-up questions constructed like a ladder takes time and thought. Different aims in a lesson generate different kinds of questions and such questions are the meat-and-potatoes of teaching.

Much knowledge of asking classroom questions comes from direct experience in teaching, some is intuitive, and some comes from trial-and-error. And even some comes from books. Framing the question is what the teacher does prior to teaching, say, in a lesson plan and also during the lesson in the midst of back-and-forth exchanges between teacher and students. Which students to call upon and how to call upon them (e.g., cold calls, choral questions, name first or name last) is also more art than science.

I raise all of these points about questions (but not student answers) from watching Anne Giocondini, a 9th grade teacher of English in her first year at Summit Prep, conduct a lesson on poetry on March 22, 2016. Her written-out questions on the white board, in the handouts she gave students, and in the ensuing discussion reminded me for the umpteenth time just how crucial to student learning are the skills of constructing and asking students questions.

Giocondini, a graduate of Grand Valley State University (MI), became a Fulbright teacher at Kirovohrad State Pedagogical University (Ukraine) where she helped teach preservice TESOL teachers and translators for a year before coming to Summit Prep. Why Summit? The school “aligned with my values, doing project based teaching, and mentoring.” As a first-year teacher she has the same room all day to teach her block lessons of 90 minutes each, periods of Summit Reads and Mentoring. What she had on the walls of her room and how she arranged classroom tables for students to sit mirrored her aims for the 9th grade English class.

photophoto copy 2photo copy

 

 

The day’s agenda (see above) was clear. The teacher began the Warm Up when the class began at 8:15 with the question directed at 24 ninth graders who had been creating their poems in previous sessions: “Did I include Imagery?” On a slide projected on the screen in front of the room, Giocondini lists what students are to do with their partner’s poem and then their poem:

*”Open PLP (Summit’s online Personal Learning Plan)

*Open Partner Poem

*Open Partner Poem Revision Task Card 2

*Complete Checklist

STOP AT CHECKLIST

*Professional Courtesy”

All students open their Chromebooks and go to their PLP and their table-mate’s poem. I scan the room and every student is either reading their screen or clicking away to answer questions that are on Task Card 2. Giocondini walks along the aisles, stopping at one table and then another asking questions and listening to student queries. This continues for about 10 minutes.

The teacher segues to next task on agenda and tells students that they will revise their partner’s poem to include imagery. Before they move to that task, she put a slide on the screen: “Imagery is the name given to the elements in a poem that sparks the senses.” Sight, taste, touch,smell, and sound are enumerated on slide. To pin down the concept, Giocondini asks students to practice imagery with their partner using prompts on a slip of paper she hands out (e.g., “I do not like junk food”). She then cold calls on two different students to repeat what tasks they will be doing in next few minutes. Each one repeats the tasks correctly. Students go to work. A stop watch on the screen beginning at 5 minutes ticks off. Teacher moves up-and-down aisles to see what pairs of students are doing, offer suggestions, and answer questions.

I scan the class and every student is engaged with one or two other classmates.

After time elapsed, Giocondinia stops the class and asks class for examples of imagery that they added to prompts written on the slip of paper. She “cold calls” a student–to “read out” his. And then onto others to “read out” their images. To some of the student answers there is laughter at vivid images.  Students clap at each other’s contributions. Teacher asks entire class which of the five senses is written about in examples of images; students respond chorally. Giocondini now moves to next part of lesson–Work Time: Partner Poem Revision (see above photo of agenda). She tells students they have 20 minutes to revise their partner’s poem. They open Chromebooks and begin task; many talk to their partner and compare stanzas and images (two pairs work next to me and as I click away taking notes on the lesson I can hear their conversation). Teacher goes around the room making suggestions, inspecting revisions, and answering questions. Students carry their Chromebooks as they move about the room to check in with classmates  on revisions they made in poems.

In looking around the room, all but two students are engaged in task; within a few minutes, the teacher gets to the two and they return to task.

Teacher announces that 10 minutes remain. Students work until teacher asks students to close Chromebooks–she uses the phrase, “professional courtesy.” A student next to me leans over to a nearby classmate and tells him to close his computer. Teacher says “if you can hear my voice, clap once,” quarter of the class claps. “She then says if you can hear my voice, clap twice.” Two-thirds clap twice. Quiet descends in room.

Giocondini then moves to next part of lesson, the Theme Poem. She explains what a theme poem is and projects a slide of a Maya Angelou poem (with her photo) that they had read earlier in the year called “Still I Rise“. Giocondini reads the poem to class. Slide appears on screen with question: What is the theme of “Still I Rise?”

