Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Diane Ravitch’s Critique of American Psychological Association to Speak Up Misses the Point

March 30, 2017 1 comment

In a blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch quoted from a comment left by testing expert Fred Smith whose comments echoed these questions:

Why isn’t the American Psychological Association speaking out about the misuse of standardized testing? Where are the professors who teach about testing? Why are they silent when children as young as 8 are subjected to hours of testing? Why are they silent when children in middle school are compelled to sit through tests that last longer than college admission tests? Why are they not defending their own standards for the appropriate use of tests? Is their silence a sign of complicity or indifference?

My comment to this post was this:

The psychologists here are analogous to the economists in the lead up to the calamitous Wall Street crash and, as others have noted, the various researchers who give cover to Big Pharma…There are a few renegades who will speak out against the testing, but the corporate line is that testing and measurement are a good thing because it helps feed the paradigm that schools-are-a-business-whose-bottom-line-is-test-scores… And the best tests are those that can be done quickly and cheaply and yield a number that can be put onto a spread sheet and used to establish a rank order… As long as educators use tests in any way to sort and select, standardized tests will be with us.

In the end, we need to change the implicit paradigm of the factory school where students are batched by age cohorts and measured against their age peers and move to a completely individualized and personalized form of instruction where time is the variable and mastery is constant. Such a system would require no more personnel that we use today but would require everyone working the children to do so in a coordinated fashion. It CAN be done… but only if we shed our current framework of how to educate children effectively.

An Unsettling eSchool Article Describes What Happens When You Give A Kindergartener a Chromebook

March 18, 2017 Leave a comment

I am an an advocate for using technology to individualize and personalize instruction, but I fond myself getting a know in my stomach as I read Laura Ascione’s eSchool article titled “If You Give a Kindergartener a Chromebook”. The article described the experience Jamie Morgan, a Kindergarten teacher in Wichita Falls TX, has using Chromebooks in her classroom of children, many of whom had special needs. This paragraph gave me my first knot:

Because her class from the previous year was high-achieving, no one expected this new class to achieve the same test scores. And although Morgan’s new class entered with “scary” test scores, by the end of the year, their test scores surpassed the high scores of her previous class. Much of that achievement is due to the Chromebooks, Morgan said.

My reaction to this paragraph: TEST SCORES to determine “achievement” for Kindergarten students??!!! Have we lost our collective minds?

As I read on I learned that the students in Ms. Morgans class spend hours on end in front of a computer mastering the use of various Google applications. I have five grandchildren whose ages range from 4 to 11 and I cannot imagine wanting the to spend classroom time on a computer. They enjoy engaging with each other, playing pretend games, writing “plays” to present to us, and engaging in physical activities. My children do everything possible to keep the children off screens.

After reading the article I was more convinced than ever that the last thing Kindergartners need is a course based on Chromebooks. Far better for them to use their open minds to learn another language or, better yet, learn how to ride bikes, hit a tennis ball or baseball, or enjoy walking in the woods.


Can a Mental Health App Replace Face-to-Face Therapy? No… BUT It IS Far Better than Nothing

March 11, 2017 Leave a comment

The Christiansen Institute offers thought provoking weekly articles on the potential for disruptive technology to help public education meet the demands placed on it. This week’s e-issue of their newsletter included an article by Thomas Arnett describing the potential for newly developed apps that rely on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to provide psychological and psychiatric support to schools. Mr. Arnett provides an overview on the use of these new apps as follows:

Untreated mental illness silently plagues a large portion of the United States population. Roughly one in five adults in America suffer from some form of mental illness in a given year, and approximately 60 percent of those cases go untreated. These statistics are similar for teenagers; and educators report that depression, anxiety, and social phobias among youth seem to be on the rise.

