Learning What’s It Like To Be a Student: Ellen Glanz, 1978-1979 (Part 1)

Typical of that group of experienced teachers who work in suburban affluent, white districts, Ellen Glanz spent a year as a student in the high school in which she taught. In becoming a student she took her teacher perspective and inverted it by sitting behind a student’s desk in class after class, facing teachers, her colleagues. Her one-year experience illuminates classroom instruction in an unusual manner.

A social studies teacher for six years at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, a suburb twenty miles from Boston, Glanz proposed to her superintendent a project that would enable her to find out what it was like to be a high school student. The superintendent gave her permission to take courses like any other student, provided the teachers, Glanz’s colleagues, agreed to her being in class.

Glanz enrolled as a senior in 1978 -1979. Her schedule included advanced expository writing, calculus, Russian history, advanced French, drawing, and trampoline. Successful in being accepted as a student after the novelty wore off, she attended classes, did homework, took tests, and, as she remarked with a touch of pride, was even “kicked out of the library for talking.” She kept a journal of her experiences and thoughts.

Periodically, she met with teachers to share her observations and, by the end of the project, wrote two reports for the high school staff, parents, and students. “I was curious to discover how different other teachers’ classes were from those I attended as a child and a teenager.” What she found out was that they “were not very different.”

“Most teachers teach in much the same way they were taught in an essentially didactic, teacher-centered mode…. The teacher knows the material and presents it to students, whose role is to ‘absorb’ it.”

The system, she said, nurtures “incredible passivity.” In class after class, “one sits and listens.” In one class during my second week as a student, I noticed half way through the hour that much of the class was either doodling, fidgeting, or sleeping. Before long, I found my own mind wandering too. Yet this teacher was touted as one of the finest in the school. “I realized,” she said, “that what was boring was not what the teacher was saying but the very act of sitting and listening for the fourth hour in a row.”

When it comes to teaching methods, Glanz observed that most techniques teachers used “promote the feeling that students have little control over or responsibility for their own education.” She pointed out the agenda for the class is the teacher’s. He or she plans the tasks and determines who does what to whom, when. There is, she found, little opportunity for students to “make a real difference in the way a class goes, aside from their doing their homework or participating.” She described how her English teacher surprised the class one period by letting two students lead a discussion. After some practice, “students were far more attentive and the teacher learned when and how to intervene to lead the discussion… without taking control. ”

After completing the year, writing the reports, and returning to her five classes a day, Glanz asked about the stubborn regularities in teaching approaches that she saw. “We must realize that in all likelihood, despite the problems I’ve described, classes will remain basically as they are right now.”

Why? Because the subject matter of French, math, anatomy, history “dictates an essentially didactic class model since the subject matter is not known intuitively by students and must be transmitted from teacher to student. And the ultimate authority and control will and should remain with the teacher.”

While Glanz suggests ways of improving teacher methods, involving students in classroom activities, and reducing the tensions that she saw clearly between the two separate worlds of teachers and students, it is apparent that she believes that the way it is in a high school can be improved but probably will stay much as it is because of what is taught, who has the knowledge, and where the authority rests.

Glanz’s description of her life as a student is similar to other books where adults pose as students (see Philip Cusick, Inside High School, 1973).

Part 2 describes a teacher shadowing a student in 2013.

 

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Testing in Medicine, Testing in Schools (Abigail Zuger, M.D.)

The following article appeared in the New York Times on April 13, 2015. I have often compared primary care physicians to teachers; sometimes the comparisons worked and sometimes they did not. This article looks at testing in both arenas, medicine and schooling.  Abigail Zuger compares school-based standardized tests and her work one day of spending five hours seeing 14 patients and ordering 299 diagnostic tests. Do you agree with the analogy she draws? Why?

I spent the usual long afternoon at work doing little but ordering tests, far more than I honestly thought any patient needed, but that’s what we do these days. Guidelines mandate tests, and patients expect them; abnormal tests mean medication, and medication means more tests.

My tally for the day: five hours, 14 reasonably healthy patients, 299 separate tests of body function or blood composition, three scans and a handful of referrals to specialists for yet more tests.

