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What Teachers REALLY Want

Teaching is a difficult profession. There’s no denying it. But there’s something about teaching that most people don’t realize. While the United States has had an obsession over our failing schools and our poorly performing students, they have failed to realize the truth: Education has been used as a political tool for the past decade and the results have made things no better off than where they were when we started. Sure, it sounds great to say “We won’t leave a single child behind!” Every teacher in the world would love to make that guarantee, but the fact of the matter is that teachers have so little control over the things that really matter in a child’s life. That’s where we get to the heart of this article: What Teachers REALLY Want!

Teachers want to be respected.

I see news snippets and articles all the time about how bad a particular teacher is or how poorly a particular school did on a statewide assessment. Districts are closed, reorganized, staff fired, students moved, and to what end? Politicians want you to believe that it’s teachers who are failing our students, our schools are underperforming, principals and administrators aren’t doing enough to ensure our children’s success. The problem with all of this is that none of it is true. Schools are doing more than ever. Teachers are doing more than humanly possible. Principals and administrators are throwing every thing they have to raise test scores. The result: Teachers are made to feel ineffectual, not respect for their professional expertise, and in some cases downright unwanted. When time is taken away from genuine classroom teaching in favor of computer programs or other district initiatives that teachers know are going to do little to help a student, it has a negative impact on the person that matters the most. The teacher. Let’s face it. Study after study shows that the best learning occurs when there is a teacher guiding the instruction. No amount of software or curriculum is going to help a child succeed without a teacher there to push them along.

Teacher don’t want more money (yes, it would be nice, but it’s not what we want). Teachers want to be respected for the time they’ve put into their degree, into their classrooms, into their children. While it’s certainly true not every teacher is a great teacher, most put their heart and soul into their work not because they want a good paycheck or because they want to advance their career. They’re there for one reason. Kids. They want to be there. So why on Earth would you want to make teachers feel unappreciated and not respected? More good teachers have left in the last few years that I have been teaching simply because they are burned out and tired of being treated like an hourly employee. More and more teachers are being told what to do in their classroom, then being blamed when their students don’t do well on tests. Would you want to work in an environment like that?

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The Quantification of Education

A recent article in the January 2014 issue of Wired magazine written by Felix Salmon called, “Numbered by Numbers: Why Quants Don’t Know Everything,” brought up some interesting points to consider when it comes to current trends in education and high-stakes testing. A lot has been written about the benefits and drawbacks of such tests, and many parents, educators, and students sit on both sides of the fence on the issue. I would like to present a different view on the matter: maybe high-stake tests aren’t so bad; perhaps its all in how we give them.

No one can argue that good data produces good results. Using quantification methods to extract trends and conclusions from sets of data has been used for decades. As pointed out in the article, Felix Salmon talks about what we as a society have learned from this process and why quantification often fails. Before we discuss quantification and its effect on education it is important to understand exactly what quantification is. It is simply taking large quantities of raw data and using it to make determinations or predictions. In its truest form, quantification is incredibly reliable and incredibly accurate, which explains its rise in popularity. Why leave to chance what you can predict using concrete information? Sounds simple, right?

Data doesn’t lie; people do. So why is quantification not always a good thing? 

The main point of the article is that quantification can be broken down into four stages: pre-disruption, disruption, overshoot, synthesis. Quantification often comes in touted as the savior of an organization or system, thrown into place for its accuracy and promise of maximum profitability (pre-disruption). Then once quantification takes over, results often happen quickly (disruption), and people profiting from those results become extremely happy. The entry of quantification in the education system has entered the stage of disruption. In an effort to improve education, leaders have turned to quantification as a means to assign value to a teacher, curriculum, school, and administration in order to quantify progress and success. High-stakes tests provide the perfect vehicle for this quantification, turning learning into raw data. With the introduction of high-stakes tests it became immediately clear which students were meeting expectations and which weren’t. That clarity translated in to mass adoption of the practice across the country. What better way to determine which are the best schools than to assign a score or number to a school’s success?


What could go wrong?

To answer this question, we must understand the third stage of quantification, the stage schools are currently beginning to experience: overshoot. Overshoot is the natural tendency for people to “game” the system. Once it has been determined which practices produce positive results, you find that people will begin to focus on those results, tweaking practices to ensure improvements at the expense of everything else. This has produced the trend of “teaching to the test.” While this practice means better test scores and attractive data, does it paint a true picture of student learning and school success? Many would argue that better test scores mean better performance, yet real world data tends not to agree. Students are still graduating with a lack of skills necessary for todays modern workforce.