Fortunately, a new menu of online mental health resources start to address these unmet needs; and some pioneering options have efficacy results comparable to face-to-face therapy. Programs such as MoodGYMMyCompass, and Beating the Blues teach principles and techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people suffering from anxiety and depression. Other online solutions designed for teens, such as Bite Back and Base Education, teach students how to focus, reduce stress, handle difficult emotions, and improve social relationships.

Will online alternatives disrupt traditional face-to-face therapy in the not-too-distant future? To answer that question, consider how they measure up to the disruptive innovation litmus tests.

The “litmus test” poses six questions developed by Clayton Christiansen to determine if a new technology has the potential to be “disruptive”— that is if a new technology can result in a paradigmatic change in the way a business is operated or a service is provided:

1. Does it target nonconsumers or people who are over-served by an incumbent’s existing offering in a market? 

2. Is the offering not as good as an incumbent’s existing offering as judged by historical measures of performance? 

3. Is the innovation simpler to use, more convenient, or more affordable than the incumbent’s existing offering? 

4. Does the offering have a technology enabler that can carry its value proposition around simplicity, convenience, or affordability upmarket and allow it to improve?  

5. Is the technology paired with a business model innovation that allows it to be sustainable with its new value proposition? 

6. Are existing providers motivated to ignore the new innovation and not threatened at the outset? 

In assessing the potential for these CBT apps Mr. Arnett acknowledges that the apps fall short on the second question posed in the “litmus test”. They clearly and unarguably fall short when compared to face-to-face therapy:

Online alternatives to therapy fall short on many fronts when compared to visits with professional psychologists. Current online software cannot read and interpret patient’s verbal and nonverbal cues to diagnose mental illnesses with professional accuracy, nor can it identify patients’ needs, preferences, and life circumstances to develop custom-tailored advice. Software also cannot form relationships with patients to motivate them and hold them accountable.

But even with that clear and unequivocal deficiency, the on-line apps are clearly superior to nothing, which is what troubled teens are getting now. Moreover, with some degree of hybridization is might be possible to use apps to help the limited number of trained school personnel address mental health issues. Mr. Arnett concludes with this:

Although professional psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors may scoff at the limitations and risks of online mental health support, online options will not threaten professionals’ livelihood any time soon. Online options may be effective for helping people with moderate and untreated anxiety, depression, and addiction, but they have a long way to go before they can match high-quality professional treatment for more debilitating conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

If online mental health solutions have the potential to disrupt the traditional model of mental health care, the unfolding of this disruption cannot come soon enough for K–12 education. School psychologists, nurses, and social workers are in short supply, and many students do not receive needed mental health treatment. Meanwhile, many teachers find themselves shouldering students’ mental health needs on their own. Unfortunately, when mental illnesses go untreated, students pay the price in lower academic achievement and overall well being.

As my colleagues Julia Freeland Fisher and Michael Horn have written, schools that aim to address student achievement challenges need to integrate across factors beyond academics that affect students’ ability to learn. Mental health is definitely one such factor, and convenient, low-cost, disruptive alternatives to traditional mental health care may prove critical for unlocking schools’ capacity to bring high-quality mental health care under their roofs.

I read Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn’s book, roughly ten years ago and was and still am convinced that their book was full of ideas with great potential for public education. They used the transistor radio as a metaphor to describe how technology might enhance education. Like the transistor radio, technology could deliver instruction (or in this case therapy) in a rapid, low fidelity but inexpensive fashion to a wider audience. The teachers’ (or in this case therapists’) role would change from being the deliverer of low fidelity content to being the “refiner” of the content: they could offer periodic assessments of whether the student was mastering the content— or in this case whether the content was having the intended impact on the student’s well being. 

Skeptics abound when it comes to using technology in education, a skepticism driven, in part, by the fear that on-line education will ultimately replace teachers (or in this case therapists) completely. But teachers— like the therapists– should not feel threatened by technology, for just as “Online options may be effective for helping people with moderate and untreated anxiety, depression, and addiction” the online options for instruction can only be effective for helping students who are self-actualized and motivated learners. Just as on-line apps for mental health will never be able to “match high-quality professional treatment for more debilitating conditions such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia”, on-line instruction will never be able to motivate a student to learn and never be able to fully understand the unique needs of each student. That is where the art of teaching comes into play… an art that is being lost as we increasingly teach-to-tests at the expense of addressing each student’s potential.

