Holt Think: Ed, Creativity, Tech, Administration

RSS

Posts tagged with "teaching and learning"

Are we Teaching our Kids to Write Like This?

I was turned on to this article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine “A Game of Shark and Minnow" which describes the story of eight men in the Philippine Navy on an abandoned ship in the South China Sea who stand guard against the Chinese Navy.

While the story is interesting, what really drew my attention was the way that the story was presented. If you just casually scroll through the story, you will see that it is presented in multiple formats:

  • Text
  • Photos
  • Movies
  • Audio
  • Maps

Writing in the 21st century is far more than simply writing text. Writing in the 21st Century involves all of the above.

Check out this video for instance:

How many words would it take to describe what is presented in that short video?

The point is, I think that almost no one would argue that this is a powerful way to present information.

A powerful way to write.

Think about it: You probably, unless you were truly interested int he topic, would have skipped over a text only, on the paper page article about 8 guys on a boat in the South China Sea. But I bet that once you logged onto the article, you started scrolling through it, looking for the videos, looking for the interactivity. You spent a lot more time on the article, I bet, than you would have if it were simply text.

Writing in the 21st century should be inclusive of ALL the ways we now have to easily integrate items into writing:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Photo
  • Hyperlinks
  • Animations
  • and of course, text.

Look at the list: What are we spending most of our time teaching kids to do? It is text.

The written word. I bet if we graphed out most of our classes, students are spending the vast, vast majority of time communicating in text in one form or another.

Text, text text.

We are supposed to address the learning needs of different students, but we address their communication needs all the same.

Are you a visual learner? Good write in text. Are you an audio learner? Good, write in text. Are you a kinesthetic learner? Good, write in text.

Get the idea?

That is where digital storytelling comes in. Digital storytelling, or digital communication in general, addresses all of those “non-text”

Luckily, there are those out there that have decided to take up the digital storytelling mantle:

Digitales Nice introductory site to digital storytelling. I would like to see more inclusive ideas here, about how DS can be used in various curricular areas.

David Jakes has a site about Digital Storytelling here. Some of the links are broken, but you can find good basic info here as well as link to some tools.

Here is a nice collection on Diigo on digital storytelling tools:

What would happen if a teacher said this:

In your report/paper/lab/thing that you must turn in to me, you must include the following:

  • Photos
  • a short video with audio
  • text
  • a hyperlink

Why should you start incorporating digital storytelling into student writing? According to this article, there are several plusses when students write in a digital storytelling mode:

  • It develops creativity and critical thinking
  • Students who are shy or afraid to talk in class get a chance to speak out their minds
  • It empowers students voice to deliver rich, deep message that is capable of conveying a powerful message.
  • It helps students explore the meaning of their own experience, give value to it, and communicate that experience with others.
  • It promotes the notions of life long learning and independent learning
  • It develops students communicative skills
  • It is a reflective process that helps students reflect upon their learning and find deep connections with the subject matter of a course or with an out-of-class experience.
  • It fosters students sense of individuality
  • It also gives students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation and establish their identity
  • Students creating digital stories develop proficiency with multimedia applications

What is wrong with a goal of having student write and communicate in a fashion that looks like the New York Times Magazine article?

Nothing is wrong with it. In fact, it should be the norm, not the exception.

AS STUDENTS HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL, THE FUTURE OF LEARNING IS MOBILE


AS STUDENTS HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL, THE FUTURE OF LEARNING IS MOBILE


(Washington, DC) – As 55 million U.S. children in grades K-12 head back to school, Mobile Future today debuted a new infographic—“EdTech + Mobile = Learning” —showcasing the tremendous promise wireless technologies offer both students and educators.

Tech pioneers are investing in wireless technologies that are transforming teaching and learning. With mobile devices and apps now front and center in the American consciousness, our nation’s community of learners has enthusiastically embraced mobile technologies as an on-ramp to untold educational opportunities and enhanced learning environments. To illuminate just how embedded mobile devices have become in our nation’s classrooms, here are some key points spotlighted in this latest “back-to-school” installment of Mobile Future’s infographic series:

43% of all pre-K through 12th grade students use a smartphone.

78% of Algebra 1 students using a tablet scored at least proficient vs. 59% of those using textbooks

6 out of 10 teachers say mobile devices allow them to provide more personalized help to students.

81% of teachers believe mobile devices enrich classroom education.

73% of middle school and high school teachers use cellphones for classroom activities.

