Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

A Recent Study Shows Our ideas About “Digital Natives” Are Wrong… We Should Heed Their Findings Now

August 8, 2017 1 comment

In 2001, Mark Prensky wrote a paper that contended the world was divided into two groups: “digital natives”, who were born after 1984, and ‘digital immigrants”, those born earlier. Mr. Presnsky contended that the “digital natives” who were far more adept at the use of technology having been raised in a digital world, thought and acted differently from the “digital immigrants”, many of whom were uncomfortable with technology. This idea had intuitive appeal to “digital immigrants” who often relied on their children and grandchildren to explain the newest technologies and lost to them in video games that enthralled them. But, as Paul Ratner reports in a Big Think post early this month, Mark Prensky’s intuitively appealing notion about digital natives was wrong:

Authors Paul A. Kirschner from the Open University of the Netherlands in Heerlen and Belgian Pedro De Bruyckere say no …distinction (between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”) really exists. They cite a growing number of international studies that show how students born after 1984 do not have any deeper knowledge of technology. The knowledge they have is often limited and consists of having basic office suite skills, emailing, text messaging, Facebooking and surfing the Internet. And the tech they use for learning and socialization is also not very expansive. They do not necessarily recognize the advanced functionality of the applications they use and need to be significantly trained to use the technology properly for learning and problem-solving. When using technology for learning, the “natives” mainly resort to passively consuming information.

The paper’s authors also conclude that there is little scientific proof that digital natives can successfully do many things at once in a way that’s different from previous generations. For example, reading text messages during lecture would have the cognitive cost of not being fully focused on the class. Similarly, a 2010 study cited by the researchers found that high-intensity Facebook users were not able to master content well and had significantly lower GPAs.

Prensky’s 2001 study asserted that given the purported differences between “digital natives” and “digital immigrants”, teachers and schools would need to change their approach. But the authors of the study cited by Ratner draw a completely different conclusion. If we assume “digital natives” possess inherent knowledge about technology “might take away the support they actually need to develop necessary digital skills“. In addition to under-emphasizing digital skills the authors of the study also advocate “teaching the importance of focus and eliminating the negative effects of multitasking.” 

As a “digital immigrant” who is a self-taught technologist with six grandchildren, I think that the findings of Paul A. Kirschner and Pedro De Bruyckere ring true. My grandchildren, each of whom is a “digital native”, know a lot about the apps on my new smart phone and seem far more agile in texting than I am, but they do not necessarily use their phones, pads, and laptops to seek out deep understanding of materials. Fortunately, their parents see the value of reading to them, the importance of limiting “screen time”, and the value of serving as “Google” sources when their children need information. Most importantly, they help them understand which internet sources are reliable. Here’s hoping that all parents are as diligent and that teachers also appreciate the limited “technological expertise” the “digital natives” possess. 


Blogger-Teacher Steven Singer Admits He Isn’t Superman and Urges Us to Get Over It

August 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Steven Singer, a blogger-teacher whose work is often cited by Diane Ravitch and whose posts are sometimes featured in publications like Common Dreams where I read this piece,  I Am Not A Hero Teacher. In this essay Mr Singer offers some solid evidence against the notion that teachers can make that much of a difference and apologizes for his limitations:

According to landmark research by Dan Goldhaber and James Coleman, only about 9 percent of student achievement is attributable to teachers.

That’s right – 9 percent.

If you add in everything in the entire school environment – class size, curriculum, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, etc.), all that only accounts for 20 percent.

There’s another 20 percent they can’t explain. But the largest variable by far is out of school factors. This means parents, home life, health, poverty, nutrition, geographic location, stress, etc. Researchers estimate those count for 60 percent of student success.

Yet we somehow expect teachers (9%) to do it all.

I’m sorry, America. I can’t.

There are two reasons (at least) that the American public wants to believe teachers can make a difference. The first reason is a positive one: everyone had one teacher who they admired and who made a difference for them and, in all probability at least on teacher who they disliked. The public, therefore, can be easily convinced that if every teacher was as good as the teacher they admired and made a difference for them and all the terrible teachers were eliminated that schools would be excellent. The second reason is that a relentless sorting process would not require any additional funding! Simply “weed out” the terrible teachers and keep the super-heroes and schools would automatically improve! This makes it easy for “reformers” to market their notion that super-hero teachers like, say, Jamie Escalante, can save the day.

