Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, February 26, 2010

Computers are the panacea, really.

Fifteen years ago I said "Computers are the panacea for education" in response to why I was teaching English in a computer room. I was laughed at, of course. I still believe this and so do others. There is a humorous GE Healthymagination medical commercial with a guy sitting on a table without his pants talking to his doctor. The doctor asks him a question and before he can answer, the camera shifts and we see an amphitheater filled with doctors who take turns standing up and reporting on this pantless guy's medical history. Eventually the questioning doctor turns to his computer and says, "Okay, thanks, guys, I've got it from here." The message is that our medical treatment will be better as we digitize our medical records and money will be saved. The message for education is "don't get caught with your pants down." Computers have changed other areas of our life in every way from music, books, airlines, information, banking, politics, and so much more. The only place that hasn't really embraced technology is education. I still believe it is the panacea to our educational woes. Education still has no clue about the power of technology because we still teach as we were taught and that isn't changing fast enough. And every district has a pilot, but not a technology program or plan that is universal and ubiquitous.

Consider the recent headlines from across America.

1. Oklahoma City instructor uses blogs, e-mails in classroom Technology-Using Teacher of Year.
2. Tech magnet Roosevelt-Perry attracts students, teachers.
3. Technology advances for toddlers at Country School
4. Students learn with new classroom technology Remember the days when students would raise their hand and then write their answers with chalk on the chalkboard? Well, those days are long gone.
5. One-to-one computing programs only as effective as their teachers Experts say 1-to-1 computing research needs to focus more on classroom practices—and less on equipment
6. Classrooms of the future: Laptops bring lessons to life.
7. Student Space opens room for learning: Seaside schools go online to get students and teachers connected 24/7
8. Technology revolutionizing classroom learning
9. Technology enables young students to learn at their own pace.
10. New Cabot School Replacing Textbooks with Digital

As I review these headlines and read the stories, I'm stunned at how similar they are to those we read fifteen years ago. We read about single instructors, heard about classrooms of the future, technology revolutionizing, and were reminded that teachers were still important. Yikes we haven't come very far. In fact because of filters, firewalls, lack of funding, Professional development and no incentive for those teachers who do use technology, we are so far behind every other industry and country. These are the same stories we read fifteen years ago and are still reading in 2010. Something we had then was talk of the paradigm shift. Not so today. And that is the problem. Yeah sure there may be more stories, but it isn't as ubiquitous as it should be. We are still reading about isolated places and instructors and their use of technology. BUT we haven't yet seen that paradigm shift. We still teach as we were taught and still find wonder in teachers who use technology in their classroom. We still see hear about how schools are planning to implement technology in their schools. This should be the norm at this point. We lack true technology leadership and of course all of our misguided energy is used on these blasted tests.

In NYC, we have a new program called ARIS which "provides a single place where educators can find important information to use to accelerate student learning." This shows great promise if it is used. Student data from previous classes and schools becomes available to all teachers and parents immediately. Since we don't have the luxury to conference with our students' former teachers we do have access to a clearinghouse site that contains previous performance and comments from teachers to better inform us about our current student now. Once this program has been through its paces for a year or two, we could have a good model of how technology will be the panacea. Considering how CyberEnglish has collected all the work of each of my scholars over the years, now I'm happy to see a more global tool being developed and used to collect student data. Connecting student work with ARIS would make this tool the panacea.

"Come on Man" it is 2010 and we should be way beyond planning to use technology in our classrooms. Technology should be the foundation as it is in all other parts of our life. Education is concerned with programs like STEM and"Race to the Top" without even considering the prime directive of Scientific Thinking. Instead our very disappointing federal administration is continuing in the folly of educational leadership that preceded this administration that ironically understood the technology to get elected.

We need more than these continued stories about isolated situations and stories and more use of technology in our schools just as other industries have if we hope to fix and improve education in this country. We don't need no more stinkin' tests, we need more technology. Teacher training must be more technology oriented and schools should be more open to employing and encouraging more technology. We do not have a technology frame of mind in schools. Computers are the panacea, really.