Teachers complain that primary education threatens to become a process of teaching to the test. They wince as the content of standardized tests increasingly drives their lesson plans, and the results of these tests define their accomplishments.

We share their pain: Doctoring to the tests is every bit as dispiriting.

Some medical tests, like blood pressure checks, are cheap and simple. Some are pricier and more complicated, like mammograms or assays for various molecules in the blood that correlate with various diseases. We order them all at prescribed intervals, and if we happen to forget one, either by accident or design, electronic medical records nag us mercilessly until we capitulate.

As in education, our test-ordering behavior and our patients’ results increasingly define our achievements, and in the near future our remuneration is likely to follow. Still, like all test-based quality control systems, ours can be gamed. Our tests can also inflict unnecessary psychic damage, and occasional physical damage as well.

Most distressing: Ordering tests, chasing down and interpreting results, and dealing with the endless cycle of repeat testing to confirm and clarify problems absorb pretty much all our time.

It is all in the name of good and equitable health care, a laudable goal. But if you reach age 50 and I cannot persuade you to undergo the colonoscopy or mammogram you really don’t want, am I a bad doctor? If you reach age 85 and I persuade you to take enough medication to normalize your blood pressure, am I a good one?

I am not the only one who wonders.

A cadre of test skeptics at Dartmouth Medical School specialize in critically examining our test-based approach to well adult care. If you are confused about mammography, colonoscopy or the PSA test for prostate cancer, these folks deserve much of the blame: They have repeatedly demonstrated that these tests and many others do not necessarily make healthy people any healthier, any more than standardized testing in grade school improves a child’s intellect.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a Vermont physician who is part of the Dartmouth group, has a new book that might serve as the test skeptic’s manifesto and bible. Its title, “Less Medicine, More Health,” sums up his trenchant, point-by-point critique of test-based health care and quality control.

In medicine, “true quality is extremely hard to measure,” Dr. Welch writes. “What is easy to measure is whether doctors do things.” Only doing things like ordering tests generates data. Deciding not to do things and let well enough alone generates nothing tangible, no numbers or dollar amounts to measure or track over time.

Dr. Welch points out that doctors get to become doctors because they are good with tests, and know instinctively how to behave in a test-focused universe. Rate them by how many tests they order, and they will order in profusion, often more than the guidelines suggest.

They will do fine on assessments of their quality, but patients may not do so well. Even perfectly safe tests that are incapable of doing their own damage may, given enough weight, trigger catastrophe.

Yes, little blood pressure cuff over there in the corner, that means you. The link between very high blood pressure and disease is incontrovertible, and the drugs used to control blood pressure are among the cheapest and safest around.

Even so, as Dr. Welch pointed out in a recent conversation, systems that rate doctors by how well their patients’ blood pressure is managed are likely to invite trouble. Doctors rewarded for treating aggressively are likely to keep doing so even when the benefits begin to morph into harm.

That appears to happen in older adults, at least in those who avoid the common complications of high blood pressure and continue on medication. One study found that nursing home residents taking two or more effective blood pressure drugs did remarkably badly, withdeath rates more than twice that of their peers. In another, dementia patients taking blood pressure medication with optimal results nonetheless deteriorated mentally considerably faster.

Yet no quality control system that I know of gives a doctor an approving pat on the head for taking a fragile older patient off meds. Not yet, at least. Someday, perhaps, not ordering and not prescribing will mark quality care as surely as ordering and prescribing do today.

Children go to school to learn. Adults go to the doctor … why? If they are sick, to get better, certainly. But for the average healthy, happy adult, let’s be honest: We really haven’t completely figured out why you are in the waiting room. And so we offer a luxuriant profusion of tests.

 

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A History Class Using BYOD (Part 2)

Sarah Denniston introduced BYOD into her courses. She was very concerned about equity and her entrepreneuerial skills in securing funding and help from district staff made it possible for her to finesse the technical and practical difficulties usually accompanying such a move. The narrow slice of what I saw was very impressive in demonstrating how BYOD aided her teaching AP European History. She is an advocate of BYOD because she has made it work for her and her students. Every student has equal access to the technology and she believes that her teaching is better and that students learn more in the electronic, nearly paperless, classroom she has created.

