I think that September is New Year’s as many of us in education do. I love the summer as a time for renewal and re-thinking. I always approach the new year with excitement. But this year it seems different. What is it about this new year? The year seems “fake” to me. While I am passionate about student learning and that will never change, I am not seeing education changing for our students. Think about how our students live. They live life in 4 D -not even in 3 D anymore. From the moment they get up in the morning until the time they go to bed, they are living the social media life – text, Facebook, gaming, tweeting, and everything on-line. Life for them is all about individuality. Growing up in the 70’s, I get this. That’s what my generation was about. I am not saying this is a bad thing, but my students have not lived without technology. They don’t have to think – gps takes them wherever they have to go. Social media connects them to whoever they need to be connected. I feel their lives are lived completely differently. How is this changing the way they learn? Imagine living in an individual world and having to come to school to do what everyone else does – take notes, standardized tests, and conform to the rules of school. I look forward to the day when schools are turned inside out and students are learning the way they live, in 4 D. I am actually thinking seriously of getting my PhD in brain research to research the impact of technology on our students’ learning and what education really needs to do to help the next generation reach their potential. Let’s get the conversation started to reform education! For real.
My daughter was born to be a teacher. Just like I did when I was young, she would line her dolls up in rows and stand before them and “teach” the old fashioned way. They were quiet, she would talk. But they were taken to make-believe worlds through her books and they were given her diagrams and sketches of the world according to Allison. Fast forward and she walked across the stage at her University accepting her degree in Elementary Education.
Her world is different than mine as she enters the teaching field. I entered pre-test and I remember walking into my first classroom in urban Cincinnati, Ohio bursting with excitement. My students and I created our own lessons as we made our way through the curriculum. There was no “map”, no standardized test at the end of the course, there were no parents asking for grade sheets for me to justify their A or B. Oh, there was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and other national standardized tests and parents were concerned about their children. To be fair, I taught in an area where those kids, for the most part, would be first generation college. It was 1979.
Allison enters the teaching world with as much excitement as I had as she has worked extremely hard to get prepared to enter the profession. But the reality is that she is entering the post-test era and it is becoming increasingly clear that her “success” will be based on her students passing a standardized test (called SOL’s in Virginia, ironically, for Standard of Learning). She will be given a curriculum map, a pacing guide, and a fat set of facts for her students. She has had a taste of this as she substitutes around Northern Virginia in many of the premiere public school districts in the United States. She has embraced this profession and understands student learning, collaboration, and that she is the facilitator in the classroom. She is substitute teaching in several public districts and one small parochial school.
Here is the email I got from her Friday: I was offered a job in the parochial school for next year and I may be offered a job at the public school I am in now. What should I do? They are both excellent schools. The main difference in SOL’s. All I do now is have to practice and prepare for the tests in May/June. The parochial school doesn’t have that focus, it is about learning. There is a different vibe. They still have the curriculum, but I have more freedom. Help.
She knows I teach in a public school (not where she is substitute teaching). She knows I have taught at a parochial school. I HATE the end of course standardized tests, as well as all the benchmark tests in between. My classroom is Project Based and I am passionate about student learning. But the reality is that I have a pacing guide, curriculum map, a textbook (they only use for reference). And most of the time I feel isolated because of it.
I know what I told her, curious as to what advice you would give?
It was @thelkowski that got me into twitter – she is always on the cutting edge of technology and I, of course, wanted to jump in after. So, I signed up in 2009 and it felt like being on the edge of a conversation. I had read how to get involved but it felt strange to me and I just didn’t quite see it yet. It was when @thelkowski called in June of 2010 with her exciting news of attending #gtauk that I began to “get” the power of being able to be involved. In July, 2010, I added the hashtag #gtauk and began what would become my go to resource, PD, and support that my own school could not provide. That day provided the confidence I needed to be able to add to the conversation of #edchat shortly after. I remember with excited nervousness when I got my first retweet and someone asked me a question. Wow! It was absolutely a shift in perpective from that point. I had found a global community who shared my passion for education, reform, student learning, and allowed me to collaborate.
Collaboration for me is like breathing – necessary for growth. I honestly do not remember when I found #sschat but when I did, I was home! I get support, resources, challenge, and friendship with a group of fantastic educators I admire and respect. They are the best of the best. Fast forward just over a year and I was asked moderate #sschat. What? Me? Just as Elle Woods would say – “I did it!” It has confirmed everything I believe in – global collaboration and student centered learning.