Next week I'll speak about Education 1-2-3 that speaks of Workplace 1.0, 2.0, 3.0; education 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. I'll let you digest this over the weekend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

.. is pure poetry

Whenever we want to express the ultimate beauty of anything, oftentimes we exclaim, "it is pure poetry." It doesn't matter what "it" is. "It" could be a car, a chocolate bar, a sweet voice, an adventure, a good read, an experience. When we have that experience that causes us to say "That was pure poetry," we are talking about a beautiful, ethereal, cosmic thing whose essence has touched our soul as a beautiful poem might and often does. Poetry gets to the bottom line of something, the core of things, the essence of it. Poetry affects us all in one form or another from the beginnings of our life. The poetry begins with those cards our parents receive on the occasion of our birth to those cards we receive on mother's/father's day. Poems surround our lives from beginning to end, like no other form of literature. We all dabble with poetry, especially on Valentine's Day. As students we can be guaranteed that we will write a poem before we write an essay, a novel, or a play. As a teacher poetry is crucial to me. I love teaching poetry because we can read a poem several times in a class period. We can deconstruct a poem very quickly and then reconstruct it. And then my scholars write a poem, "pure poetry."

Recently I read an article in the Chicago Tribune "Happy News" section about how poetry serves to help students have a better life. In the Spoken Word Club at a couple of Chicago high schools, students get to express themselves through poetry. Similar to Poetry Slams students oftentimes write their own verse and then present it. Nothing new here. Shakespeare may have been the father of this concept, maybe not. He is certainly a practitioner. I have called him the original rapper as his sonnets attest. Limericks are another fun way to use poetry as a means to communicate with an audience. Today with the new style of music being listened to and then employed as a way for our students to communicate, these kinds of clubs are essential. Poetry was the bridge for this teacher to bring former and current students together to share experiences and to communicate with each other about the facts of life after high school. This is certainly a "happy news" story because it is "pure poetry."

Another recent example of poetry bringing the best out in our students comes from Global Poetry Project in Buffalo, NY. The teacher has organized an online publishing forum for poets to publish their poems and to discuss them. Again I am reminded about Shakespeare and his sonnets and how they were presented on stage. I imagine those evening gatherings of Byron, Keats, and the Shelleys must have been heaven. The dark and dingy cellars of the beat poets, the cafes filled with smoke and caffeine and the sound of verse continue the process of reading and sharing poetry. Now with webpages and blogs and wikis, and all those social networks, poetry abounds and traverses the airwaves and bandwidth to massage our ears and eyes. "Pure poetry."

I enjoyed these articles about poetry as we conclude a month that has the most poetic day (Roses are red, Violets are blue..) in it and is separated by the lion and lamb before we enter the cruellest month. That's "pure poetry."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Evaluating Teachers

Unions are a double edged sword. One edge is very sharp and the other one is very dull. With the sharp edge the cut through the red tape, the wrangling for rights and justice, and the abuse when it happens. With that dull blade they protect teachers who shouldn't be teachers. This has always been my gripe wit my union. It doesn't have a protocol to help us cut the weak, bad, incompetent teacher fro the faculty. It is our one major blemish, we can't police ourselves. I don't know of any program in a Union that provides incompetent teachers ways to find other jobs. We all know teachers in our schools who shouldn't be there. Sometimes our inaction causes harm to those scholars we are trying to help. When we see a teacher walked out of a school in cuffs, many of us aren't surprised and yet we have done nothing to prevent the crime that causes this public indignity to us. We don't have a program, a way to help our union separate the wheat from the chaff. Now that governors and school boards are using test scores to discharge teachers, good teachers may be victims and now we are in trouble because these tests will not care nor will the governors. Perhaps it is time our unions devise a protocol to help us protect ourselves from our incompetent colleagues.

We are all aware of teachers in our school who would do better at another profession. We don't need articles in newspapers to inform us of this. When I read these statistics from Denver, I wasn't stunned. Should I be?
• 62 percent of teachers say the evaluation process fails to provide an accurate assessment of performance.
• 60 percent of DPS teachers were told there is no area in which they must improve.
• 70 percent of administrators and 30 percent of teachers said there were tenured "teachers in my school who should be dismissed for poor performance."
• 32 "unsatisfactory" ratings were given out of 2,387 total non-probationary evaluations over a three-year period.

We cannot leave teacher evaluation just to the administration. Teachers and students and parents should also be involved. Removing a poor teacher from the classroom is not easy and usually takes something pretty heinous. The amount of time and money needed to defend an unsatisfactory is not always possible so these teachers stay in the classroom. Leaving these teachers in the classroom hurts us all.