“Poor Elijah” aka Peter Berger Longs for a Yesteryear that is Not Coming Back

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

“Poor Elijah”, the pseudonym for Weathersfield (VT) English teacher Peter Berger, is a frequent contributor to our local newspaper who also publishes op ed pieces that appear elsewhere in New England. His most recently published article, Legitimate Concerns About Our Public Schools, which appeared in the New Haven Register, like many of his pieces, expresses a yearning for the kind of public education that once existed in our nation. Mr. Berger’s narrative describes a time when each town had its own school populated by children eager to learn who lived in a community where parents supported the schools financially and supported the teachers by insisting that homework be completed before the children could listen to their favorite radio show. In this column, as in many of his columns, Mr. Berger rails against the “reformers” who have a “disdain for teaching content, knowledge, and facts” and instead champion “critical thinking.” Like E.D. Hirsch and many other critics of public schools who believe that there is an irreducible set of common facts that all students must learn through direct instruction, Mr. Berger believes that critical thinking cannot be taught because “…you can’t think without something to think about.” What Mr. Berger and Mr. Hirsch don’t acknowledge, though, it that identifying a common set of irreducible facts is increasingly difficult in this day and age as Bill Gates and the advocates for the Common Core learned the hard way.

“Poor Elijah” also longs for the kind of schooling that existed “before 1970″…  before schools were asked “…to assume responsibilities that once belonged to other social agencies and home.”  Mr. Berger contends that a consequence of assuming these new responsibilities is a willingness for more and more parents to give the responsibility for raising children to the schools, which further diminishes the emphasis on academics. He writes:

At the same time that classrooms have become less focused on academics, they’ve also become more disrupted and even violent. Time is lost. Focus is lost. Learning is lost. Parents rightly are concerned about the threat to classroom order and their children’s safety. Sadly, the crusade against what reformers brand “school-to-prison pipeline” discipline, the inclusion of profoundly disturbed children in regular classrooms, and a return to the permissiveness that characterized schools in the 1970s have rendered too many classrooms hostile learning environments where behavior expectations are set by the most disruptive child in the room. This is just one of the lessons of the 1970s that schools have chosen to ignore.

The highlighted language is Mr. Berger’s biggest issue: he wishes that teachers did not have to deal with what he characterizes as “…profoundly disturbed children” whose behavior presumably sets the norm for the classroom. But this just in: federal laws require public schools to provide a free appropriate education for ALL students, even profoundly disturbed children… and that education must be provided in the least restrictive environment. Mr. Berger and his colleagues who wish schools could go back to the pre-1970 era need to adjust to this “new” reality or advocate a return to the days when these children were excluded from school or a future era where everyone needs to pay a premium to exclude them from public schools and presumably public life forever.

Mr. Berger also inveighs against the trend to individualize learning. He is clearly in the “stand and deliver” school of teaching, whereby the teacher crafts a well conceived lesson and presents it to the class who, in turn, take notes and are later tested on the information presented, presumably incorporating essay questions that give the students an opportunity to show that they can think using the information the teacher presented. This method, though, assumes that all children in the class are equally capable of absorbing the information, an assumption that is problematic unless the students are homogeneously grouped. In Mr. Berger’s idealized classroom, students are all equally capable, all eager to learn, and all parents are in full support of schools. Unfortunately, and it is unfortunate, that is not the world we live in today or the world teachers are expected to work in. Schools are expected to meet each student’s individual needs… and that reality unsettles Mr. Berger.