When we talked she emphasized how the devices made it possible for her and students to collaborate in doing assignments, writing, and projects. For example, constant use of Google Docs made student cooperation integral to what Denniston sought and aided her monitoring of their writing. As Denniston put it:

The BYOD allows me to be instantly responsive to student’s needs. If there is a problem with the lesson I have, I can instantly correct it and everyone gets the changes right away. It also allows for me to revise lessons with much greater regularity allowing for a better work flow of revision of my curriculum.

There are other pluses beyond what Denniston said. For example, every student has access to a device and can use it at both school and home. Close to one hundred percent of students, she says, have Internet access at home . No digital divide exists at this high school. With each student bringing a tablet or laptop from home, issues of theft decrease as personal responsibility increases. The cost of having BYOD is also much less than a conventional 1:1 laptop or tablet program.

Beyond Denniston’s rendering of the pluses, there are lists of pluses attributed to BYOD, according to vendors and industry advocates (see here and here).

For readers who cast a skeptical eye on BYOD, considering the negatives that accompany any application of technology to classrooms is necessary. Denniston sees a few in her years using BYOD for her history classes.

1. Technical difficulties. Even with all of the help of district tech specialists, the network fails. Denniston says that failures this year are far less than the previous year but they do occur nonetheless.

2. Distractions for students–texting, Facebook, Instagram–are numerous; monitoring students being on task by walking around classroom seeing what students have on their screens and other tricks of the trade are necessary.

3. Copying, i.e., cut-and-paste writing in class, increase unless teachers monitor time stamp of a student’s work and other ways of insuring that students work independently.

Doubters see many more negatives to BYOD than Denniston (see here and here)

Given these pluses and minuses, seeing Denniston teach the AP European History class was, for me, a proof of concept. BYOD worked for Sarah Denniston. But would it work at Glenville and Cardozo high schools in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. where I observed seven history teachers teach last year? Not now.

Both urban high schools are 99 percent minority and poor. Because of persistent low test performance, they have been restructured twice–new principals and staff. Most students have cell phones but each school prohibits their use in class. Carts of laptops are deployed to the media center and selected teachers for use at Cardozo High School while at Glenville a series of computer labs with desktops are distributed throughout the school. Many, perhaps a majority, of Glenville and Cardozo students have access to the Internet at home but not anywhere near Sarah Denniston’s school. When it comes to BYOD, the digital divide looks unbridgeable. Proof of concept does not mean BYOD can be (or should be) put into practice in all U.S. schools (see here and here).

What Doug Johnson calls an “ethical dilemma” shows up most clearly at Glenville and Cardozo High Schools. Advocates of BYOD who ignore the issue of equity in access to technology in schools turn a blind eye to the socioeconomic divide in the U.S. They press a heavy thumb on the scale of fairness when they want all schools to enlist in BYOD.

Finally, the question of whether students learn more, faster, and better with BYOD remains open. Cost-efficient as BYOD may be does not mean that it is cost-effective. Neither Sarah Denniston or other advocates of BYOD can say with any degree of confidence that students learn more by having 1:1 access to their devices. What matters, of course, are all of those crucial factors that come into play in determining whether students have learned: the teacher’s expertise and experience, her pedagogy, the socioeconomic background of students, the culture of the schooland a handful of other influences. 1:1 laptops and tablets hardly determine what and how students learn.

 

 

 

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A History Class Using Bring-Your-Own-Devices (BYOD)

A few years ago, there was much hype about BYOD. At the time, I had dismissed BYOD for a number of reasons. First, there were the technical difficulties (bandwidth issues and managing different platforms). Second, there were pedagogical constraints that accompany programs where each student has a device (e.g., distraction and off-task behavior, classroom management). Third, there was the equity issue. But BYOD’s appeal continued to spread. I wondered why.

Recently, I heard of a history teacher who implemented a BYOD in her courses. I contacted Sarah Denniston (fictitious name) and she invited me to visit her Northern California high school. Her high school has nearly 1800 students divided about half white and half minority (Asian and Latino). Nearly 20 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch–a measure of poverty used in U.S. public schools. Over 95 percent attend college after graduation. About one-third of the students take Advanced Placement exams with well over 80 percent of test-takers qualifying for college credit. One of those Advanced Placement teachers is Denniston who teaches AP European history. A graduate (and track star) of the high school in which she now teaches, Denniston has been teaching 10 years. About her students, she says:

“I really like [high schoolers’] energy, especially the freshmen and sophomores.” At [that]level, the verbal filter is not as developed and students are willing to ask any and all questions. It’s great to see students’ intellectual level advance, I love the spastic energy of the freshmen and sophomores, that kind of goofiness.”