We see incompetency rewarded everyday in our schools. The incompetent teachers are rarely chosen to do things, which means the competent teachers do more than their share. This is why the unions should be helping us. How exactly do the unions help the competent teachers? During my time in the public schools, my union reps have spent most of their time helping the incompetent teachers deflect all the attention they get from the administration. In more cases than not, I agree that the teacher in question would be better served in another profession. Too many resources are spent trying to do what in other professions is easier and more efficiently done. Administration spends lots more time observing and keeping a paper trail of the incompetent teacher for future reference. In the end the time spent by administration is for naught and the union reps time is eaten up. Rarely do the competent teachers get the attention they need. When teachers are under fire as they are now, it is time the unions figure out how they will be responsible and clean their own house. We need to clean up our house, get our respect back, and not leave our future to the tests and other tools to evaluate us. We need to be proactive, not reactive and do more to help incompetent teachers become competent or help them into another profession.

An example of how we might help each other would be through better and more collaboration in schools. We don't work with our colleagues enough and I blame the union for this. Having two teachers in one classroom isn't acceptable to the union. I remember many years ago suggesting that a US History teacher and I teach the same class in the computer lab. The union nixed it. I was stunned and never did understand the explanation. We know collaboration would make our schools better. We know everyone in the real world collaborates except teachers. We teach in isolation in rooms with doors closed. There was a time when new teachers were buddied up with a master teacher and mentored for those early years and monitored over the ensuing years to tenure. Those days are gone because of budgets and other misguided rules. We need to get back to teamwork in the classroom. Certainly one idea I have posited about altering schools would be to have the scholars stay in a room at their work station during the day and have the teachers move from room to room during the day assigning, monitoring and assessing the work of the scholars. It would also include lots technology. This would be more real world, more like business, and be very public and collaborative. We know how we teach is not working anymore and we need to make some changes.

Master teachers and administration are sharing the duties of five teacher observations of each teacher each year in DC schools. This has promise.

One of my favorite quotes,
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
Buckminster Fuller

speaks volumes and guides me in my practice every day in CyberEnglish.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Effective Teacher

PROSPERO (to his daughter, Miranda)
Now I arise:
Resumes his mantle
Sit still, and hear the last of our sea-sorrow.
Here in this island we arrived; and here
Have I, thy schoolmaster, made thee more profit
Than other princesses can that have more time
For vainer hours and tutors not so careful.

The Tempest, Wm Shakespeare I, ii

I was reminded about how powerful The Tempest is when I saw an excellent performance at BAM the other evening. Prospero, the schoolmaster, serves as a fine model for all of us. He uses his magic to help transform others and then wishes them well as they move on. As instructed in the epilogue, "we give him good hands," because we know he has done well, has been an effective teacher, as his scholars demonstrate. Shakespeare has provided us a good sampling of schoolmasters in his plays, some good and some poor. How can we use these examples in our own practice and assessment of effective teachers?

Do a Google search for "effective teacher" and we will find page after page of what makes an effective teacher. A sampling like this is what we find:
Here are 10 qualities of a great teacher: (1) has a sense of humor; (2) is intuitive; (3) knows the subject matter; (4) listens well; (5) is articulate; (6) has an obsessive/compulsive side; (7) can be subversive; (8) is arrogant enough to be fearless; (9) has a performer’s instincts; (10) is a real taskmaster.
Assessing effective teaching is the newest trend in teacher evaluation from the new federal government's "Race to the Top." One of the tactics our governors are using is to tie student test performance to teacher tenure or even job. Now on the face of this one might ask, "What is wrong with this?" Good question, but not as simple to do or assess. Exactly which teacher was responsible for the scholar's success or lack of it on any test? Our scholars have many teachers and some scholars use knowledge acquired last year this year. There are too many variables in a scholar's education to use test results as a teacher assessment criteria. The Maryland governor demonstrates a new surge in using test results as part of the new method to grant tenure to teachers in his state. Boston is revamping its method of evaluating teachers to include results on the tests. The mayor of NYC has also instructed the chancellor to do this too. In his letter to teachers the chancellor outlines the process with this caveat:
Our goal is to align tenure decisions more effectively with the results you are achieving every day. But let me be clear: we are not proposing to base tenure decisions on student test scores alone—that would be insufficient. We want to use all of the information available to us—from many different sources such as classroom observations and teacher work products—so that we can make fully informed decisions about each teacher’s readiness for career success.
Other examples:
1. Teachers in mass firing plan to appeal dismissal
2. Best Practices in the Middle Grades Identified: Using tests to find best practices.