To refresh their memory of theme taken up in an earlier lesson, the teacher shows slide of what constitutes a theme and whether the theme is specific, universal, etc. (for Giocondini’s plan about theme poems, see here). She asks class what is the theme of “Still I Rise.” She calls on students who raise their hands. Giocondini asks students to support their answers with words from the poem. What emerges from back-and-forth discussion among students and between teacher and class about the theme of the Angelou poem is that people can overcome obstacles by rising above hate. Giocondini then moves to final task of lesson which is for students to pick a theme poem from a playlist she has compiled, read it carefully, and analyze it with their partner for its theme. She gives students 20 minutes to do this task. They open their Chromebooks and commence working. I scan the class five minutes later and, apart from one student secretly glancing at his cell in his lap, all appear to be working on task. Giocondini walks up and down aisles conferring with students, making suggestions, and responding to questions.

When time came to end for this task,  the teacher says: “Who can hear my voice, clap once.” She continues until the ninth graders are quiet.  After asking students to close Chromebooks, chattering rises and Giocondini uses drill with clapping. One student behind me shushes others near him who are talking; another student says to a nearby classmate to use “professional courtesy,” that is, close the Chromebook.

Giocondini compliments the class for all that they have done in the hour and a half period and then previews the work they will do for the next time they meet. She then cold calls a student and asks him to tell the class what the homework is and what they will be doing the next time they meet. The young man repeats all of it correctly. Students begin to pack up in the final minute and then Giocondini releases students to go to Summit Reads, the next class on their schedule.

Teacher questions of all sorts permeated the 90-minute block period and drove this lesson on poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

Don’t Grade Schools on Grit (Angela Duckworth)

“Angela Duckworth is the founder and scientific director of the Character Lab, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the forthcoming book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” This op-ed appeared in the New York Times, March 26, 2016. 

 

THE Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, “Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

Evidence has now accumulated in support of King’s proposition: Attributes like self-control predict children’s success in school and beyond. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a groundswell of popular interest in character development.

As a social scientist researching the importance of character, I was heartened. It seemed that the narrow focus on standardized achievement test scores from the years I taught in public schools was giving way to a broader, more enlightened perspective.

These days, however, I worry I’ve contributed, inadvertently, to an idea I vigorously oppose: high-stakes character assessment. New federal legislation can be interpreted as encouraging states and schools to incorporate measures of character into their accountability systems. This year, nine California school districts will begin doing this.

Here’s how it all started. A decade ago, in my final year of graduate school, I met two educators, Dave Levin, of the KIPP charter school network, and Dominic Randolph, of Riverdale Country School. Though they served students at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, both understood the importance of character development. They came to me because they wanted to provide feedback to kids on character strengths. Feedback is fundamental, they reasoned, because it’s hard to improve what you can’t measure.

This wasn’t entirely a new idea. Students have long received grades for behavior-related categories like citizenship or conduct. But an omnibus rating implies that character is singular when, in fact, it is plural.

In data collected on thousands of students from district, charter and independent schools, I’ve identified three correlated but distinct clusters of character strengths. One includes strengths like grit, self-control and optimism. They help you achieve your goals. The second includes social intelligence and gratitude; these strengths help you relate to, and help, other people. The third includes curiosity, open-mindedness and zest for learning, which enable independent thinking.

Still, separating character into specific strengths doesn’t go far enough. As a teacher, I had a habit of entreating students to “use some self-control, please!” Such abstract exhortations rarely worked. My students didn’t know what, specifically, I wanted them to do.

In designing what we called a Character Growth Card — a simple questionnaire that generates numeric scores for character strengths in a given marking period — Mr. Levin, Mr. Randolph and I hoped to provide students with feedback that pinpointed specific behaviors.

For instance, the character strength of self-control is assessed by questions about whether students “came to class prepared” and “allowed others to speak without interrupting”; gratitude, by items like “did something nice for someone else as a way of saying thank you.” The frequency of these observed behaviors is estimated using a seven-point scale from “almost never” to “almost always.”

Most students and parents said this feedback was useful. But it was still falling short. Getting feedback is one thing, and listening to it is another.

To encourage self-reflection, we asked students to rate themselves. Thinking you’re “almost always” paying attention but seeing that your teachers say this happens only “sometimes” was often the wake-up call students needed.

This model still has many shortcomings. Some teachers say students would benefit from more frequent feedback. Others have suggested that scores should be replaced by written narratives. Most important, we’ve discovered that feedback is insufficient. If a student struggles with “demonstrating respect for the feelings of others,” for example, raising awareness of this problem isn’t enough. That student needs strategies for what to do differently. His teachers and parents also need guidance in how to help him.