If we truly want to improve schools let’s learn from past mistakes of quantification and skip directly into the last stage of quantification. One of the biggest lessons learned from quantification is that data is best used when the human factor is not removed from the equation. Synthesis is “the practice of marrying quantitative insights with old-fashioned subjective experience.” It is through this process of bringing “people” back into data that businesses and data-driven analysts have been able to improve results dramatically, as much as 15-20%, removing the negative impacts of overshoot and correcting past mistakes.

The best example of the impact of overshoot is the banking industry. Having relied on quantification for years in order to determine qualifications for loans and in an effort to boost profits, banks took data to the extreme, in many cases completely eliminating the human factor. Decisions were made based on algorithms and computer software rather than bank employees and administrators. This resulted in extremely high profit margins, allowing banks to operate with equally lofty debt. This overconfidence and lack of oversight resulted in one of the largest collapses in history of both the housing market and banking confidence. Let’s not let this happen to education.


There is a better way.

Rather than relying solely on data from high-stakes testing, its important to remember the human element in education. There are countless factors that contribute to a student’s development, most of which are directly observed by those closest to the child—ironically the same people often removed from the equation in quantification. The human factor is essential to learning; remove it and all that’s left is data. What about those things children need to learn that aren’t measured by the test? Things like: leadership, interpersonal skills, collaboration, team-building, creative thinking, and confidence. Many businesses are desperate for new talent in all of these areas, and yet none are measured through high-stakes tests (and most could not be). It is only those around the child that can truly observe many of these behaviors.

It is essential then that we remember not to remove the “human factor” from the equation of learning and recognize that the teacher, parents, administrators, service providers, and all of the other people involved in a child’s learning are just as important (if not more important) than quantification of data. It’s time in education that we engage in the “humanification” of data, taking the information to the next step and teaching teachers and parents how to interpret and use the data effectively without removing their experience and wisdom. Teachers need to feel invested and included in the process. It is only through synthesis, combining the wisdom and experience of people with the information data provides that we will truly achieve a means by which assessing the “whole child,” not just the parts that are easy to measure.

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website 

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Guest Post on MiddleWeb: Straddling the Co-teaching Fence

Co-teaching can be challenging, but it’s not without its rewards. Students’ academic gains aren’t the only improvements teachers may see in a co-teaching environment. Confidence, contentment, and risk-taking are all attributes that can soar when students are given a chance to experience success with their peers…

Read More on MiddleWeb

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

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Station Teaching: A Better Approach to Classroom Teaching

 

Station Teaching is like a set of pulleys, you can accomplish so much more with it than with teaching alone. The more stations, groups, and activities, the easier your job becomes. As we learned earlier, stations is not simply putting kids at tables or groups and doing activities related to the lesson. Stations goes far beyond the concept of centers. Stations takes your lesson to levels you never though possible before. But it takes a lot of planning and a lot of practice before you become good at its use.

Using stations you can ensure that all your students’ needs are met without the need to constantly be in charge of each and every thing that is happening on your classroom. Stations can be used in a variety of creative ways to ensure that not just your highest kids’ needs are met, but your lowest as well. Free up your table for the students who need it the most.

Remember the antenna analogy? Keep that in mind as we move forward. Imagine traditional teaching like that antenna, information flowing outward, most of which never connecting with anything of consequence spreading out into the depths of space. You’re nodding your head, aren’t you? Trust me, I’ve had those classrooms too. What we want to do is focus the information in such a way that our “signal” isn’t just being broadcast into thin air. We need a way to make sure that we’re capturing more receivers. In keeping with our antenna reference, think about something you might know that can accomplish this very task. A broadcast, that by definition is extremely short, specialized, and designed to elicit a response from its viewers. Got it, yet? No? it is something we’ve all become so accustomed to we almost rarely think about them directly, and yet there they are in the backs of our minds haunting us with slogans and jingles. 


Following me now?