One of the downsides to this will be cheating. We have seen cheating done by administrators and teachers before when their job and even school's existence was on the line. We are well aware of how other professionals have cheated in one way or another to enhance their performance, make themselves look more effective, or keep what they believe is theirs. Already we are reading about possible cheating on test scores in Georgia.
Georgia education officials ordered investigations on Thursday at 191 schools across the state where they had found evidence of tampering on answer sheets for the state’s standardized achievement test.
This example raises the very important idea of auditing. We have learned our lesson about little or no auditing in the financial industry, so let's not make that mistake in education. Not only do we need to assess schools and teachers, we also need to assess the test, examine the results of the tests carefully and not allow the test companies to destroy these corrected tests because they may be very important in assessing schools and teachers. If we use the tests to assess the scholars, the teachers, and the schools, I hope we also assess the tests and their results so we make no or as few mistakes as possible. We have seen grievous and even heinous test errors in the past.

There are many variables in having a good educational system. They are effective schools, effective teachers, and effective tests. As the chancellor said, tests are merely a part of the whole and they should be assessed as rigorously as principals and teachers are being assessed. The key to education is that we want our scholars to prosper. Don't put too much trust or stock in the assessment tool because those tests are made by companies interested in making a profit. Teachers are interested in "making more profit" for the scholar as Prospero explains to Miranda as the play begins.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Are we what we read?

I have always been an advocate for my scholars to make their own choices in what they read. Their choices tell me a great deal about who they are. When they write about what they read, they tell me even more. Watching people read when I ride public transportation has always interested me. Some believe we read on public transportation to hide, to stay anonymous, to prevent eye contact. When on a plane and given the option to watch a movie, a television show, play a game or read, reading comes in last. What we read and even how we read adds to the mix. Some people read the free papers in the morning, which eventually litter the trains, buses, and streets. Fewer read on an electronic device. Newspapers outnumber magazines which outnumber books. Students are more book oriented. Finally the most intriguing place to observe what people read is at the beach. The common denominator is that people read and that is good. Does it matter what our scholars read?

I don't think so. What is crucial is that each scholar becomes a functional reader. How will reading benefit hir life? What is important is that s/he can read directions to fill out forms like college applications, applications for employment, and governmental forms for benefits. Once we become functional then the next step involve being able to read directions for class, assembling and operating things, getting from here to there, and cooking. As readers learn that reading leads to better things, a better life, a better self awareness. As readers are introduced to different things to read, they will become more aware of themselves, become proficient readers. It all begins with "text to self."

Programs abound to help our scholars become better readers. One program in Connecticut has a "prescription" type program to help encouraging reading. The key for me is that it is across the curriculum and not coming just from the Language Arts Department. A school district in Missouri has employed technology to improve the reading skills of their scholars. I'm not sure "book" reading is the key to better reading as some believe. As Atwell says, some of those voices, the book publishers, are profiting by promoting book reading. I promote reading, but most of the reading done in my class is online. Access and diversity are key for me. Much of what we read is print published not available to me which is why I prefer online reading sources for the immediacy of access. I believe we are confused by the term "literature" when it comes to discussing reading. It isn't the canon anymore, that has changed because we have changed. We all have different definitions for literature, but one common concept is that books and literature are synonymous. I see this constantly when scholars tell me that they have been told to use two novels on Task IV of the NYState Regents ELA exam that asks the scholars to use "two pieces of literature" to respond to the critical lens. They are shocked when I tell them they can use a poem, a short story, a play, and an essay as well since they, too, are pieces of literature. We read to be better citizens.