Scientists and educators are working together to discover more effective ways of cultivating character. For example, research has shown that we can teach children the self-control strategy of setting goals and making plans, with measurable benefits for academic achievement. It’s also possible to help children manage their emotions and to develop a “growth mind-set” about learning (that is, believing that their abilities are malleable rather than fixed).

This is exciting progress. A 2011 meta-analysis of more than 200 school-based programs found that teaching social and emotional skills can improve behavior and raise academic achievement, strong evidence that school is an important arena for the development of character.

But we’re nowhere near ready — and perhaps never will be — to use feedback on character as a metric for judging the effectiveness of teachers and schools. We shouldn’t be rewarding or punishing schools for how students perform on these measures.

MY concerns stem from intimate acquaintance with the limitations of the measures themselves.

One problem is reference bias: A judgment about whether you “came to class prepared” depends on your frame of reference. If you consider being prepared arriving before the bell rings, with your notebook open, last night’s homework complete, and your full attention turned toward the day’s lesson, you might rate yourself lower than a less prepared student with more lax standards.

For instance, in a study of self-reported conscientiousness in 56 countries, it was the Japanese, Chinese and Korean respondents who rated themselves lowest. The authors of the study speculated that this reflected differences in cultural norms, rather than in actual behavior.

Comparisons between American schools often produce similarly paradoxical findings. In a study colleagues and I published last year, we found that eighth graders at high-performing charter schools gave themselves lower scores on conscientiousness, self-control and grit than their counterparts at district schools. This was perhaps because students at these charter schools held themselves to higher standards.

I also worry that tying external rewards and punishments to character assessment will create incentives for cheating. Policy makers who assume that giving educators and students more reasons to care about character can be only a good thing should take heed of research suggesting that extrinsic motivation can, in fact, displace intrinsic motivation. While carrots and sticks can bring about short-term changes in behavior, they often undermine interest in and responsibility for the behavior itself.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague told me that she’d heard from a teacher in one of the California school districts adopting the new character test. The teacher was unsettled that questionnaires her students filled out about their grit and growth mind-set would contribute to an evaluation of her school’s quality. I felt queasy. This was not at all my intent, and this is not at all a good idea.

Does character matter, and can character be developed? Science and experience unequivocally say yes. Can the practice of giving feedback to students on character be improved? Absolutely. Can scientists and educators work together to cultivate students’ character? Without question.

Should we turn measures of character intended for research and self-discovery into high-stakes metrics for accountability? In my view, no.

17 Comments

Filed under testing

Part 7-Summit Rainier Teachers Integrating Technology: Advanced Placement U.S. History

Advanced Placement courses in high school have both champions and critics (see here and here). Millions of high school students take AP exams ($92 for each test). Those who get a 3 or above (1-5 scale) can opt out of college courses saving money that would have gone to tuition. Recently, the largest growth in adding AP courses has been in schools enrolling large percentages of poor and minority students. Since most charters promote going to college and are located in cities, AP enrollments have soared in these publicly-funded but privately run schools. And that has been the case for the network of Summit Charter schools in the Bay area. In the two Summit schools I have observed lessons, I sat in AP classes. In Summit AP courses, students have a choice in whether or not they take the test. Not all Summit students take the AP test.

Edwin Avarca teaches AP U.S. history at Summit Rainier and I observed his 90 minute class on March 15, 2016 (for a description of Summit Rainier, see here). Avarca is completing his sixth year of teaching. A graduate of a Bay area teacher education program that awards a masters and teaching credential after 14 months, Avarca’s first job was at a charter school in downtown San Jose. After two years there he joined Summit Rainier and has been teaching the AP U.S. history course since. He estimates that about one-fourth of his students take the test. To help those AP students who do take the test he convened a lunch hour AP club when he coaches students for the test.

The portable in which Avarca’s class meets has an upright piano as one enters the room and in the back there is a comfortable chair and hassock. I sit in rear of room next to a TutorCorps aide (a Yale University graduate, who joined Americorp, a public service organization). She tutors a few students in the class. Today is the first day of a unit on the Civil Rights movement.

Avarca welcomes back the 19 students from the two weeks they spent in Expeditions, elective courses (e.g., music, yoga, computer science, drama, video production) that they take with a different set of teachers. Avarca asks how it went, and a few students respond with a mix of positive and negative comments. He then segues to the lesson. “Today,” he says, “is the first day of our unit on the Civil Rights movement.” Avarca points to the Warm Up written on the agenda printed on the white board and then shows a video called Poisoned Dreams , about African Americans seeking equal treatment in the 1950s and 1960s. After 10 minutes of watching the video, the teacher stops it, tells students to put away their cell phones, and points to three questions on the interactive-white-board:

–“According to the video, what injustices were were people trying to overcome?