And there are two reasons (at least) that the public resents public school teachers and therefore is open to solutions that would yield more super-hero teachers. First, teachers have benefits that exceed those currently available to most employees in today’s workforce. They have benefit packages, extended summer breaks, pensions, job security, and decent if not spectacular wages. This can lead to resentment, particularly when taxpayers realize the “bad teachers” they had in school are recipients of this largesse at their expense. Secondly, teachers are represented by unions, which hardly exist in the workplace and, when they DO exist, require out-of-pocket contributions that are not funded directly or indirectly by taxpayers.

I urge anyone who thinks teachers have it easy to read Ms. Singer’s column. It will set them straight!

A Swedish School with One Rule Offers a Disruptive Perspective on the Workplace and Schools

July 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Lisa Gill, a corporate consultant who reimagines workplaces, wrote a post last week describing Glömstaskolan, a uniquely designed and operating school located south of Stockholm. A schools whose pillars are “collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication“, Glömstaskolan is designed to provide opportunities for flexible learning spaces for large group instruction and tutorial sessions, and everything in between. It offers specialized spaces as well: a music room is in the centre of the school (with soundproof walls, of course); a green room to make films, 3D printers, and a concrete jungle outside.

As Ms. Gill writes, the school has one rule which is (roughly translated): “I want it to be good for you and I will do what makes you good.” From my perspective, it is roughly equivalent to the Golden Rule, which is a common thread through all religions: ‘Never treat others as you would not like to be treated yourself.’ In the case of Glömstaskolan, Ms. Gill cites the inspiration as coming from elsewhere and can be applied as a means of developing a student directed self-imposed discipline code: :

It’s a mantra inspired by football coach Pia Sundhage, who led the US women’s football team from 2008 to 2012, resulting in two Olympic gold medals. You can engage students (and indeed teachers) in a thoughtful discussion about any behaviour by using this one rule. For example, as winter was approaching, children began to ask if they were allowed to have snowball fights in the yard. Teachers encouraged the students to think about it in relation to the rule and so they began discussing options — maybe it would be ok if there was a predesignated area where it was ok to throw snowballs, supervised by a teacher… Of course throwing ice would be dangerous so that wouldn’t be ok… And so on. It’s a very adult-to-adult approach, giving students the freedom to influence how things are so long as they accept the responsibility for the outcomes.

And the approach extends to faculty members as well, who need to change their approach if they hope to succeed in the unorthodox structure of the school. Ms. Gill cites the work of a “visiting architect, Peter Lippman, who consults in the operation of the school. Mr. Lippman’s philosophy about the two most important questions we should ask in life serve as an overarching governance principle. Those two questions:

1) Why?, and 2) Why not? Most schools (or indeed institutions) never bother to ask these questions yet children ask them all the time! This was how the snowball fight situation arose — why couldn’t they have snowball fights? Because they’re dangerous. So what if measures could be taken to make them safe? Then there’s no reason why not.

Ms. Gill shows how these questions applied to practices applied to children who like to learn lying on the floor instead of at a desk, and “standard practices” like parent-teacher conferences and weekly newsletters. As an organizational consultant, Ms. Gill offers several lessons she learned from visiting Glömstaskolan, which are summarized below:

1. Workplace design — Give people a choice about where and how they work and you’ll see them thrive.

2. Minimum Viable Bureaucracy — Could you scrap your rules and policies in favour of just one principle as Glömstaskolan have done? If that’s too radical, you could take inspiration from the WD-40 Company which asks each employee to take a learning maniac pledge and each year asks employees worldwide to vote for the stupidest HR policy. If the leadership team can’t justify or clarify a policy, they kill it. In other words, they ask Lippman’s questions: “Why?” and “Why not?”

3. Social pedagogues — Ms. Gill described “social pedagogues” as individuals who work with children who are out of sorts. She poses the question: “What would a social pedagogue look like in an organisation? As our work becomes more complex and dependent on collaborating with others, our social needs are increasingly important. Companies like Spotify or self-managing healthcare organisation Buurtzorg (14,000 employees, 0 managers) are choosing coaches over managers — individuals who support and liberate the potential of individuals and teams, rather than control or micromanage them.” What if schools did the same thing?