Eventually we want the scholars to write about their reading. Reading informs our writing. We write to inform ourselves about what we know and to communicate. Both of these qualities are very important in my class. To verify what they have read and have understood what they have read, I ask them to write essays about what they have come to understand about themselves and what they have read. As they write their essays on their webpage, they are cobbling together their ideas about life from what they already know and how what they have read has furthered this knowledge. Just as they are reading public knowledge it becomes incumbent upon them to add to that public knowledge with their own writing. This is why I have my scholars publish their work online to further better reading through our own writing. I wish more teachers published their scholars work online. We learn who we are by what we read and let others know who we are from what we write. Keep reading.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Separation of Church & State

On February 3, I wrote about the National Standards, and mentioned the affect of religion. Now I have read the cover story of The New York Times Magazine, "How Christian were the Founders?" by Russell Shorto. Were we to adopt a national standards in this country, Texas, would reign over it as it already does our textbook industry as shown in this article by Shorto. It is the strongest argument against National Standards. We have seen how the Texas State Board of Education, led by the Gablers, has operated over the past decades and its strong Christian emphasis. After reading this article and particularly learning how McLeroy took publishers to a Mexican restaurant to dictate how the texts should be altered in a Christian manner, I cursed Polk for acquiring Texas and suggest we give it back to Mexico. It further convinces me why we should reject our textbooks.

As I understand it, the early colonists came here to plunder the new land as the Spanish did in search of gold, the Jamestown colonists for goods, and the Pilgrims for religious freedom and to leave a nation ruled by a religious monarch. Another thing that always confused me was how the Founding fathers came up with ideas of freedom since they had no European models. Did Locke and Rousseau get their ideas from early reporters returning from the new world with reports of the Iroquois Nation as outlined in Bruce E. Johansen's Forgotten Founders, Benjamin Franklin, the Iroquois and the Rationale for the American Revolution? I would strongly recommend this short treatise for enlightenment on the topic of the creation of this country.

As I said on February 3, we are a nation made up of 50 sovereign states, but I must amend that since Texas seems to have more power over our textbooks in our states than it should. This may be the strongest reason to abandon textbooks and to use the electronic media and to get back to good old common sense teaching in our classrooms and not to depend on an industry that's in it to make money not to spread the truth. I will not be controlled by idiots from Texas. We've been there and look at how that worked out.

Once again we see important educational decisions made by people not even in the teaching profession. I'm further reminded about that in my own city where Chancellor Klein told the principals to make test results part of granting tenure. More on this at the end of the week. As the Shorto article suggests we should pay attention to the March 3 Texas school board District 9 Republican primary results.

The separation of church and state is very important. We know this as we observe how the Middle East operates and how religion complicates their government. We don't need to complicate our government with religion. Religion is a personal matter and my religion should not be dictated by the state or other individuals in power. Texas is stepping on my First Amendment rights. Step off Texas. And publishers, do the right thing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Help Us Hire Our Next Team Member

The Ink Foundry has asked the public to help them hire their next team member. Ink Foundry was started on a whim in 1999 by a person who knew code and used social networks. The result is a new type of public relations firm that uses the social networks to do the work. They need people who know code as we learned from the three candidates and use social networks. So there it is, our new workers need new skills that are not being taught in our schools. In fact, most of the social networks are blocked in schools and coding is not taught. So where do these candidates learn these skills? The Ink Foundry website is a great example of how we should be designing our own webpages and to show off the work of our scholars. Furthering the concept of transparency the page has a great comment area where Ink Foundry can interact with the public. Ink Foundry is an example of why our scholars need 21st Century skills. Good luck Tyler.

If the Ink Foundry is an end product then consider the Portland Classroom Publishing website that promotes classroom publishing and serves as a clearinghouse of websites where teachers publish their scholars' work. They are celebrating a new book that will offer teachers examples and advise on how to publish their scholars' work. Preview of the book and links can be found on the page as will be a good guide for all teachers who use technology and want to use the technology in their classrooms.

All of this is transparency. Transparency has been a keystone to the Obama Administration and with a new searchable online data base. Technology is expanding our democracy, it is making everything more transparent, and demands that we use it to that end in our schools. Education needs to be more transparent. Ironically, Obama plans to cut money to support technology in education. The Ink Foundry, Classroom Publishing, and the new government database are three examples of what and how we must do.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The state of education is not good.

The state of education in this country is not good and it isn't getting better. We are groping around in the dark without any sense of direction or intuition. Our educational leaders are not educators. They are CEO's who are trying to run an industry for which they have no idea how it works and have no experience in it except as students. The ones who should be running it, professors in higher ed are poorly uniformed about K-12 and operate under the idea of "publish or perish" and usually publish useless tomes.

I'm getting tired of reading articles like this one in eSchool News. Tell me, us something we don't know, like how schools of education are training teachers to use the technology in their teaching. We, who use technology know this and more. We have been using these sites for decades and have developed our own along the way. We are more than conscious about the cookie cutter cuteness of the model presented here. This is nothing new, not earthshaking, and quite frankly, insulting. Here is a perfect example of a professor isolated from the real world and providing a similar kind of recipe we have seen for decades. There is no substance, no help in getting started or sustaining a web presence. It is too typical of what we can expect from higher ed.

