I often wonder if the increase in testing is leading to more students choosing alternatives to the traditional high school diploma. Are more students likely to pursue the GED, after failing testing related to graduation? I know that in some States students can take tests multiple times. Some students manage a combined score to graduate, while others complete extensive projects as an alternative when they have failed. For some students, could the graduation tests be discouraging? I do not have data on how many students fail multiple tests for graduation, and then seek alternatives like the GED, but I wonder if there is a correlation. It would be interesting to see if the added pressure of testing is a factor in students choosing the GED over sticking out the four years of high school.
I also wonder how different the GED test is from the tests students are taking for graduation? With the Common Core approaching, will the GED also change? Will the expectations be different when students are meeting different criteria for an actual diploma?
The countless conversations that I have had with parents over the years have made me think a lot about parent involvement. I have often encountered situations where parents are trying to let go of monitoring every aspect of their child’s education in order to provide the child with some independence and responsibility. Sometimes, these attempts to allow the student to spread his or her wings ends in failure. So, my question is when should parents let go and at what expense? Should a parent let his or her child experience the failure of poor grades? Should a child’s education be placed in the child’s hands or should a parent be involved until they graduate? What does involved mean? Does it mean checking that assignments are complete? Does it mean providing consequences for poor grades? Does it mean emailing the teacher endlessly. I could go on and on with these questions.
I don’t think I have the answers to these questions, but I can tell you what I wish for. I wish parents would talk to their children every evening about what they learned in school and never take “nothing” as an answer. I wish parents would ask questions and spark discussions about what their child is learning. I wish parents would ask to see their child’s notebook once a week. I wish parents would read to their children or discuss books that they are reading. I wish parents would never make the statement “I was never good at . . . I can’t help my child learn… ” I wish parents would teach their children to be proactive, instead of reactive. I wish that if a child fails, the parent will teach the child how to pick himself up and learn from the mistake. I wish parents would start every conference or phone call with the question “Could you give me three strategies that my child can use to improve?”, and end the call with “Thank you, I appreciate your advice. I am confident that my child can apply your suggestions to do better. ” I wish parents would remember that teachers care about kids and are happy to help and provide support. I could continue with many more wishes, but lastly I wish parents would tell their children that you earn a grade by learning, not by doing extra credit.
When parent involvement is the topic of conversation, I often think about my childhood. My mother was always very involved in helping me study and complete my homework. I fondly remember her helping me to get comfortable reading aloud. I also remember how she helped me study Spanish words by using flash cards. My mother did not have a college degree. She had never learned a foreign language or taken half of the classes I was taking, but she was always there to help me.
Looking back, she didn’t have any of the resources that are available to parents today. The Internet, YouTube, and Kahn Academy did not exist. As a math teacher, parents often tell me how they had never taken a certain math class or how they were not good at math. I don’t think it is a matter of knowing the subject anymore. I think it is about the effort you take to search for and use available resources. Maybe parents are naive to what is available on the Internet. It seems hard to believe considering how many people are on Facebook and Twitter. Most parents are not strangers to technology at the point. But let’s say parents don’t know what is out there, how do we inform them about the resources online? More importantly, how do we get parents to use those resources to help their children?
Many school districts are using online systems for reporting grades and posting assignments. Parents have the ability to access their child’s progress throughout a semester. Technology is providing parents with an opportunity to monitor their children’s academic progress. It is also giving parents easy access to teachers through email. If a parent can access the Internet, there really is no excuse for not at least being involved by checking grade reports. I find it disturbing when a parent never reaches out to the teacher when he or she has been electronically updated that his or her child is struggling. This is one opportunity where technology should be helping people to be good parents. This isn’t to say that parents can’t go in the other direction of being overly involved by checking grade reports daily, but at least those parents are concerned.
I am curious what teachers are experiencing as more and more schools are using online grading. Are parents using the technology to be more involved in their child’s education?
With new evaluation systems coming into play around the country, many districts are looking at Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for teaching as a guide for evaluating quality teaching. The Framework is centered around four domains – planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. The Framework is a great guide for good teaching, but without a proper understanding of how to use it as an effective tool for evaluation, it may be no better than the current mode of evaluation. Danielson agrees that without training her framework can be implemented ineffectively. To hear her point of view, read an interview with her at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2011/06/straight_up_conversation_teacher_eval_guru_charlotte_danielson.html.
How does a school system implement the framework? To properly utilize it, teachers and administrators will need to be trained. They will need to agree on how to use the framework to define “quality teaching”. How does a district orchestrate a system-wide switch to a new more uniform definition of teaching? How can teachers and administrators establish common ground and a clear understanding of the expectations of a lesson and the evaluation of it? How will districts pay for the amount of training needed to make the change effectively?
I am interested to see how districts move into a new system for evaluation. Will the transition be a struggle or just the next logical step?
My principal is very interested in keeping current with the latest technology. He recently purchased iPads for all the department chairmen in our school. As a chairman, I have been tasked with learning how to use the iPad in my role as chairman and in the classroom. As chairman, the iPad has been great for taking notes in meetings and observations. It has also given me the option of videotaping lesson segments and of taking pictures of board work and objectives. The connection to my calendar and emails has also helped me to keep track of my schedule.
