I’ve been nominated for a Bammy Award

04/07/2013

Teachers have been under attack lately and reports say teacher morale is at an all-time low.

Bam Education Radio created the Bammy Awards for Education Excellence last year to help spread the word about the good, talented, hard-working child-centered people who work in education including janitors, superintendents, teachers, principals, school nurses, education professors, education commentators, education reporters and more.

The Bammy Award

The Bammy Award

The Bammy Awards are presented at a black-tie event in Washington, D.C. I was privileged to attend last year’s ceremony as one of a group of 25 bloggers representing the 100 selected for Educator Voice recognition. It was fun to see friends and colleagues all dressed up even if I never felt fully comfortable with the idea of the ceremony.

Educators are generally very hesitant, even loathe, to toot our own horns. We even tend to shy away from recognition by others. This has to change. We have to tell our own stories because no one else is going to do it for us.

I am nominated for a Bammy Award in the school librarian category. I’m honored and humbled, especially when I see the others nominated in the category. I hope you will take some time to read the nominations and cast votes in some of the categories.

Please help spread the word that there are some great educators out there who need some recognition and support.

Thank you.


What Would Gandhi Do?

04/17/2012
Deutsch: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), polit...

Deutsch: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), politischer und spiritueller Führer von Indien. Ort unbekannt English: Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and spiritual leader of India. Location unknown. Français : Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), Guide politique et spirituel de l'Inde. Lieu inconnu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In its infinite wisdom, the New York State Education Department has increased the length of the state ELA and math tests by 50% this year. Now three days each instead of two.

They say that the increase is due to a need to field test questions for future exams based on the Common Core standards.

In other words, they are using our students, our children, as guinea pigs.

Any other field of science requires informed consent before experimenting on human subjects. I’ve never been asked if I consent to the state experimenting on my son. The state is either arrogantly flouting standard scientific procedure or they’re saying my son, and all the other students attending public schools in the state are not human.

Either way, they’re wrong.

I suspect that if asked, they’ll say that sending our children to public schools implies consent.

That’s nonsense.

It is the same as saying that by taking our children to doctors we’re implying consent for them to be used in chemotherapy studies.

I’ve spent part of the past week, and part of a week in February, working in the library of the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan as part of the state-required internship for the MLS degree I am almost done with.

The students at the Ethical Culture School don’t take state tests. Their parents spend $38,000 a year to buy out of them. Yes, somehow, their children get educated and everyone connected with their education knows precisely what each child is learning.

Not many of us can afford to spend $38,000 a year per child for an education that exempts them from state testing that has nothing to do with improving student learning and that also conducts experiments on those students. We have to find a different way to get our sons and daughters out of the grip of the edu-business of standardized exams.

I propose education civil disobedience. We should just keep our children home on testing days. Or if we must send them to school so we can work, teach them to refuse to take the exams.

Yes, it can have a disastrous effect on a school’s AYP if not enough students take the exam. If it happens in one school no one will notice.

If it happens in all the schools in a district people will begin to notice.

And if it happens in a lot of districts our educational leaders will have a decision to make.

They can try to enforce the laws and punish parents, students and schools for the boycott.

Or they can take their ball of data and go away.

At least for a while.


I Don’t Know and I’m Not Ashamed To Admit It

03/30/2012

I’ve done a lot of different things in my life and I ask a lot of questions.

Curiosity tears down walls

Curiosity tears down walls (Photo credit: Rosa Say)

As a result, I know a lot of stuff. But no matter how much I know, there is far, far more that I do not know. There is so much that I don’t know.

Today my not knowing was repeatedly displayed to my students. Due to an unusually crowded evening schedule this week I am even more tired than usual, but that isn’t why I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Actually, I knew that I didn’t know; I just don’t know how much I don’t know.

Third base.

Here are some of the things I didn’t know today: How prisoners give themselves tattoos; how audio tracks get attached to digital videos; and how to take the write-protection off a flash drive that somehow got write protected. Our tech guy also didn’t know that one; I didn’t ask him about the other two.

I can’t wait for opportunities to show my students how much I don’t know. Most of them think I’m pretty smart for an adult, but they’re between 11 and 14 years old, so they’re not surprised that I don’t know a lot of stuff.

They’re just surprised that I admit it.

Its been about 45 years since I was in middle school. Even though those were my favorite school years I still remember one teacher who, whenever one of us would ask a question he could not answer, would chastise us for not sticking to the lesson and for having too much curiosity.

Too much curiosity?

101 Uses for a Dead Cat

101 Uses for a Dead Cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may have killed the cat – I remain a skeptic – but it is a wonderful thing for a human to have. My curiosity is what I like best about myself.

The best tool teachers have is curiosity, theirs and, especially, their students’. Its been about 15 months since I moved from being a classroom teacher to being the librarian in the same school. I’m working harder but enjoying it more. Today I finally figured out why: I don’t have a heavy, mandated curriculum, no scope and sequence, no texts, no tests and no timeline.

I have the freedom to go where a student’s curiosity takes us.