Tell us how the schools of education are using the technology to create new teachers who use the technology so we stop hearing these disparaging words of fear about technology. Tell us how states are supporting teachers in using technology. I'm tired of reading these articles that do little in explaining how the technology can be used. Those of us who like technology and use it in our schools is still a vast minority just as we were two decades ago. Where are the schools of education that teach teachers how to use the technology we all know can enhance education in our classrooms?

Then I turned the page to find another article about how more teachers are using technology than they were in 2008, according to a study by PBS. Again this is primarily as a consumer and not as a producer. Sure teachers are accessing more video and information from the Internet, much as we would from a library. But this is not using technology. We must use technology as producers, too. We must produce webpages for our scholars. Our scholars must produce webpages for us and others. When I work with my scholars as they produce webpages, I hear how they know this from MySpace, not from other classes. Our scholars are learning the tools of production outside of school and unfortunately not well.

The best news comes from a research that suggests teaching to different learning styles is not effective. Does that mean all our work in special education is for naught? This news coupled with more emphasis on STEM makes me wonder about the state of education in this country. Education is in such chaos. Public education has no leadership. Support for public education is waning because the educational leaders in Washington and in our major cities are more interested in replacing public ed with charter schools. Have people like Carol Tomlinson and her staff been consulted in this research. Seems as if we have two polar opposites. How will this be resolved?

I think the biggest scam was when candidate Obama used Linda Darling-Hammond as his educational mouthpiece and then chose Arne Duncan, the CEO of Chicago schools to be the new Secretary of Education. I'm worried about Obama's educational direction as he stresses improvement in education via programs like Innovate to Educate, STEM, and Race to the Top and then chooses to slash funds for technology in education. He doesn't seem focused, he doesn't have a plan and appears to be more reactive than proactive.

The state of education is not good, it is chaotic.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Two of the three R's are missing

Why do we always see educational reform centering on Math & Science? Is it that they are easier to assess than are the Humanities? Two of the three R's are missing in our current educational reform movement. Maybe we should take a lesson from Super Bowl XLIV. More on that later. Ever since Sputnik, we have concentrated on the sciences and rarely if ever on the humanities when it comes to educational reform. I know this is a mistake. When we consider educational reform we must, we have to consider the whole child and all the disciplines because they work together to make the whole child. Just as we study the brain in education as it helps us with the teenagers, we need to use this knowledge to help us in our reform. Literacy is a whole package and not just the math & science part of our brain. I know that I have been very helpful to students in the sciences with my etymology study of words. VETY is the program that features the root words derived from Greek and Latin. These words are crucial in the sciences and by knowing them much of the verbal problem in the sciences is aided because of the humanities. Being able to read the science books or word problems is learned in a humanities class not in the science or math class. Success in the sciences alone will never happen without the humanities. During the 90's, science oriented schools in NYC were criticized by the receiving colleges because the scholars lacked language arts skills. Basically these science scholars were deficient in two of the 3R's and therefore suffered in their non science classes and required remediation. Currently there has been an astonishing case in Seattle, parents sued to stop a math program that was too hard because it required reading skills. "Apart from finding the Discovering material generally inferior, its detractors also claim that its more verbal approach to math discriminates against students who aren't fluent in English." This is a serious problem. Perhaps one of the reasons we seem to be lacking in the sciences is that we have spent so much time just on them without also concentrating on the basic idea of literacy, the key to understanding text and in conveying our thoughts to others. The sciences are merely a part of the picture.

The current administration continues governmental shortsightedness with Educate to Innovate. Only one part of the brain is being stimulated.Don't forget the importance of the 3R's. The humanities aspect is surely missed in the current economic woes we are currently experiencing. Concentrating on the numbers alone has caused us to make mistakes and not to get us out this mess. It's not just about the numbers, it is also about the people, the human element we keep missing. The banks don't need saving, the people need saving.

Why are most of our stories of success or lack of it seen through the math lens? Once again it is a math story, not a language arts story as seen in a recent article in The Atlantic that relates and informs the current reform movement. We need more than just one of the three R's. We need all three working together to move this country forward.