As a chairman, the iPad has been great. But as a high school math teacher, I am still trying to figure out how I can apply the iPad to my classroom. I’ve been able to use apps for attendance and participation. I have taken some video of my students explaining their work at the board. When I first received the iPad, I thought it was going to magically fit into my classroom routine, but it hasn’t.
I often feel like certain technology is great for some areas of education and not others. For example, my preschooler loves playing learning games on my iPad. She just soaks in the knowledge from it. There are great games for reading and math for her age group. She is engaged and excited about learning, but the same doesn’t hold true for my students. I have not found many apps that make learning high school mathematics engaging for a high school student. Hopefully, there will be more apps in the future. Maybe, online textbooks with media and graphics will be the answer.
I wonder how a class set of iPads would work in a high school math class. Would the students be more engaged to take notes? Would having easy access to websites make a difference? I would love to see a class set in action.
At the ISTE conference, I attended a session on Personal Learning Networks by David Warlick. The session intrigued me because it took an age old idea of learning from others and wrapped it in technology. Every generation has shared knowledge by passing ideas through their families, friends, teachers, experts and masters in a field or craft, etc. In his presentation, David Warlick explained how we can harness technology to expand and map our access to knowledge. He described how blogs, wikis, social networks, and virtual worlds can be used to access ideas from around the world on any subject of interest. He also discussed how to mine what he calls the “conversation” using tools like twitter search and google blog search.
I think Mr. Warlick has made a great point that technology has opened the door to learning. Our Personal Learning Networks no longer need to be confined to our neighborhoods and schoolhouses; they can be vast avenues for accessing knowledge and opinions from around the world.
I would love to see this philosophy of a Personal Learning Network to become part of our culture of learning. I often think our students and maybe even many adults think that the Internet and social media are for entertainment only. It would be great if we could teach students that there is another purpose for the knowledge living on the Internet. As we teach them to create their own Personal Learning Networks, we also need them to think critically of the information they are accessing and to act respectfully when they share their opinions and thoughts with the masses. Technology has a lot of rewards, but also a lot of responsibility.
To read more about PLN by David Warlick, visit http://davidwarlick.com/wiki/pmwiki.php?n=Main.TheArtAmpTechniqueOfCultivatingYourPersonalLearningNetwork.
If you are interested in learning about the latest educational technology, I would highly recommend attending the ISTE conference. I was fortunate to attend last year. It was refreshing to attend a conference with sessions that were actually applicable to the classroom. It inspired me to learn more about technology and how I could apply it effectively in my classroom. The ISTE conference actually prompted me to start blogging. Prior to the conference, I didn’t know that so many teachers were blogging and sharing ideas on the Internet. The conference has a wide variety of sessions for all grade levels and interests. It also has a huge vendor area where you can try out new technology. If I could, I would attend every year considering how quickly technology changes.
It is amazing how putting a livescribe pen in the hands of students sparks a rich discussion. Livescribe pens record both your voice and the words that you write in a special notebook. I gave the pens to my Advanced Placement Computer Science class. They are generally a quiet bunch. Even when working in pairs, they say very little. The livescribe pens changed the dynamic of their discussions. I gave them a set of guiding discussion questions that they needed to thouroughly discuss prior to completing an AP free response problem. Using the pens, they documented their answers to the questions and discussed their approach to solving the problem. The technology was a tool that helped them to focus their discussion. Recording the discussion motivated the students to be thoughtful and to respond to each other’s thinking. It is amazing how technology can change the students perception of a task. Something as simple as discussing a problem becomes fun and worthwhile all because of a technology twist.
I am always intrigued by the idea of merit pay. When I think of the teachers in my building, I often think about how diverse of a group they are. They are all hard-working and dedicated to the profession. If you asked them about their roles and responsibilities within the school, you would see that they contribute to the school in many different ways, both, in and outside of the classroom. They are on numerous committees to support school goals. They sponsor many different clubs, sports, and other extra curricular activities. They teach very different courses with varying class sizes and with students of a variety of ability levels. The bottom line is that they work hard and for many more hours than they current pay supports. If merit pay is just attached to pass-rates and student performance, what is the incentive for all of their efforts to suport the school and make personal connections with students? Can we fairly attach a price to student performance when we are looking at diverse courses and diverse student populations? Are we comparing apples to apples? Should we also consider how much support the teacher is recieving? I feel like I could go on and on with questions related to this topic.
I know we would all love to be paid more, but I am unsure how merit pay can fairly do that. Is my worth greater because I can successfully teach a small group of students Algebra I, while someone else at more challenging school is attempting to teach a class of 35 students the same course? When asked this question, many people reply with the suggestion of using student growth as a better measure. Unfortunately, student growth seems to just open up more questions. Most of which are related to how student growth can be measured.
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I wish I did. Teaching is not a one size fits all profession, but it is a labor of love. I think we need to look more into what we can do to support teachers within the classroom, and a little less on what can be done to define a teacher’s worth.