Denniston uses BYOD in all five of her classes–she sees well over 150 students a day.

I visited her second period AP European history class recently. There are 26 students in the class. Desks are arranged in pods of three. All of the 10th grade students have their tablets and laptops open. For those students (less than 10 percent in the school) who do not have devices, the school issued them tablets for school and home use. On the white board is an announcement: “18 days to AP test. What are you doing to review?” A list of study sessions with day and time are listed for the next two weeks. On the front wall above the whiteboards is a chart entitled “Costa’s Levels of Questions.”

Denniston is in the midst of a unit on “Conservatism, Liberalism, Nationalism, and Romanticism,” specifically the mid-19th century reign of Napoleon III in France. She has multiple activities in play during the 50 minute period. Standing at a podium with her open laptop, Denniston banters with various students on their “Oldcast”–see below. She then launches into a 25-minute illustrated lecture using slides projected on the front screen covering key events in these years (e.g., attempted assassination of Napoleon III, Crimean War, Paris Commune). For unfamiliar words she leaves the podium and adds words to a running list on front board. She spices up lecture with anecdotes (e.g., in 1870, hungry Parisians under siege from German army break into the city zoo and eat the animals). At one point says to class, “I have been kicked offline, the Internet is not working.” A moment later, she is back online and continues the lecture. Students listen and click away.

During the lecture, Denniston reminds students to complete the review worksheet that she gave them earlier on mid-19th century conservatism, liberalism, and nationalism. Students near me whose screens I can see are taking notes on their devices. Some pull down the worksheet on their screen to fill in the blank spaces as she lectures. Four students ask different questions to get facts straight. At the end of the lecture on France’s Third Republic, Denniston announces that the class will return to working on the “Oldcast.” Groans and murmurs course through the room.

The assignment is for students to pair up and use a TV “newscast” format to create a stories about mid-19th century France based on topics in their textbook, what they found on the Internet, or from Denniston’s lectures. Thus, an “Oldcast.” Two students volunteer to give their “Oldcast” in the form of an interview between a mid-19th century factory owner and a worker. The two students carry their open tablets to the front of the room and read from their screens the scripted dialogue they had written. Their “Oldcast” lasts less than five minutes. Class applauds the two students. Denniston then asks students to work in pairs and finish the worksheet or continue working on their “Oldcast.” A moment before the bell rings, as students put away devices, Denniston reminds students of homework; they exit as period ends.

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In Denniston’s AP class, BYOD worked. The school’s technical capacity to accommodate different devices–except for the brief moment the teacher went offline–was in place during the period I was there. The familiar flow of an AP class’s activities (or most history classes for that matter)–short lecture, whole group Q & A, students taking notes, filling in blanks on the worksheet, students participating in pairs to do “Oldcast”–was seamless for the 50 minute period. I did not note any students who were off-task. Denniston was using the technology to enhance her lesson.

In Part 2, I discuss the pluses of BYOD that Denniston and others see. There are decided advantages to BYOD. And disadvantages also that, for now, make it unworkable in many other schools.

 

 

 

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Lessons Learned from a Chalkboard: Slow and Steady Technology Integration (Bradley Emerling)

Bradley Emerling is Principal Research Scientist at Pearson Research and Innovation Network. This commentary appeared in Teachers College Record  on April 13, 2015.

Last winter, while observing and recording classroom lessons for a research project in Japan, I was surprised to hear a sound I had not heard for many years—the sound of chalk. Over a three-week period of observations in Saitama prefecture, I captured 17 classroom videos from various subject areas across 1st to 12th grade. Every classroom I visited was equipped with a large green chalkboard. There were few computers, few projectors or smartboards, and no other visible forms of 21st century technology in most of the classrooms. Japanese colleagues and researchers confirmed this was representative of the average K-12 classroom in Japan. In January 2015, the Tokyo Broadcasting System reported approximately 75% of Japanese classrooms still use chalkboards as the primary medium for presentation of lesson content (Sankyuu, 2015).