A quick recap for those new tweeters:
- Find a hashtag to start with – #sschat, #edchat, – for a complete list see @cybraryman1 ‘s website.
- Tweet to add to the conversation – find one or two ideas to tweet. For my first retweet, I shut my eyes and hit send, that’s how nervous I was. But it worked, someone noticed. It gets easier with every tweet.
- Tweeting is like anything else, I was trying to keep up with everyone, but I realized that those who tweet me back and add to my PLN are the ones I care about now.
- Remember that you are an amazing educator and you will be an asset to twitter. Tweet away! Don’t forget the hashtags! It really does add to the experience as it gets to more people. Some of my best follows now are from retweets.
Just as a physician takes our pulse during an office visit to check our health, schools should be doing the same. What’s your school’s pulse? Here are some thoughts on a healthy school pulse.
When walking through the building do you see:
- Students in groups, not just talking, but asking questions, using content vocabulary, creating learning together, excited about what they are doing?
- The teacher is involved in student discussion and learning and not the center of learning?
- Students can tell anyone who comes in to the classroom what they are researching, discussing, analyzing?
- There is high expectation for learning, not just test scores? There are student projects showcased?
- Learning is taking place all over, even in the hall with students are spread out using computers, textbooks, library books, other devices as allowed? My favorite pictures in my classroom are those of students putting together a presentation while the textbook, notebook, etc are on their laps and desks. I co-wrote and article for Educational Leadership in 2009 and it is still timely. Here is the link for those interested- http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/mar09/vol66/num06/Anywhere_Learning.aspx
- Learning happening anytime, anywhere and are you, the teacher, a part of it during non school hours? Are students sharing writing, projects, and anything else with you on Google Docs, Edmodo, etc.?
- Active not passive learning?
As I walk through the halls of my own building, I think about our pulse. What does learning look/sound like to you?
As always, the people I follow on twitter always get me thinking and this is what it is this morning. I saw this link from Steve Johnson, @edtechsteve , from an article in the Charlotte Observer about teacher evaluations and tying pay to student performance. http://bit.ly/gXIRkE. There is much talk about tying teacher salaries, bonuses, and even re-hires into student test scores. The general public that I have access to and talk to about this usually agree that teachers should be paid, fired , promoted according to student test scores as they haven’t been in a classroom or they are going with what they grew up with in terms of what a classroom is/should be today. “It was good enough for me, it’s good enough still.”
As a Geography teacher, and one who doesn’t have a standardized test at the end of the course, it is getting beyond upsetting that most in the United States don’t understand how education has changed (or should be changing) as our children today will be dealing with all the current events in our world more than ever before. It is a global, interconnected world that only a person who understands all the nuances of those words will be able to work and live in this world. Our students are the future, and as cliché as that is, I have not seen a time when we need our students to understand cultures, geography, economics, science, art, business, communication, government, community, and global awareness more than now. It is not enough for young adults to come away from high school only being able to pass the standardized tests, to memorize information and not have an understanding to why they need to know that information. When will we wake up and get our students connecting? Understanding? Creating? Learning?
I know there are many great educators out there, but when major newspapers run stories like the one in the Charlotte Observer, it is what the public comes to expect. And all I see in most schools now during spring is standardized test practice because – let’s face it – teachers are judged on who “learned” based on those test scores (as much as we don’t want to admit it), there is a serious gap between what is important and what it is. As much as my school says they don’t put emphasis on test scores, we still have a faculty meeting about the results of those tests when they come in.
Students need educators who are willing to stand up and adjust the curriculum as world events happen. Students need educators who are willing to get out of their comfort zones and create deeper learning spaces. Students need educators who understand that learning is not memorizing. Students need educators who are willing to help students make connections to the world. Students need educators who are willing to step out and be the change.
The future is at stake.
After having a few weeks of frustration with others in my building about engaging students in meaningful learning, it is through my conversations and inspirations on Twitter that have made me realize that I must press on. It is important for all of us on Twitter to press on. If I can re-charge (change is difficult) two while everyone on Twitter does the same, to shift learning from teacher model to student model, imagine the influence. And those two re-charge two more and so on. I’m not a math teacher, but it would create a seismic shift. Many of us are the lone student centered educator in our buildings but I am here to stand with you. Let the Twitter community help change our school community. And keep sharing the inspiration!