4. With great freedom comes great responsibility — There are so many stories of ‘difficult’ children failed by the rigidity of traditional schools who have thrived in alternative schools where they are given more freedom. What if ALL schools began with the assumption that children who are given freedom are more willing and able to accept responsibility?

5. Talk about what’s under the surface — The teachers at Glömstaskolan have learnt to talk about previously taboo interpersonal issue, which has led to new depths of communication and collaboration as a team.

Organizational theorists have much to offer public schools in countries like Sweden… but in our country, obsessed with test results and competition, it seems unlikely that concepts like “collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication” will gain traction and, alas, even more unlikely that the one rule we would follow would be: I want it to be good for you and I will do what makes you good. 


Algebra is Your Friend… AND It Might be the Most Subversive Subject Taught in Schools Today

July 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Several years ago (far more than I like to think), my older daughter was bemoaning the fact that she had to take algebra, which seemed pointless to her. My response to her lament was to point out several examples of how “algebra was her friend”, some of which were included in the Futurism post from three years ago written by Jolene Creighton. And while the mathematical aspect of algebra is important, as Ms. Creighton notes in her post, the cognitive elements of algebra are even more important. She writes:

You won’t use algebra for your job, so why should we teach kids how to do it? At least, that is the argument so many people seem to be concerned with. Why should we raise people to be intelligent, productive members of society—why raise them to be problem solvers and critical thinkers who are able to respond to a multitude of issues—when, really, all we need them to be is consumers and participants in our capitalist society?

If we want people to only be capable of the bare minimum, if we don’t want to encourage them—be they blue collar factory workers or white collar stock brokers—to explore the universe around them, to put down the smartphone and try using their brain…well, then I guess we shouldn’t bother teaching them algebra. Hell, if that’s our goal, we shouldn’t really bother teaching them anything.

I’ve always believed that algebra was the gateway to metacognition. It helps students think about thinking and to reduce their thoughts into symbols that they can manipulate… and in so doing come to the realization that they are not their thoughts. In that context, algebra might be the most subversive subject offered in our schools today!

David Brooks Should Heed His Admonishment for President Trump

June 2, 2017 Leave a comment

As is often the case, David Brooks writes a column in today’s NYTimes that I can find a 95% agreement with only to be maddened by the 5% discrepancy…  Titled “Donald Trump Poisons the World”, Brooks’ op ed piece describes his disgust with the perspective of Mr. Trump’s leadership team and Mr. Trump himself. He opens with two paragraphs that would be good leads for articles in Nation or Truthdig:

This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.

He then goes on to take Mr. Trump to task for holding a “…core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance” and boldly asserts that “…this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases“. He then writes:

Of course people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power. But they are also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.

As a retired public school administrator I was heartened to read Mr. Brooks’ assessment of humanity! While acknowledging that “…people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power” he also realizes they are “…also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.”

This refreshing perspective on humanity makes me wonder why folks like Mr. Brooks want to impose business principles on public education. Businesses, after all, are driven by the profit motive. The operate on the assumption that people seek “status, wealth and power” and assign no value to abstract ideals like “solidarity, love and moral fulfillment” that do not add to the bottom line. Indeed, when politicians who advocate business principles for public education “measure” how well schools are performing they don’t even try to determine how well teachers are doing in terms of developing “soft skills” in children, they only care about test scores… which serve as a convenient mathematical proxy for “profit”.

Here’s some news for conservatives like Mr. Brooks who want to “reform” the public schools by applying business principles: Those of us who work in the public education are not driven by the profit motive that is prized in business. We want to make the world a better place for the children we educate… a world that values clean air and water, peace, and cooperation. Those, alas, do not show up on the balance sheet of corporations.

As Mr. Brooks examines other public policy issues, I urge him to heed his admonishment for Mr. Trump and appreciate that not everything in humanity is driven by greed and profit.

Is School Only About Vocational Preparation?