–What methods were people using to overcome these injustices?

–How do the topics discussed in the video continue to affect us today?”

The teacher switches easily between Spanish and English when giving directions and explaining certain points to Latino students and does so in elaborating these questions when he sees puzzled looks. He asks students to open their Chromebooks and type in their answers to these questions in three minutes. He says they can work collaboratively at their tables. As I scan the classroom all of the students are clicking away. After three minutes, Avarca calls time and asks students at each table to discuss their answers with one another. After a few minutes of table talk, he asks each of the three questions of the class and conducts a whole-group discussion. Avarca, carrying a pack of note-cards in his hands with the names of individual students, picks out cards and calls on students randomly. For example, to the first question, he calls on one student and the student answers, “segregation.” Teacher follows up and asks the class, “is everyone aware of what segregation is and can you give examples?” There is a few minutes of back-and-forth with the entire group–with the teacher using cards to call on different students– about different kinds of segregation including racial. Avarca then offers very specific examples of separation of people past and present.

Avarca then turns to second question of methods to fight injustices. Students picked up quickly on “sit-ins” from the video and a flurry of answers bounce across the room, mostly call-outs from different students. The teacher gives specific examples of sit-ins including a hypothetical situation at Rainier about students protesting over the quality of school lunches by sitting in at the school. He quotes one Civil Rights protester who said he became free after being arrested for sitting in a restaurant in the 1960s. Avarca poses the statement as a question: how can you become free by being arrested?

Dispensing with the names on his cards, the teacher calls on students who have raised their hands to answer. After a bunch of student comments about the question, Avarca segues to existing inequalities in the U.S. today. Students mention Black Lives Matter, and rich and poor. After about five minutes of whole group discussion, Avarca brings this Warm Up and unit Introduction to a close. Using the interactive whiteboard, he then moves to the logistics of covering the unit and what he expects students to do for the next few weeks.

A slide flashes on the IWB revealing the Civil Rights Movement Project Calendar. Avarca goes over each item (e.g., Timeline, research essay) and explains which tasks will be collaboratively done and which will be done individually including students choosing to study a group that was part of the Civil Rights movement (e.g., African Americans, Chicano, Asian American, LGBTQ,* Women rights, Native Americans). He asks students to open their Chromebooks and go to link entitled “AP Resources” and then click on Civil Rights movement. In that electronic folder, different groups are listed with readings and videos for each. He then illustrates creating a Timeline by using the Chicano movement beginning in the late-1960s with the high school student walkouts in east Los Angeles. In scanning the class, I see nearly all of the students are raptly listening to teacher as he describes students refusing to attend school until their demands are met.

After this example of creating a Timeline, Avarca then moves to crucial task in starting this unit, getting students to choose which group of Americans they will study during the project. He says to the class: “Pick a group that you are passionate about and want to learn more. Don’t pick one that your friend chose.”  He gives the class a few moments to consider their choices and then he asks students to move to different parts of the room for African Americans, Chicanos, LGBTQ, women rights, Asian Americans. With a lot of chair scraping, joshing, and moving about, students settle into groups they want to study. Avarca then directs everyone to open Chromebooks and find Task Card for their group which lists questions, tasks, and sources students can use (e.g., African Americans, Womens Rights, Asian Americans) to build a Timeline, the immediate next task. Teacher calls on one of the groups to click on to their Task Card and has each student in group read the questions and other items on the sheet. Keep in mind that Avarca had created these Task Cards for each minority group, selected key questions, and compiled sources for students to read. A few students have questions and teacher answers them. Avarca then asks students to begin work on their minority group by creating a Timeline.

For the remaining 40 minutes, teacher and TutorCorps aide consult with each group to see if members have any questions, clear up any confusion over immediate task, and their doing individual research, a task that comes later in the project. As I scan the class, every group of students is engaged in reading sources and talking to others in group about key events that have to be on Timeline. About ten minutes from the end of period, Avarca reminds class of how much time is left. With five minutes remaining, Avarca claps his hands and does countdown from 5-0 to get attention. “Time to wrap up,” teacher says. He asks students to close their computers and then asks class: what inspired you about what you read and saw today? What did you think was cool?”  Students raise hands, one mentions Civil Rights law of 1964; another mentions American Indian takeover of Alcatraz; another was surprised by the Stonewall riots during the gay movement’s quest for equal rights.

The 90 minute period comes to an end and Avarca dismisses the AP class.

____________________

*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, technology