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My first reaction was one of astonishment. How could Japan, a society known for its creation of gadgets and highly specialized technological devices, be so far behind in their use of 21st century technology?

As I continued to record lessons, I began to note the masterful way Japanese teachers utilized this “primitive” instructional medium. I also noted how teachers and students alike maintained the chalkboard with consistent and diligent care. Each class assigned one student to serve as the kokuban kakari (person in charge of the chalkboard) who ensured it was clean and ready for use prior to the opening bell for each period. Teachers treated each centimeter of this freshly cleaned board as valuable real estate. They wrote in straight lines with clear and precise characters and paused to erase stray marks or re-write illegible content.

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Math and science teachers used meter sticks as a guide to draw perfectly symmetrical diagrams and tables. Language arts and social studies teachers used a variety of chalk colors, each with a consistent meaning and precise purpose related to grammatical terms, literary themes, or systems of government. They used magnetic timers on the board to pace activities and posted magnetic labels of student names to assign workspace for whole-class demonstrations. Most importantly, teachers carefully preserved a lesson storyline as they progressed across the board. They added elements in a strategic sequence that helped bring coherence to the lesson, and rarely erased content unless they reached a major instructional transition.

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CREATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH BOARD WRITING

I also conducted post-observation interviews with teachers to ask about instructional planning and decisions. It turns out Japanese educators possess a unique technical vocabulary for describing chalkboard teaching practices, called bansho (board-writing) and bansho-keikaku (board-writing planning). Like many instructional practices in Japan, bansho has been studied and refined over a period of years through use of Japanese lesson study (jugyō kenkyū). During a typical lesson study cycle, teachers conduct research, analyze curriculum, and design a detailed “research lesson” to address a jointly selected investigative theme. One team member teaches the research lesson while colleagues observe and collect data on student learning. The team then engages in extended discussion of results and potential revisions. After two or more cycles of implementation, the process often culminates with an open house where guests are invited to observe teaching of the refined lesson plan (Ermeling & Graff-Ermeling, 2014).

Yoshida (1999) reports how lower elementary mathematics teachers used lesson study to test and refine bansho methods with conceptually rich math problems. For each research lesson, teachers carefully mapped out a chalkboard diagram, including space for whole-class review of previously assigned problems, space for posting the new problem, space dedicated for student presentation of ideas, and space for culminating remarks. More than simply displaying information or solutions, teachers used the chalkboard to summarize, organize, and link a sequence of lesson events to facilitate collective thinking. One teacher explained: “I try to organize the blackboard in such a way that my students and I can see how the lesson progressed and what was talked about during the lesson…” (p. 439). Reports are available in Japanese bookstores summarizing key findings from various bansho lesson-study projects.

Based on analysis of over 200 videos from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Stigler and Hiebert (1999) also describe underlying cultural teaching “scripts” that influence technology choices in different countries. Comparing Japanese and US 8th grade math classrooms, they observed that nearly all Japanese teachers used a chalkboard as the primary visual aid, while many American teachers (at the time of the study) used an overhead projector. More importantly, they point out this was not merely a visual aid preference, but represented a fundamental distinction in teaching approaches. American teachers often chose an overhead projector because they conceived of the visual aid as a tool for focusing students’ attention on one problem at a time and shaping tasks into manageable steps. Even when they used a chalkboard, they would often erase a problem before starting a new one to maintain student focus on immediate information.

The Japanese math teachers, as Yoshida (1999) also noted, used visual aids for a different reason—to provide a record of problems, solution approaches, and key principles discussed over the course of a lesson. In this way, the chalkboard played an important role in helping students make connections and discover new relationships between mathematical ideas (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). In addition, other Japanese studies report the green color of the chalkboard provides a calming benefit for students, enabling concentration more effectively than a white background (Sankyuu, 2015).