Sure, I have things I want to teach, but I get to allow the students’ interests, the students’ questions, their wonders and their curiosity determine when and how I teach those things. I get to let my students’ education be what mine has largely been, bottom up, driven by the learner’s curiosity and passions instead of the top-down pre-determined, marketplace-driven curriculum the rest of the teachers have to deliver.

I bet we could solve a lot of the dropout problem, raise academic achievement and reduce behavioral issues if we can only get the rest of the school to teach the way a good librarian, and even this one, does.

We’ve tried all the other ways. Isn’t it time to try something different?


Paranoia in Education Strikes Again!

03/26/2012
cover shot of Children of Paranoia

cover shot of Children of Paranoia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I work for a paranoid school district.

It doesn’t trust students.

It doesn’t trust teachers.

It doesn’t trust administrators.

It doesn’t trust parents.

It doesn’t trust the public.

It is afraid that students will learn things that aren’t in the curriculum.

It is afraid that students will learn things that haven’t been approved in advance.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of the internet.

It is afraid that its teachers are not capable of teaching responsible use of social media.

There is a lot of good educational content on YouTube and YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let students access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let teachers access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let school administrators access YouTube in school, not even YouTube for Education.

It doesn’t let principals override the filters that prevent access to those and other useful websites.

This can only be because it does not trust us. Any of us.

It does not let students, teachers or school administrators access Facebook in school, even though there is a lot of educational content on Facebook.

Even though we are required to teach students how to use social media responsibly.

Soon we won’t even be able model social media use for students.

The City is going to ban teachers and students from interacting over Facebook.

It doesn’t trust us.

Not at all. I bet the City would love to figure out how to stop teachers and students from interacting in the supermarket, the Laundromat, the shopping mall.

Heck, they’d probably even like to find a way to keep us from interacting in the classroom. Everyone knows how much trouble we can get into there.

There is an old adage that says you should treat people the way you want them to be. If you want young people to act like adults, treat them that way. That’s what I try to do in my library.

But the NYCDOE treats me and my colleagues like little children.

They are illogical.

They are insulting.

Or am I being paranoid?


Why I Don’t Like Differentiated Instruction

10/04/2011
A class in a newly rebuilt secondary school in...

Image via Wikipedia

I have read countless books, articles and blogs on the importance of differentiating instruction. I disagree with almost all of them because of the teacher-centered approach they take. Learning isn’t instruction; learning is acquisition.

Instruction focuses on what the teacher provides or what the teacher tells the student and differentiation merely postulates that teachers need to provide a variety of materials and tell in a variety of ways.

That is teaching.

Learning is something else.

Learning is inquisition, investigation and association.

Inquiry Cycle

Learning starts with questions. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why? What happened? What will happen if…?

Investigation is not the teacher providing the answers before the question is asked. It is the process of the student seeking potential answers and testing them.

Learning emerges as the result of information gleaned in the investigation phase associating with prior knowledge leading to the synthesis of new knowledge and, when it works best, new and better questions.

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Censorship in Schools: More than makes the headlines

08/14/2011
censorship [remix]

Image by the|G|™ via Flickr

Book challenges and banning get all the media attention but they are a small minority of the censorship that occurs in schools.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), 11,000 book challenges occurred in the past 20 years.

To call attention to these challenges and highlight the books banned as a result, the last week of September each year is designated Banned Book Week by the ALA and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

It is absolutely imperative to defend intellectual freedom and fight against book challenges, but in paying so much attention to them, it is easy not to notice the more pervasive and far more prevalent censorship that occurs in every public school every minute it is open.

I’m talking about censorship of the Internet.

The federal Children’s Internet Protection Act requires schools to ensure that children are not exposed to sexually explicit words and images in order to qualify for Federal technology subsidies. Almost all schools accomplish that by using filters that are designed to stop obscenity before it reaches student computers.

Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against blocking student access to pornography at school, they get more than enough exposure to sexual messages in the mainstream media. But internet filters block much more than pornography.

“What we have is what I consider brute force technologies that shut down wide swaths of the internet, like all of YouTube, for example. Or they may shut down anything to do with social media, or anything that is a game. These broad filters aren’t very helpful because we need more nuanced filtering.” Karen Cator, United States Department of Education Director of Education Technology (Barseghian, 2011).

seive

Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

Even the National Educational Technology Plan notes that in some cases internet filtering “creates barriers to the rich learning experiences that in-school internet access should afford students” and that tools such as blogs, wikis and social networks have the potential to support student learning and engagement.

Some argue that the anxiety over the internet that leads to filtering has less to do with possible student exposure to pornography or other sexual content and more to do with fear of unfettered ideas and the technology through which ideas are transmitted.

“Filters would not be placed on computers if government officials, religious moralists and the competitive marketplace didn’t feel their control slipping away or threatened” (Bissonnette, 2003).

Decisions about what to filter are made by filtering companies that are not held accountable to anyone and which refuse to explain the criteria for their decisions because they are trade secrets.