That’s right, commercials. Think about the power of advertising, the effectiveness of those 60 seconds of information and how pervasive that information is to our daily lives. You can’t tell me that when you drive by McDonald’s your first thought isn’t, “I’m lovin’ it.” There’s a reason commercials are so powerful and why companies are willing to invest billions of dollars in their use. They convey a concept so completely and effectively that one 60 second spot can make you want to buy a burger.

it is this concept that we want to tap into in the classroom. How can we create activities that are so powerful, so memorable, that students can’t help but learn the concepts they are meant to convey? it is really not as difficult as you think. it is just a matter of honing in on three principles:

Short

Engaging

Repetitive

Pretty much spells out commercials in a nutshell, doesn’t it? Commercials are extremely short, so much so that many are as short as 20 to 30 seconds in length. And yet in that short span of time we are so engaged as to be introduced to something we didn’t even know we needed. Then we see a single commercial, on average, 6-7 times a day, reinforced by billboards, signs, colors, and sound. We’re bombarded with images which have one purpose: to get us to buy their products. What if we could recreate this experience, get students to buy into what we’re teaching them?

An example of station teaching with two teachers (or paraprofessional)

Creating activities is pretty simple once you get down the basic of stations. Generally speaking we create assignments with the goal of practicing a single skill. Then on the next skill, we create an entirely new activity. The problem here is that we’re waisting our energy because in reality the activities that we’ve created aren’t really focused on one skill. Many of the grade level expectations outlined by states are a conglomeration of skills, expectations that students will take what they’ve learned and apply it to new situations. This, of course, is the ultimate goal of our teaching but not the purpose for centers. Centers takes those overall skills and breaks them down into smaller tasks.

Let’s take reading, for example. Reading is broken down into 5 areas: phonological awareness, fluency, vocabulary, spelling, and comprehension. If you address all five of these areas every day in every lesson, can you imagine the growth your students would achieve? Many classrooms neglect these because they assume that students have already learned it, focusing solely on the grade level skill. I can tell you from experience, this is rarely the case. If you can design activities that hone in on these specific areas, you will be amazed at what your students will achieve. Your stations should reflect activities in these areas. For example: One station can be for vocabulary practice and spelling, while another is solely designed for phonological awareness and fluency. Students engage in meaningful and quick activities that reinforce these essential skills. The best part of this approach is the activities can be tailored specifically for each group of students in your class. Homogeneous grouping can provide you with a means for enabling students to engage in the activities that are appropriate for them.

Say you have the typical mix of students: some low, most average, a few high-performers. With homogeneous grouping you can ensure that the activities at each center are tailored for that particular group. Your low group may need practice with sounding out single-syllable words, while your high group may need to work with multi-syllabic words with prefixes and suffixes. All of this can be accomplished with one center. It takes more creative planning initially, but in the long run it not only saves you more time in the end, it also can produce significant results.


I know this is a lot to take in, especially if you’re new to the concept, but stations really are worth the effort and time. You can incorporate activities that meet students with IEPs while still having time with guided practice to teach the grade level content. As students rotate through stations, they are engaged, giving you less interruptions while you’re working with your small groups. If you meet the three principles stated above, you’re stations are sure to be a hit with your students.


If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author, please visit: J.M.Cataffo’s Author Website

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“U.S. School’s Suck!” Then Again, Maybe Not

This was probably one of the most interesting reports I’ve read in a while and will probably be one to fall to the wayside in a whirlwind of public debates. So many have been led to believe that schools in the United States fall below those in other countries. This report begs to differ.

The Stanford Graduate School of Education released a report which finds that US Schools are actually doing far better than most people have been led to believe, citing that many of the studies used have been flawed because they don’t accurately take into account our strengths in individual areas. In an era where testing and accountability have forced districts to look at subgroup upon subgroup, the same is not true of most studies conducted nationwide. Here are a few of the things the article points out.

“You can’t compare nations’ test scores without looking at the social class characteristics of students who take the test in different countries,” said Carnoy. “Nations with more lower social class students will have lower overall scores, because these students don’t perform as well academically, even in good schools. Policymakers should understand how our lower and higher social class students perform in comparison to similar students in other countries before recommending sweeping school reforms.”

The report found:
  • There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.
  • Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.
  • But the highest social class students in United States do worse than their peers in other nations, and this gap widened from 2000 to 2009 on the PISA.
  • U.S. PISA scores are depressed partly because of a sampling flaw resulting in a disproportionate number of students from high-poverty schools among the test-takers. About 40 percent of the PISA sample in the United States was drawn from schools where half or more of the students are eligible for the free lunch program, though only 23 percent of students nationwide attend such schools.

It’s interesting to see how well our schools actually are doing with our lower socio-economic groups. I recommend taking the time to look at the information. Then, go thank a teacher!

If you have specific questions that you would like to have answered that are related to this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below. For more information about the author to to: Click Here

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