Reform must consider and follow the practices of brain study. The study of both halves of the brain has been crucial in bettering teaching practice. By concentrating just or solely on the sciences we are denying the importance of the humanities, literacy skills that will help make us excel in the sciences.

We have dropped Latin and Greek from the curriculum. We have lost grammar, diagramming, spelling, and so much more from Language Arts, that we have become illiterate. It is time to put as much educational emphasis on language arts and literacy as we do on math and science, otherwise we will continue to get the same dismal results. We need to nurture, massage, stimulate both sides of the brain in order for the whole brain to be effective.

Coach Cowher was correct in his Super Bowl XLIV prediction of the New Orleans Saints winning because he considered the humanities aspect of the game, not just the numbers. It seemed as if the all the predictions had the Indianapolis Colts winning because the numbers told the story. Cowher however introduced the humanities element and was right. Sure other pundits from the President to the lowest of commentators wanted the the Saints to win because of the story of New Orleans, the human element, yet they relied on the numbers and abandoned their emotional side and chose the Colts. The Saints win is a good example of why we need to consider the 3 R's in any continued educational movement. Congratulations and thanks to the New Orleans Saints for bringing the humanities back to us and perhaps leading us by example to reconsider the 3R's in educational reform. You proved it is more than just the numbers in your win over the Colts. Congratulations and thank you.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Practical Theory

I came up with this term, practical theory, as I was transitioning from a paper and pen classroom to a computer classroom in the mid 1980's. I had begun teaching in 1974 with a couple of years of theory and only a minimum of student teacher practice. Very quickly, theory was hamstrung by the oddities, the anomalies presented to me in the classroom, the practice. After ten years of teaching, I was ready for more theory, so I began my graduate classes in education. I was one of those rare students in the graduate class who had practical experience. In some cases my classmates came straight from college and had no practical experience beyond the student teaching roles. I began developing this concept of practical theory because I was seeing how it was like walking, practical step, theoretical step, practical step, theoretical step and so on. I wasn't sure which started the process in my classroom and had many arguments with colleagues about which comes first, theory or practice. For me it was practical theory.

Practical theory became ever more obvious and present as I began teaching exclusively in a computer room in 1986. I couldn't bring to this class the same practices I had in the non computer room. Everything had changed from a teacher dominated room to a student dominated room. Differentiated instruction became the rule, not the exception. Lessons became projects not daily lessons. Students were much more responsible for their own progress and game plan. So much of what I learned about teaching in the previous 15 years had to be morphed into a new paradigm, a new pedagogy, a new way to teach based neither on theory nor practice alone, but instead on practical theory. In many cases I found myself defending my practice with theory. I had to draw on the philosophers of education to help explain the theory of my practice to others. The theory became the key to unlocking the mysteries of the computer classroom. In fact some of the theorists I used were known but little practiced because of the nature of the non computer classroom. Sure Piaget, Bloom, and Skinner made sense and were important but suddenly I was better understanding Bruner, Gardner, Vygotsky, Schank, and Sternberg. Freire and Dewey became real. I became a better practitioner of putting theory into practice.

Now as I read more about national standards I'm seeing us moving away from the "mile wide, inch deep" conundrum of teaching to a better place called practical theory. Teachers need to change their paradigm and have more conversations about how their practice is going to be defended by which theory. Practical theory is how we will succeed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

National Standards

Can America do National Standards?

This is one hot potato right now. It has been one since the 1950's. Quality Counts 2010 is reviving, reviewing, and revisiting the arguments about national standards and providing much fodder to chew on.

To begin with, I'm not sure looking abroad is correct. It seems like comparing apples and oranges. Some of the countries cited as being highly ranked are not like America. South Korea, Singapore, and Finland do not have the same demographics that we have. Our population is not homogeneous. Our students are not of the same culture therefore not bringing into the classroom common ideals or common knowledge. Our students are much more transient and not just within the borders of America but are global. I doubt very much that these schools in others countries don't have such a heterogeneous group. The same students probably travel through the grades together in those other countries. My problem with comparing American schools to foreign schools is that we are not given specifics about those school systems, just numbers and that isn't enough. I'd like to be told a lot more about those schools in foreign countries, the day to day business, the year to year business and is public education available to all students. Lots of questions.