May 13, 2017 Leave a comment

In an article in The 74, writer Jeff Murray rebuts a blog posted by Lakota Local School District English teacher Ian Avery on Ohio Governor Kasich’s ill conceived idea that teachers be required to spend time shadowing someone working in the private sector. At the root of Mr. Murray’s rebuttal is the notion that everything in high school prepared him for work:

Everything about my high school and college experiences helped me to become a successful employee. Math teachers gave me the skills to measure work areas and assist in computing price quotes. History professors helped me understand why a developer was converting this former manufacturing plant into apartments. Communications instruction helped me hone marketing pitches to boost business. And, yes, I used every ounce of wordcraft I had studied and obsessed over in Brit Lit and Sonnet Seminar to write newsletters, clarify job specs, and interact with customers. It wasn’t Fitzgerald, but it was clear and direct and helpful to business. They didn’t know they needed an English major until they got one.

After reading Ian Avery’s lament about the implicit requirement that school be about careers and not “…about art and beauty, words and meaning — an abstract pursuit in opposition to career tech or vocational education”, Mr. Murray contends this opposition

…appears to embody the disconnect between teachers and the working world that Kasich was trying to address. The externship proposal may not be wholly practical as pitched, but there’s nothing wrong with the motivating sentiment.

But here’s are some questions Mr. Murray needs to ask himself— or if possible— ask the teachers who taught the courses that he ultimately found so valuable:

  • Would they have benefitted from an externship?
  • Did they never work outside of the classroom?
  • Did they lack the skills needed to succeed in the private sector, or did they choose a career that is devoted to helping others?
  • Did they view teaching as “career preparation” or did they aspire to passing along the “, beauty, words and meaning” of their subject area?

As I wrote in an earlier post, teachers would be unlikely to benefit from an externship, especially since there are unlikely to be enough externships to go around given the reality of the patterns of employment in Ohio. Moreover, most teachers had to work outside of education at some point in their lives. Indeed many work part time or over the summer to make ends meet. And most teachers could succeed in the marketplace but instead chose teaching out of a desire to help children succeed. Finally, most teachers know that their students want to pursue some kind of career when they graduate from high school… but they also know that during their time in school they should learn how to learn and gain a love of learning so that they can become like-long self-actualized learners as adults. I think even Mr. Murray would agree. Midway though his essay he wrote:

A great school, to me, is one in which every adult involved — the PTA, the cafeteria staff, the guidance counselors, everyone — shows up early and works to their fullest to teach young people (and to show them by example) how to reach their highest potential.

Mr. Murray’s ideal “great school” doesn’t do anything to help a child learn a vocation.

Union District in Oklahoma Exemplifies Network School Model

April 3, 2017 Leave a comment

David Kirp’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like These?” describes the success experienced in the Union Public Schools district in the eastern part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like most districts in Oklahoma, Union is woefully underfunded. But despite the shortage of money, it is doing an amazing job of educating its largely Latino and poverty stricken population. How? By accepting full responsibility for the well-being of the children who attend and by offering all the children in the school a challenging STEM curriculum…. But I believe the acceptance of responsibility for well being and the caring for each and every student that goes with it are the primary factor.

“Our motto is: ‘We are here for all the kids,’ ” Cathy Burden, who retired in 2013 after 19 years as superintendent, told me. That’s not just a feel-good slogan. “About a decade ago I called a special principals’ meeting — the schools were closed that day because of an ice storm — and ran down the list of student dropouts, name by name,” she said. “No one knew the story of any kid on that list. It was humiliating — we hadn’t done our job.” It was also a wake-up call. “Since then,” she adds, “we tell the students, ‘We’re going to be the parent who shows you how you can go to college.’ ”

Last summer, Kirt Hartzler, the current superintendent, tracked down 64 seniors who had been on track to graduate but dropped out. He persuaded almost all of them to complete their coursework. “Too many educators give up on kids,” he told me. “They think that if an 18-year-old doesn’t have a diploma, he’s got to figure things out for himself. I hate that mind-set.”

The school operates like an institution that is the parent who can show the way and a one-stop community service center:

The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.

This integration of social services is a universal key component to every high performing public school, as is are the extended hours for child care and/or extra-curricular activities. And while the services offered in the “neighborhood hub” model don’t add a dime to the school budget, they DO require the school to re-format itself, to adopt a new algorithm for success apart from preparing students for the next standardized testing cycle.

Mr. Kirp concludes his article with a paragraph consisting of two questions:

Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?

I trust he knows the answer… and I sense he shakes his head in dismay as he poses the questions.