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For these reasons, Japanese teachers’ choice to use a chalkboard instead of an overhead projector (in the 1990s), or instead of computer-based slide presentations (in 2015), is more than simply a delayed reaction to adopt new devices. It reflects a thoughtful decision about which technology might best support particular learning opportunities for students. Similarly, research and development projects, funded by the Japanese government, are now underway, investigating the kinds of learning opportunities and instructional methods best facilitated by new digital technologies (Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications [MIC], n.d.).

COMPARING US AND JAPAN TECHNOLOGY APPROACHES

The more I observed Japanese masterful use of the chalkboard, the more I reflected on technology approaches in US classrooms. Not only do educators rarely discuss the rationale for which technologies might best support particular learning opportunities, many US schools are consumed by a haphazard race to adopt the latest innovation. While many classrooms are decked out with shiny new tablets, document projectors, smartboards, or infrared response systems, far too often these devices are under-utilized, and methods of use vary widely across teachers. There are definitely exceptions to this pattern, such as Project Red or the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, where technology is carefully implemented through ongoing research and development efforts (Digital Promise, n.d.; Project Red, n.d.). But there are many more classrooms where digital devices function as little more than expensive and colorful accessories with minimal influence on existing instructional methods. In other cases, devices sit unused, collect dust, and soon become obsolete, costing thousands of dollars in upgrades.

Despite Japan’s slower pace of technology adoption, one might argue that Japanese educators are well ahead of the US in effective technology integration. Japanese government officials and other prominent educational leaders openly acknowledge the need to begin incorporating 21st century technologies into their teaching and learning environments. Several programs are well underway with this effort such as the Future Schools Promotion Project, involving systematic research on infrastructure and effectiveness of technology integration in selected Japanese pilot schools (MIC, n.d.).

Passed down over centuries from stories of Samurai, the Japanese have a frequently cited proverb that  fittingly describes their approach to technology integration: “when you’re in a hurry, take the slow round-about way” (isogaba maware). Following this advice, the focus in Japanese education is not on how many innovations they rush to implement or how many new gadgets students get to use. Instead, educators focus on collecting evidence of effectiveness and leveraging technology resources (whether it’s a chalkboard or a smartboard) with purpose and intentionality to enhance and facilitate teaching and learning opportunities. As stated in a recent Japanese publication from the Future Schools Project, “Traditional education will be valued while those parts of it that should be extended, broadened, or deepened will evolve significantly” (MIC, n.d., p. 2).

What if educators adopted the same approach in America with devices such as smartboards, and infrared response systems, as well applications such as screencasting, Google Docs, or Evernote? Teams of teachers could treat these devices and applications as critical topics for collaborative inquiry, develop plans for using them in the classroom, articulate hypotheses for how they will create specific learning opportunities, implement, observe and collect data on the results of these lessons. Other teachers could build on these lesson cases by studying, adapting, and refining methods of use for various contexts and learning goals.

As Japanese schools adopt and incorporate emergent technologies, researchers and educators will be studying and documenting effective methods with the same diligent analysis they have demonstrated for decades with bansho. If the objective is to develop deeper understanding of how technologies are used to create learning opportunities for particular learning goals, then “slow and steady” will again prevail over “fast and furious.” The US should take note and consider a more purposeful integration strategy that emphasizes efficacy over hasty implementation.

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Digital Promise. (n.d.). League Research. Retrieved from http://www.digitalpromise.org/initiatives/research#league-research

 

Ermeling, B., & Graff-Ermeling, G. (2014). Learning to learn from teaching: A first-hand account of lesson study in Japan. International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, 3(2), 170–192. Retrieved from http://independent.academia.edu/BradleyErmeling

 

Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). (n.d.). Creating the Learning Environment of the Future. Retrieved from http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_content/000299868.pdf

 

Project Red. (n.d.). Project Red: The Research. Retrieved from http://www.projectred.org/about/research-overview.html

 

Sankyuu, T. (Presenter). (2015, January 22). Chalk industry crisis: Decision to cease production of long standing educational IT. [Radio Broadcast]. In K. Arakawa (Producer), Day Catch News Ranking. Tokyo,

Japan: Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings, Inc.

 

Stigler, J., & Hiebert, J. (1999). The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world’s teachers for improving education in the classroom. New York: Free Press.