Parents have also been gulled by promises of individual attention that schools can’t actually deliver. These assurances sometimes have been well-intentioned, but in many cases they’ve been crafted to elicit parental support. Despite ballyhooed mechanisms such as “personal learning plans” for every student, there’s a limit in a classroom with 20 students as to how personalized and “individualized” any student’s program can be. Parents nonetheless understandably expect to hold schools accountable for these assurances. The difficulty is I’m a public school classroom teacher, not a private tutor. That makes a difference, especially when you’re the guy who’s expected to keep someone else’s impossible promise.

I’m not sure where or when teachers were NOT expected to keep “someone else’s impossible promise”. Teachers and public school have long been expected to provide equal opportunities for all children, have been asked to overcome societal obstacles like racial segregation, have been expected to overcome external obstacles like poverty in the child’s home, and have been expected to deliver day-in-and-day-out no matter what is happening in their personal lives. But Mr. Berger seems to believe that there is some positive external force that can make things right at the school level without asking teachers to make things right at their own level. His closing paragraphs are telling in this regard:

The problems at school aren’t all at school. Many reside at home. But until and unless schools address their particular failings, until schools acknowledge where they’ve gone wrong and continue to go wrong, parents’ demands for alternatives to public education will persist and grow.

I don’t believe that choice and alternatives to public schools can solve our nation’s education problems.

But I also don’t believe that schools can afford to ignore why parents increasingly want to choose something else.

IF parents want to choose something else because they don’t like their children being educated with profoundly disturbed children or children whose parents have different values or different religious beliefs, schools must ignore the reason those parents want something else and, I believe, the public should insist that they pay for that “something else” themselves. And if teachers want to work in an environment that is free of profoundly disturbed children or with children who are less engaged than they would like, then they should feel free to seek employment in a non-public school that is not supported by taxpayers.

If the SYSTEM is Flawed, Fix the SYSTEM, Don’t Privatize It!

February 21, 2017 Leave a comment

The title of this post is the implicit conclusion of Michael Easterday’s post in The Hill titled “The Japanese Education System May Solve the Problems of US Public Education”. After describing the pushback Betsy DeVos faced in her appointment based on her “solution” of privatization, Mr. Easterday offers a different approach to “fixing” public education: adopting the teaching methods used in Japan… methods that were developed in the US!

If privatization approaches, such as vouchers, charter schools, merit pay and abolishing tenure haven’t provided the magic bullet to improving education, it is because they don’t directly address how we improve teaching.

What may solve the problems of American public education is what already works in Japan.

In researching the K-12 Japanese educational system, typically compared favorably to ours, Catherine Lewis, senior research scientist at Mills College, asked Japanese teachers how they learned problem-solving approaches to teaching mathematics. Reportedly Lewis reacted in disbelief when they told her that were developed by American researchers.

Elizabeth Green, author of Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and how to Teach it to Everyone) found a similar pattern when she interviewed Akahiko Takashi, once one of Japan’s leading teachers and now Associate Professor of Elementary Math Teacher Education at DePaul University.

As Green describes in her book, Takashi came to Chicago to observe classrooms using the innovative teaching approaches of John Dewey, George Polya and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. He had read about the teaching models and applied many in his own classroom, but he couldn’t find them.

“The Americans might have invented the world’s best methods for teaching math to children, but it was difficult to find anyone actually using them,” Green wrote in the New York Times in 2014.

Of course, improving teaching isn’t about improving a specific technique, it’s about creating a system that can continuously design these improvements. 

