Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How Do We Get Kids to Care

Next installment of my podcast series. This podcast examines how high school can foster compassion and empathy in students. The podcast was inspired by a program supported by Facing History and Ourselves. The organization has built a program around the documentary Reporter. The documentary follows Kristof on a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and introduces the audience to how Kristof uses social science and journalism to, "expand his readers' universe of responsibility." A series of discussions and resources have been posted on the Facing History site to facilitate exchanges about the documentary.

The story inspired met to think about moving students beyond a basic level of understanding about contemporary events to develop stronger emotional connections. Take a listen and let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Two Is Better Than One

A powerful dynamic has emerged at the high school I work at. Starting in September several new classes were offered. A majority of these new courses are interdisciplinary, meet for an extended period of time and are co-taught between two teachers from different content areas. In addition to these courses, the high school has initiated a program where classroom teachers are supported by instructional leaders and special education consulting teachers. It is common to walk the halls and stop into a classroom where two teachers are working with students during a scheduled instructional block.

We have moved to embrace a co-teaching model of instruction. Classes that have been approved by our BOE and will run next year reflect this shift. Students will have the chance to enroll in Latin American Studies; a class being co-taught by a Social Studies and Spanish teacher or Journalism in the 21st Century; a course being lead by an English instructor and multi-media specialist. The notion that teachers instruct in isolation has been challenged by the willingness of educators to form partnerships with their peers.

A benefit of administration is the opportunity, either formally or informally, to visit classrooms. There is a noticeable difference between classes supported by two teachers as opposed to a lone instructor. This is not to say that our classes headed by a single instructor are less than, but instead, that a powerful dynamic emerges in a successful co-teaching environment. Instruction is personalized. Having two teachers in the room allows students to interact with adult mentors in a more intimate and personal manner through frequent conferences and mini-lessons. Exchanges between classroom participants are enhanced as a result of the unique perspective each educator inserts into a discussion. We encourage students to entertain a diverse range of perspectives before constructing concluding thoughts. In a co-teaching class, learners are compelled to assess and reflect upon intellectual diversity. Content knowledge is deepened through both the interdisciplinary approach and the expertise of two passionate educators.

It is also worth noting that our teachers have enjoyed the opportunity to instruct in a co-teaching environment. Teachers who are part of our interdisciplinary classes or work closely with an instructional leader or consulting teacher, comment on the different environment formed as the result of having two teachers in the room. Collaboration between committed educators is actualized in the classroom through the true fulfillment of common planning time and curriculum mapping. I also think that teachers appreciate the chance to learn from a respected peer. Teachers have grown both in content knowledge and pedagogically from the ability to observe how a peer interacts with students. There is a growing comfort to take risks. There is a built-in partner to endure the emotional roller coaster ride that high school teachers experience.

A co-teaching situation might not work for all. There are some teachers who are not comfortable working in this environment. Additionally, it is a fiscal challenge to support a co-teaching environment. However, the early returns have been positive and from personal observation, it is hard to ignore the emerging dynamic of what might be best for our students.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poor Decision

In the district where my kids go to school, teachers are renegotiating their contract. The deal expired at the end of last year and they have been working with the board of education to finalize a new agreement. Negotiations have stagnated. In a move to sway public opinion in their favor, teachers have decided to take some of the fight to the community. There has been talk of teachers boycotting “Field Day” a popular event at elementary schools. Numerous teachers have walked away from after school enrichment classes, leaving the PTA in a position to staff positions with outside vendors or parent volunteers.

The most questionable action has teachers taking down student work. This might not be a course of action at every school in the district, but at the elementary school where my daughters attend, student work is no longer being displayed by teachers (unsure if the school’s administrative team will assume responsibility for publicizing student work). At an event over the weekend, parents shared how their children started to ask questions about the removal of work and wondered if they had done something wrong.

As a parent first and educator second, I have concerns about this course of action. Of all the ways in which the union can express displeasure, I find it hard to believe that removing work completed by elementary school children from classrooms and public spaces is a viable course of action. It is so contrary to effective practice. We need to foster within each learner a sense that ideas and products are for public viewing. At the high school where I work, the ideal that learning is a public process is being promoted. It should be habit that students freely share their views and drafts with fellow classroom participants. Finished products are no longer presented to a narrow audience, but displayed for the larger school community to view.

Transparency holds true for educators as well. Teachers cannot work in isolation and exclusively find comfort between the four walls of a classroom. Teachers are encouraged to build professional networks and openly exchange information and resources between like-minded individuals. Digital tools and services such as blogs, wikis and Twitter facilitates a public existence. Overall, students and teachers should want to see work publicly displayed. Students and teachers should take pride in what has been accomplished and exhibit achievements. What is the merit of a learning engagement if a public piece is not embedded into the experience?

I could be wrong, but I find it perplexing that any interests will be served by tearing down student work from the walls of an elementary school. It remains to be seen how this will play out. However, I do now that many parents are attempting to explain to students that they have done nothing wrong. It is an unfortunate decision that could have deeper ramifications.