 

Yoshida, M. (1999). Lesson Study: An ethnographic investigation of school-based teacher development in Japan. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (AAT 9951855)

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos That May Make You Wince: Pervasive Cell Phone Syndrome

Instead of cartoons this month, I offer these photos on cell phone-mania that may get you to either smile, laugh, or even grimace. Or maybe all three. These photos came to me from Nick Burbules at the University of Illinois who, in turn, received them from his colleague in Argentina, Beatriz Fainholc. Click on “El Mundo Cambio” and enjoy!

EL MUNDO CAMBIO

Oops! Here are two cartoons I did find.william-haefeli-everyone-here-is-bonding-over-pictures-of-their-dogs-new-yorker-cartoonharry-bliss-hold-on-let-me-get-a-picture-of-you-taking-a-picture-of-yourself-while-g-new-yorker-cartoon

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How Many Teachers Teach a New Kind of History?

Policymakers continually seek to change the content of what teachers teach (e.g., Common Core standards) and how they teach (e.g., direct instruction, project-based learning). After adoption of new Common Core aligned textbooks and scads of professional development workshops in different pedagogies, how much change has occurred in how teachers teach lessons? That is the first question that has to be answered. Subsequent and crucial questions that have to be answered like who (e.g., policymaker, researcher, teacher) determines whether the change is, indeed, a change in what teachers do and whether the desired changes have led to increased student achievement come later.

But even answering the first question, superficial as it may be, is (and has been) a hard nut to crack. Take, for example, the teaching of history. In earlier posts (see here) I pointed out tensions between teaching for “heritage” and teaching with a “historical” approach. Strains between these two approaches have persisted for well over a century in the teaching of history. In earlier reform movements such as the New Social Studies of the 1960s, the conflict was apparent. Since the late-1990s, a slowly growing movement to have students learn, through extensive use of primary sources, how historians read, think, and write has spread across the nation. To determine whether this approach to content and pedagogy in the teaching of history is working is to ask the straightforward question: how many teachers regularly use lessons crafted to simulate how historians read, think, write, and come to understand the past?

Answering the question is tough because no national studies of nearly 60,000 social studies teachers in the U.S. have been done since the mid-1990s that cover their classroom practices. But there are data pieces, fragments, even slivers that might be assembled into a chipped mosaic from which emerges a fuzzy picture of how teachers are teaching history now.

Here are a few other shards. Data on materials that teach students how to read, write, and think like historians come from Advanced Placement courses that have been taught since the mid-1950s. The Document-Based Question (DBQ), a way of analyzing a primary source, was created as part of the Advanced Placement exam in 1973. One of the authors said: I want students to “become junior historians and play the role of historians for that hour” that they worked on the DBQ. For those able, college-going students who took AP history courses, then, they were clearly exposed to materials and tasks that replicated the work of historians. [i]

So those high school teachers in high schools who teach AP history courses–they have at least one section of students and teach other history classes as well–already use hybrids of teacher-centered instruction for a College Board, textbook-bound curriculum heavily geared to how historians read, think, and write. The vast majority of history teachers, however, do not teach AP courses.

Another sliver of data is to consider the large-scale effort undertaken on a shoestring by the Reading Like a Historian Project at Stanford University under the leadership of Sam Wineburg. That project has recorded nearly 2 million viewers (all 50 states and 127 countries) who downloaded these free curriculum materials since they were first posted in 2009. Just in 2014, there were more than 630,000 visits to the website to copy over 100 different lessons for U.S. and world history courses. Moreover, Wineburg and his team are now providing professional development to history teachers in big city and suburban school districts on how to use these lessons and do classroom assessments. [ii]

Downloaded lessons, though, do not necessarily transfer to classroom use. Finding out the degree to which these lessons and similar ones designed by teachers themselves are used weekly, occasionally, or not at all requires studies of classroom practices among history teachers. I have not yet located such studies. Thus far, no researchers have documented how widespread is (or has been) the use of these lessons or similar materials with students is.[iii]

What little data there are about the degree to which history content and pedagogy have moved from textbook-bound conventional pedagogy to the inquiry, primary source-driven historical approach come from scattered small reports of social studies teachers, again through surveys rather than direct observations, interviews, and examination of classroom materials. Like the above fragments, they add a few more chipped tiles to the mosaic of teacher use of these materials and approaches.