Reading these paragraphs brought to mind the work of W. Edwards Deming, an engineer who travelled to Japan to teach his approaches of total quality management to their automobile factories, approaches that resulted in Japan producing superior products that ultimately outsold US products. Deming’s methods, which called for continually revision and rethinking, were not embraced in our country where volume was deemed more important than precision. When volume is valued, a “specific technique” is applied and once it is in place within a system it is difficult to unseat. In Japanese manufacturing, the continuous improvement ethos requires that each and every technique be reviewed to determine it’s efficacy. This means that lesson plans and teaching techniques are deconstructed to see if they are achieving the intended purpose. Mr. Easterday describes this Japanese system, called “lesson study”, with the last paragraph echoing the experience of our auto industry who failed to adopt the methods Mr. Deming advocated:

In lesson study, teams of teachers research, design and test a single new lesson over several weeks. The team teaches this lesson publicly in front of the whole school, sometimes in front of hundreds of other teachers, who observe and provide feedback. Teachers share their lessons, which are aligned to a shared course of study, so that other teachers can build upon the lessons through lesson study journals.

Innovators will immediately recognize the similarity of lesson study to other design processes, such as that used by Google Ventures to develop new products, agile software development, and lean manufacturing.

This should be no surprise — the lesson study approach has many of the same intellectual roots about improving quality that Japan has applied for more than half a century.  The systematic application of the lesson study design process has allowed Japan to relentlessly improve its teaching, incorporating pedagogical insights still sit on the shelf in the U.S.

And, as Mr. Easterday notes, the privatization of our flawed system is unlikely to yield any change in our system:

If anything, privatization advocates’ proposals undermine the conditions needed for this sort of collaborative design. Improving teaching requires supporting teachers’ design collaboration, rather than having them compete for merit pay. It promotes the sharing of instructional insights across schools, rather than protecting intellectual property.

This collaborative design provides a stable work environment where teachers have autonomy to make long-term improvements, rather than eliminating due process so teachers can be fired based on the whims of a principal, administrator or an angry parent.

Privatization has not succeeded in improving education, because it does not directly address the root causes of improving teaching. We need to stop trying to do more of what doesn’t work, and start investing in improving teaching.

As noted in many posts on this blog, the biggest flaw of the “reform” movement and its ultimate endgame of privatization is the implicit embrace of the factory school model that batches students by age cohorts and uses standardized norm-referenced tests as the basis for determining “success”. Privatizing a flawed system will do nothing to improve our public schools. Changing the system itself is the best way forward.

Ohio Governor Kasich Proposes Teachers Learn About the Local Economy… How Will That Work Where No Local Economy Exists?

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s post this weekend included a link to an article by Doug Livingston, Akron Beacon-Journal staff writer on Governor John Katich’s proposed mandate that teachers “…see what it’s like to work outside the classroom so they can better match their students to the needs of local employers.” How will this be accomplished?

“It could be as simple as teachers touring local business and having those conversations … to just get a better sense of what those in-demand jobs are,” said Ryan Burgess, director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, which put together the group that developed the “on-site work experience” externships and about 20 other proposals in Kasich’s budget.

Asked how kindergarten teachers might benefit from touring a local business, Burgess said it’s never too young to explore a career.

For the next generation of firefighters, he said, teachers who have toured fire stations can work the experience into lessons. “As the governor would say, how do we capture the imagination of young people?”

One of the rebuttals was that schools should require that the business leaders be required to spend a day in schools so that they could understand the public school teachers’ perspective. We did such a thing in the mid 1990s in the MD district I led at the time, whereby some businessperson spent a day in the classroom and the teachers spent a day at the businessperson’s worksite. Unsurprisingly the businessmen came away with an appreciation for how difficult teaching is! You have to be at work by 7:00 AM??? You have over 100 kids a day at the HS??? You don’t have “at-will” bathroom breaks at the elementary school??? You’re on your feet five+ hours a day??? There is so much information to keep track of!!! Egads! Oh, and this was the reaction even with a teacher with them in the classroom who had prepared a skeleton lesson plan for the visiting businessperson to follow! Some of the teachers couldn’t resist pointing out that they needed to work part-time after school to help cover mortgage payments or set aside money for their kids’ educations.

In fairness to Mr. Kasich’s proposal, the exchange worked well the other way. Teachers DID see how the workplace had changed from what they either recalled (from summer temp jobs in college) or read about… But it was purely voluntary and, consequently, rewarding for both parties.