Educators and educational needs have been totally taken out of the picture.

New Canaan High School librarian Michelle Luhtala says the same issues of censorship, fear and free speech that make banned books resonate also apply to social networking sites that most schools block.

“Teaching with social media shows students how to responsibly use those platforms. Blocking access denies kids the chance to practice sharing their knowledge with the real world in a supervised setting” (Toppo, 2011)

Thanks largely to her efforts the ALA and AASL have declared September 28th to be Banned Sites Day.

One day. It is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to protect student intellectual freedom and access to all age-appropriate learning materials.

Despite the efforts to restrict or cleanse the materials in school libraries, racial slurs, bullying, obscene language, sex scenes and violence will always appear in books students read. There will always be challenging themes, emotionally charged scenes, and characters with few traits to admire.

“Pretending there are no choices to be made — reading only books, for example, which are cheery and safe and nice is a prescription for disaster for the young,” asserts author Lois Lowry who has seen her book The Giver challenged and removed from libraries.

“Submitting to censorship is to enter the seductive world of The Giver, the world where there are no bad words, no bad deeds. But it is also the world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted.”

“And that is the most dangerous world of all.”

References

American Library Association (2011). Number of Challenges by Year, Reason, Initiator & Institution (1990 – 2010). Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengesbytype/index.cfm

Barseghian, T. (2011, April 26). Straight from the DOE facts about blocking sites in schools. Retrieved from http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/04/straight-from-the-doe-facts-about-blocking-sites-in-schools/

Bissonnette, S.T. (2003). Smothering Free Speech. Journal of Library Administration; 2003, Vol. 39 Issue 2/3, p87-105. doi: 10.1300/J111v39n02_08

Lowry, L. (2005). A dangerous utopia. RHI for High School Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.randomhouse.com/highschool/RHI_magazine/pdf3/Lowry.pdf

National Educational Technology Plan. US Dept. of Ed. 2010, 54.

Toppo, G. (2011, July 25). Web restrictions draw ire of some educators. USA Today Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-07-25-banned-websites-school_n.htm

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It Isn’t In the Air

03/18/2011
Chalk Dust

Image by scholz via Flickr

It’s not in the water.

It’s not in our food.

It’s neither in the music we hear nor the news we watch.

It is certainly not in the chalk dust we breathe.

None of those things hold the magic to make a good teacher better and a better teacher great.

How does it happen?

It happens through the structured processes of teachers learning from better teachers.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble when I tell you it isn’t quite that simple.

Not even the best teachers among us are good at teaching everything. No one teacher will ever tell you that they know all there is to know about teaching. If your kid’s teacher ever says that to you RUN to the principal’s office and have your child’s class changed.

Teaching is incredibly complex and very hard to do very well, just like being a nuclear physicist. Fortunately, the people most likely to be bad teachers never try teaching at all. Most of the rest of the people who turn out to be bad teachers quit within the first three years.

So much for the new teachers being the best ones. Enthusiasm is great but it only carries one so far. You don’t get to become one of the best unless you hang around for a while, at least until the magic happens and you get to rub shoulders, work hard and learn from better teachers than yourself.

As much as I champion incidental learning, there is a lot to be said for structure in the process of learning complex things, things like nuclear physics and teaching.

All the politicians say they want better teachers, but they act like developing them is just a matter of drinking the right water, breathing sweeter (or maybe smoggier) air, or perhaps they think we need to breath the dust of colored chalk instead of bland white.

I know they think this way not because they say so. Oh no, they say just the opposite, but I learned a long time ago to pay no attention to what politicians say; you have to watch what they do.

What they’re doing is planning to take all the funds away from the National Writers Project, the Teaching American History program, and all the other programs that provide the instructional and experiential structures that turn good teachers better and better teachers more so.

This is a map of the NWP's local Writing Proje...

Image via Wikipedia

Times are tough. Teachers are being laid off. Class sizes are getting bigger and bigger. Those teachers who will be in the classrooms come September will have to do much more with much less.

Don’t we want them, don’t we want us, to be able to do the best possible job, to teach our sons and daughters to be capable, confident writers, to help them understand that history is made daily and that actions today determine our future as much as any event or person in the past?

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Write, call or, better yet, camp out in the office or front lawn of your Congressperson or Senator. Make them understand that great teaching is not as simple as breathing and that it doesn’t come out of a sparkling spring. Tell them the ugly truth and make them face it.

Great teachers are made the hard way. Through working at it in superlative programs like the National Writers Project and Teaching American History.
Tell your Congressman that they can’t have it both ways. They can’t complain about bad teaching while pulling the funding from the programs that improve teachers.

Insist that the National Writers Project and Teaching American History be funded now, tomorrow, next year and for as long as there are teachers willing to work hard to make themselves better at their craft.

Otherwise they should just shut up.

This is being cross-posted at the Cooperative Catalyst, a collective blog by people who care deeply about the state of learning in this country and are trying to figure out how to fix it and this post is part of the #blog4nwp effort to save a very worthwhile program.

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