In celebrating a “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted” letter my son received today, I am reminded what a long road it’s been in his education and it is part of why am a compassionate teacher. My son’s school journey began 20 years ago and from the 1st day of Kindergarten, he was a square peg in a round hole. He did not have one year in 12 that education inspired or challenged him. It took me until his 9th grade yr to get special ed services. We lived in a Blue Ribbon school district and he had wonderful teachers. It wasn’t the teachers, it was the system. His teachers gave him extra time, modified tests, and other supports that helped him graduate high school. He even went to college for a semester back in 2003.
Just let me say, also, that technology would not have made a difference. What he needed is what most schools are still doing- NOT creating learning spaces that educate outside the box. He needed less structure, more student centered learning. He is smart, articulate, and has now finally (at 26) gotten “the letter” from his dream school. He is still a square peg in a round hole but has the maturity to figure out what to do with that.
When will we be able to educate those who don’t fit into our “good student” model? Get rid of schedules, desks, bells, and help students unleash their passions! Within the curriculum, of course (jk).
Watching the events unfold in the last few weeks with Egypt and trying to help my 8th graders understand this history-making event was incredible! It hit me on many levels and, of course, Twitter helped me with links, videos, etc. to use in class. But what really was an ah-ha moment was the fact that as I tried to help my students understand the “social revolution” piece of the history, they didn’t quite get that or see it. It struck me because that while I knew on an intellectual level that my students are 21st century kids and are growing up with technology, they are as immersed in this as I was in the late 60′s with the Martin Luther King civil rights and social unrest here in the U.S. The other amazing piece of this was that I could have a conversation on Twitter to solidify some thoughts. I thought it was just me who thought it strange that the kids were not impressed that the Egypt revolution was bolstered by social media. Thanks to my #sschat educators, I was able to get some thoughts together.
What does this mean for teaching? For me it means that education MUST become what the kids live. They cannot keep coming to school to “power down.” When they walk into my building they have to turn off all devices – the very things that are an integral part of who they are. It is not just music or phones; it is connection, completion, just… them.
When we will have our own revolution for education? What if students were to really understand the power of what it would mean for them to be able to learn the way they want? What if we really teach the way they learn? What if we really want to know how best students learn? What if we… shhh, take away standardized testing?! I believe that we could unleash the power of the next generation of leaders in this country. How can we have a revolution? I am amazed by the amazing educators who have unbelievable ideas and I want a true revolution… reform isn’t enough. Time is of the essence! Who’s with me? Maybe it’s time to get students involved in the revolution. I think I will invite some of mine to the next school board meeting and take them to the office of the superintendent.
I am saddened, as we all are, by the tragedy that occurred in Arizona. Of course, I am especially saddened by the death of Christina Green, a 3rd grader. I also grieve for the 22 year old who shot the people. What to make of this tragedy? How do we talk to students about it? What are the lessons?
I cannot explain this, but one thing I know is that this isn’t about the guns. It isn’t about the 22 year old who went on a rampage. It is about society. It also takes me back to other trageties, such as Columbine High School, and all other school shootings. We as a society need to become better at making connections with our young people. Kids need to feel they belong to something – a class identity, a sport, a youth group. It seems to me that as more information is locked down, private, we have less opportunity to help. When I began as a teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, I was told about students’ home life, had to make home visits, etc. Now, we cannot even know why students get suspended from school. I understand the privacy, believe me, but as the information becomes more private, more teachers don’t get involved in kids lives. It is in this indifference that we miss the moments to become the connection. Our students need our academic attention, but more importantly, they need our believing in them, that someone is in their corner.
When will we get back to community? So, when kids get off track, there are people there to get them back on track. We have been talking about this since Columbine all these years ago. When will we in society learn that we will only get out of kids what we put in?
Many in education, politics, policy-makers and anyone else talking education reform are missing the point completely. I divide people into two categories: those who “get it” and those who don’t. It’s not about the technology. It’s about deeper understanding, critical thinking, and writing. Yes, writing is required for tech projects as students write storyboards for voicethread, scripts for animoto, outlines for prezi, notes to send to their Dominican Republic partners on Google Docs and anything else we do in Geography class. Students are collaborating, making decisions, and designing. I wish those who don’t “get it” would come into my classroom and talk to the kids. But don’t talk to them about the tech, talk to them about what they are learning. Ask them where they did research, ask them to defend their learning. They can! They own it.
It’s not about the technology and as I post this I know those that will read this “get it.” But as states and districts grapple with what to do with the technology, these examples are critical. Let’s talk about the final product but let’s also talk about how students get there- researching, writing, editing, and real learning.