Now getting back to America for a moment, ED Hirsch does make sense about core knowledge, but that's where it stops. It won't happen in the current system we have. I agree that students should master certain material at each grade, but what happens when this material is not mastered or even learned on a rudimentary level? We are fixated on having all grades contain the same aged kids. I'm not sure if this isn't one of our problems. I have read about schools in the 1800's and before where they had students of all ages in the same room. The students who had mastered material helped those who had not. Slowly as our population grew, we started separating our students not by ability but by age. That was where we went wrong. Think about the karate class. Everyone starts out with the white belt, no matter how old. Advancement is based on ability not age. As ability increases, NOT age, the color of the belt changes. I have been told that we just can't have older kids in a class with younger ones. Therein lies the rub. Consider the older student who has not mastered a fourth grade standard and is forced to be in the ninth grade. Failure is most likely the result. However, if that older child is in the fourth grade until the standard is mastered and then moved on, s/he will catch up to hir age group and be successful. So on the topic of mastery we do not have a good system now and I don't know how we could institute one in our current framework. We group students by age and not ability. When we change that notion the system will work better.

Now another real sticking point that is always skirted around and never mention is religion. We have a real religious problem in our public schools. We have schools filled with many different religions and that creates many problems. Much of our culture has a religious base, especially in literature. First, consider science. Some states prefer creationism and some prefer evolution and the teaching of both doesn't exist. So on this one matter we will never agree and find it difficult to have common ground for national standards. . The Bible interjects itself in the Language Arts class. There is no way we can teach some literature without the Bible. For instance, Moby Dick must be taught with the Bible as a secondary reading if not a source often referred to. If a teacher were to bring a Bible into class, the uproar would be disruptive and harmful to any learning. Do other countries have this religious problem in their schools? We speak about the separation of church and state, but in practice, well here is where we find exceptions.

The USA is not like other countries. We were thirteen separate colonies who decided to join as one and slowly we added other sovereign territories. As they joined the USA, they maintained their own identity and added to the strength of the whole. To even consider the Union as one would be ridiculous, we tried that in the 1850's and look what happened. America is made up of fifty unique countries who have joined together to create a larger corporation that oversees mutuality and helps us interact in the international landscape, but it was never created to oversee the local business of each sovereign state.Within each state there are lots of teachers teaching the core ideas, but in different ways. We aren't all the same and trying to achieve national standards will conflict with our notion of individuality. Consider the many ways a person can cut and paste on a computer. How are we going to find common ground on national standards? Sure we get to the same point, but adhering to national standards will not allow for this varied way of achieving the same goal because we will have bureaucrats overseeing it and they don't get variety. This is why the idea of national standards will never work.

I'd like to keep the textbook companies out of this process. They will merely complicate the discussion with their closed doors and proprietory nonsense. We need to create a national wiki type environment on which everyone has a voice. Yes, this could be a nightmare, but Google has created a neat new product called The Wave which could accommodate us. National standards should be by the people, not by textbook companies. We should be using Internet technology to solve this problem, to have this discussion, then it might work. But if we leave it in the hands of textbook publishers we are doomed to fail.

When we see some of the examples of what would be part of the national standards, they lead to such a dumbed down curriculum that that alone should quash any discussion of national standards. What I'd like to see is a comprehensive discussion of the foreign countries and what they do. A Quality Counts report on the foreign countries so we can see the specifics, the particulars, the what they do we could/should do rather than just numbers and someone telling us. I don't believe it, show me.

Monday, February 1, 2010


"One word, sir."
"One word?"
"Yes, sir, one word."
"What word?"
"The big O, Obesity."
A long reflective pause, think Rodin.
"Why obesity?"

This was the conversation I had with the leader. He was incredulous with my one word solution. At some point he asked for examples.

"Fat cat."
"Fat cat?"
"Yes as in 'getting rich on our money'."
"I get it, obesity."
"yes, Obesity."

"Tell me more."
"Fuel hog."
"I get it"
A second-generation Chrysler dealer, whose lot had just been shut down, complained that the Harvard-educated experts on Wall Street and in Washington knew nothing about automobiles. (“I’ve been in this business since 1958, and what I know is that the American public does not want small cars!”)
"Don't forget big business."
"Oh, yeah, big business is definitely obese."
"The Supreme Court just made it bigger."
"I don't get it."
"Did you see the new flag at the Supreme Court?"

"So we must reverse our obese ways?"
"Yes, don't supersize me."
"We have to fight obesity."