One national study (2004), for example, used a random sample of social studies teachers to determine the purpose for and the classroom use of primary sources. The authors concluded that although respondents agreed with the importance of using historical sources and having students do historical inquiry, “…teachers’ actual use of both classroom-based and web-based primary sources was somewhat low.” [iv]

A similar report of social studies teachers in one Virginia county to determine the purposes and use of historical primary sources found that teachers “report that they are only occasional users of historical primary sources; however, when they do use these sources, they obtain them primarily from textbooks and the web.”[v]

I have one more shard to add to the blurred mosaic picture that emerges from bits and pieces. Over the past five years, I have visited 13 teachers observing 17 lessons and examined classroom materials classrooms mostly in Northern California as part of different studies I was doing on technology use and at the invitation of these teachers. Clearly, the sample was non-random, but I offer it as another isolated piece of evidence. Six of these 13 teachers (three of whom taught Advanced Placement history) used primary sources and questioned students to get at historical thinking on a particular topic. [vi]

Finally, over the years, researchers have published individual case studies of novice and experienced history teachers who taught students to inquire into the past using primary sources to teach students to read, think, and write as historians. In many instances, such teacher case studies were exemplars of how to convert textbook-bound lessons into ones that included historical thinking. These studies made a simple point that as hard as it may appear to social studies teachers to alter their teacher-centered pedagogy, given the contexts in which they teach (e.g., state tests, accountability regulations, age-graded school, and poverty-ridden neighborhoods), this approach to teaching can be done within the framework of existing public schools, including those located in cities. None of the case studies declare that the profiled teachers and lessons are the norm for history teachers although authors imply they should and can be. It is clear that these teachers are exceptions, not the rule. [vii]

So what is the answer to the question: how many teachers teach a new kind of history? No one knows.

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[i] Mike Henry, “The DBQ Change: Returning to the Original Intent,” College Board AP Central for Educators at: http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/members/homepage/10467_print.html?type=popup

[ii]Email from Joel Breakstone to Larry Cuban (in author’s possession), January 23, 2015; Theresa Johnston, “Stanford-developed History Lessons for Grades 6-12 Adopted Worldwide,” GSE News, Graduate School of Education, March 17, 2014 at: https://ed.stanford.edu/news/stanford-developed-history-lessons-grades-6-12-adopted-worldwide

[iii] Thus far, New York State has included document-based questions into its statewide assessment of social studies (including the Regents exam). When more states include such items in their tests, I would expect increases in the number of teachers who build into their daily lessons how to analyze primary sources, bias, and corroborating sources. See: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/education/showcase/dbq.shtml

[iv] David Hicks, et. al., “Social Studies Teachers’ Use of Classroom-Based and Web-Based Use Historical Primary Sources,” Theory and Research in Social Education, 2004, 32(2), pp. 213-247. Quote is on p. 232. The response rate to this random sample was 40 percent.

[v] John Lee, et. al., “Social Studies and History Teachers’ Uses of Non-Digital and Digital Historical Resources,” Social Studies Research and Practice, 2006, 1(3), pp. 291-311. Quote is on p. 296. Response rate from teachers was 70 percent.

[vi]I observed nine lessons from six teachers at Gunderson High School in San Jose Unified School District during 2009-2010; one lesson of a teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco Unified School District in 2013; two lessons of one teacher at Roosevelt High School in the Washington, D.C. public schools; four lessons of four teachers at Aragon High School in the San Mateo Union High School District in 2014; one lesson of one teacher at John F. Kennedy High School in the Fremont Unified School District in 2014.

[vii] Here is a sampling of individual case studies and collections of cases that describe various teachers using inquiry to investigate the past in ways that historians do: Robert Bain, “ They Thought The World Was Flat? “ Applying the Principles of How People Learn in Teaching High School History,” in Suzanne Donovan and John Bransford (Eds.) How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom (Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2005), pp.179-213; Bruce Lesh, “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 (Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2011); Bruce VanSledright, The Challenge of Rethinking History Education New York: Routledge, 2011); Sam Wineburg and Suzanne Wilson, “Models of Wisdom in the Teaching of History,” in Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), pp. 155-172.

 

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