But there is one reality to pulling this off at the state level: the paperwork is DAUNTING! Worksites will require the signing of waivers (many businesses DO have non-governmental workplace regulations to follow!), some sort of structured activities for the visiting teachers to follow, and someone at some level will have to make certain that the teachers comply with the externship regulation. What concerns Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association and members more than anything is “…the apparent devaluing and extra mandates placed on teachers“. As Ms. Higgins asked:

“Are there any other licensed professionals who have to do an externship outside of their area of expertise to get their licenses approved?”

Will this idea work in Ohio… I have my doubts. I wonder how businesses will feel about finding time and space for thousands of teachers to spend time visiting? More importantly, how will districts with no industry or local businesses deal with this? Will teachers spend time observing in local convenience stores? Or shadowing a local contractor? Or will they need to trave to the nearest town that has a Walmart? Or what if the only local enterprise is a coal mine? Or a military base? Or another government agency? And lastly, I wonder how some employers will feel about inviting a union member to work in their midst?

Dealing with the Twitter-verse in the Times of Trump

January 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the Holidays I took a break from reading the news and blogging (the Holiday posts were written in advance), and so I missed the opportunity to comment on Inside Higher Ed’s original story regarding a satirical tweet by George Ciccariello-Maher, Associate Professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University, that read: “All I want for Christmas is white genocide”. Given Mr. Ciccariello-Maher’s writings on this topic, those in his intended audience recognized the post as satire. But Drexel’s original reaction was forceful and devoid of that realization:

 “Drexel became aware today of Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s inflammatory tweet, which was posted on his personal Twitter account on Dec. 24, 2016. While the university recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing and do not in any way reflect the values of the university. The university is taking this situation very seriously. We contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail.”

As reported in Insider Higher Ed Drexel University has since softened it’s approach to Mr. Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet, offering a lengthier and far more thoughtful response that includes this paragraph:

Very often electronic forms of communication (Twitter, in particular) are limited in their ability to communicate satire, irony and context, especially when referencing a horror like genocide. While Professor Ciccariello-Maher has defended his comments as satire, the wide range of reactions to his tweets suggests that his intentions were not adequately conveyed. These responses underscore the importance of choosing one’s words thoughtfully and exercising appropriate judgment in light of the inherent limitations presented by communications on social media.

My tweets are limited to the titles of my blog posts… primarily because I have come to appreciate the fact that Twitter has an extremely limited ability “…to communicate satire, irony and context“. In my verbal communication I often find myself using satire and irony to inject humor into an otherwise grim situation. But in verbal communication I am able to literally empty a wink and a nudge— or at the very least a shrug of the shoulders and an eye roll— to convey my true intent in sharing.

But Drexel’s predicament illustrates the complicated issues that arise when public social media is used to convey perspectives that are “…utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing and do not in any way reflect the values of the university (or school district)“.  As a retired School Superintendent I can envision a situation where a conservative school board member might call to report that “one of my teachers” has posted a tweet that he or she found “…utterly reprehensible” and sought my support for that position by demanding a retraction. As one who handled discipline issues in high schools for six years I can envision a situation where a student reports that a classmate posted something that he or she found “…utterly reprehensible” and asked me to intervene to have the classmate remove that post. These are both situations I never had to face because social media was not as widespread when I was working as it is today, and the kinds of situations are stressful and ultimately irresolvable when personal perspectives on “reprehensibility” are in play.

Given the world we live in where the President elect uses social media without regard for the accuracy of his posts or their potential for inflammatory reactions it would be difficult to defend a punishment to a teacher or student who is equally tone deaf in their political postings. Now, more than ever, schools need to teach civility and… in the words of Drexel’s President, “…the importance of choosing one’s words thoughtfully and exercising appropriate judgment in light of the inherent limitations presented by communications on social media.” It is a far more important issue than anything in the common core.