Just my thoughts, not sure what side others will take.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What a Week

What a Week

Listen to the next installment of my weekly podcast series. In this podcast I discuss the need for classes to critically examine events that have developed over the past couple of weeks. From protests in Egypt to debates in Wisconsin and finally to a natural disaster in Japan, students should be engaged in examining and discussing the implications of these events. A universal goal is to graduate students who embrace the notion of global citizenship. What better way to nurture informed and passionate citizens than through assessing some significant events that have transpired within the past month.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcomed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thoughts From The Classics Academy

Wanted to share a thread a tweets from today's discussion about redesigning the high school experience. The ideas captured in the Tweets posted below are from students ( a few comments are from educators that attended the class). The class was assigned to examine the current high school experience and to rethink what could be changed. These ideas were presented over the course of several class periods.

Students were pushed to be creative and take a progressive approach to the design and structure governing schools. During the process, students questioned traditional paradigms and instructional practices.

The students did a great job. Hope you enjoy

@shklepesch emphasizes that the kids have been talking about a revolution that needs to transpire in the ed system #edchat, #mhsclassics

Superintendent states he finds the discussion refreshing b/c the kids have no agenda, just education. #mhsclassics, #edchat

@gottsled invites students to come and try out using #Xerox 's #trailmeme #edchat #mhsclassics

@gottsled says 'Embedded Librarians' in class can broaden discussion for academies #mhsclassics, #edchat

Students voice that excessive number of requirements restricts their personal development. #edchat, #mhsclassics

Students voice importance to experimentation and options for them in their personal development. #mhsclassics, #edchat

Approaching Calculus through the lenses of how an engineer might view it. #edchat, #mhsclassics

"learning through the lens of something you are passionate about",

Gloria- high school is not college preparation, its about passion and interest and wanting to learn , #mhsclassics

Courses starting in Sept. & ending in June is a narrow and restrictive time frame 4 students in a course. Build flex. #edchat, #mhsclassics

@mylatinteacher, thinking to narrowly about class time, need to create a fluid system of starting and end points, #mhsclassics, #edchat

Students confirm that they learn best when they are tutoring others. #edchat, #mhsclassics

Best players in lacrosse help the struggling players in practices. All have to evaluate their playing. Tie to Ed. #mhsclassics, #edchat

students questioning the mental aspect of being labeled by a certain track, #mhsclassics, #edchat

Students voice tracking at a young age is detrimental to their development. #mhsclassics, #edchat

Grouping kids by interest. Gloria just used the phrase 'teaching math through the lenses of their interest." #edchat #mhsclassics

students say there is a bias having grown up in a tracing system, but recognize research that suggests tracking is detrimental #mhsclassics

Students reflecting on limits of devise a new system of education, but having 'grown up' under an industrial model. #edchat, #mhsclassics

Students have proposed extended school days to help them create more space and time for their work. #edchat, #mhsclassics

question raised to students about leveling and tracking, what do your students think about tracking #mhsclassics

discussing how school can better serve students with a bunch of seniors ar MHS, #mhsclassics,

need to listen to students when making change, they live with the consequences of our decisions about education, #mhsclassics

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Why Not For Teachers

Next installment of my weekly podcast series. This podcast raises the idea of having educators maintain and present a portfolio each year. I am offering an invitation to anyone who would be interested in developing a process that leads to a completed portfolio and public presentation.

I see great value in having educators build a portfolio and engage in a process where the maintaining of a portfolio is a collaborative endeavor. Take a listen and if you are interested let me know.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Testing Week: Thoughts From a Tired Walker

Starting this morning schools in New Jersey commenced with HSPA Testing. For the next three mornings students will be required to sit for several hours worth of testing. I'm sure most if not all schools are like mine and had to create a special testing schedule to accommodate the state mandated exam. It is a grueling process for students who have to sit for hours of testing and after a grabbing some food, attend afternoon classes. While not as taxed as students, educators still experience the burden of the exam through proctoring and maintaining a secure testing environment. As an administrator my assignment was to maintain calm on the third floor of our building and for three hours continuously walked the hall. Not exactly riveting.

As the mileage accrued, I could not stop thinking about why do we go through this mandated testing process. Really why are our kids taking the HSPAs? I pose this question not from a critical perspective but more as a query into the advantages of submitting students to this particular battery of exams.

As someone who believes that there is a need to construct assessments that evaluates competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity, I question benefits gained from state mandated testing. Take as a case study standards promoted by the National Council of Teachers of English or the Partnership for 21st Century Skills or proficiencies such as those articulated by Tony Wagner. These standards/proficiencies are a reflection of skills privileged in today's world. I would think a focus of schools should be preparing students to be successful in the immediate, short and long term. At times, the long term piece is dismissed. Too much attention is paid to the immediate and short term (college) and the big picture of how a student develops is lost.

I could be wrong, but having taught both in New Jersey (HSPA) and New York (Regents) I failed to see true value in tests that were administered. I certainly welcome a conversation around the value of HSPA Testing. It will give me some things to consider during my morning walks.