Educational apps are the second largest category in Apple’s App Store and the third largest in Android’s Google Play.

E-textbooks can save schools $250-$1,000 per student each year.

“Wireless technologies are offering students, along with their parents, caregivers and the teachers who instruct them, fresh, engaging and constantly evolving ways of learning about, and examining, the world around them,” said Mobile Future Chair Jonathan Spalter. “With continued investment and innovation in wireless, mobile will continue to transform American education and help ensure all of our young people have the tools they need to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s wireless world.”

Why Girls Tend to Get Better Grades Than Boys Do

Are schools set up to favor the way girls learn and trip up boys? I have been around long enough to remember the complete reverse argument: That schools favored boys over girls. Maybe if we wait around long enough a study will come out that says schools don’t favor anyone.

Anyway, this is a food for thought article that has some interesting information:

"As the new school year ramps up, teachers and parents need to be reminded of a well-kept secret: Across all grade levels and academic subjects, girls earn higher grades than boys. Not just in the United States, but across the globe, in countries as far afield as Norway and Hong Kong.

This finding is reflected in a recent study by psychology professors Daniel and Susan Voyer at the University of New Brunswick. The Voyers based their results on a meta-analysis of 369 studies involving the academic grades of over one million boys and girls from 30 different nations. The findings are unquestionably robust: Girls earn higher grades in every subject, including the science-related fields where boys are thought to surpass them.

Less of a secret is the gender disparity in college enrollment rates. The latest data from the Pew Research Center uses U.S. Census Bureau data to show that in 2012, 71 percent of female high school graduates went on to college, compared to 61 percent of their male counterparts. In 1994 the figures were 63 and 61 percent, respectively. In other words, college enrollment rates for young women are climbing while those of young men remain flat.”

Click on the title to go to the article.

Sep 7

Use Visuals in Teaching: The Must Use Learning Tool

Are you using visuals when you teach? Are you using them correctly? This is a nice graphic and article that explains why you need to incorporate more visuals in your teaching: From the article: HOW VISUALS HELP US LEARN

  • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual
  • The brain can process 36,000 visual cues in an hour
  • The brain takes about 1/10th of a second to get the idea of a visual scene
  • Almost 50% of your brain is involved in visual processing
  • Black and white images garner your attention for about 2/3 of a second
  • Color images garner your attention for 2+ seconds
  • The average consumer’s attention span is only about 8 seconds
  • The brain processes visual cues 60,000 times faster than text
  • 40% of nerve fibers are linked to the retina
  • The use of visuals improves learning outcomes by about 400%
Click on the title to go to the article.

Tips for Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces

If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you have realized that I am a big fan of the work of Prakash Nair and Peter C. Lippman. This article interests me because it shows how a teacher can make their classrooms more interesting work spaces for students. You don’t have to have the architects remake your building. All you have to do is remake your space.

Here is an example cited in the article, which you can get by clicking on the title above.

Boring is as Boring Does in Class Assignments

I have become interested in the idea that in order to get students engaged, we as educators need to make some kind of interest connection with them. I know, you say, that is what relevance is all about. Yeah yeah, I know. But to me, this idea goes way beyond relevance. It goes more towards how do you make a lesson RELEVANT AND INTERESTING?

To me, relevance and interest are two separate terms, and just because something is relevant, it does not mean it is of interest. And just because something is interesting, does not mean it is relevant. I can have a great interesting lesson that means nothing either to the standards that I need to teach, or to the kids I am teaching. On the other hand, I can have a lesson that kills it when it comes to relevance in my student’s lives but be boring as hell.

This goes back to that idea that there needs to be some kind of emotional attachment to learning, as I wrote about in “Remembering the Kiss.” We don’t have to be recreating the late Robin William’s manic routines in front of them in order to be engaging or to create that connection. I remember in the movie “Teachers” where Richard Mulligan plays a man that has escaped the asylum and was mistaken for a substitute teacher: He actually ended up being more interesting to the students than the regular teacher, reenacting historical theater of the absurd in the classroom:

Boring it certainly was not, but whether the students were actually learning, well, that is left up to the viewer.

We are now blessed with an overabundance of ways of teaching. Indeed, in my 27 or so years as an educator, I cannot recall a time when there ever was such an infusion of knowledge, techniques, sharing, and general just education-related material available as there is today. Online, in class, at home, at the coffee house, listening while riding the bus or driving a car, there is now so many opportunities to learn that really someone must purposely avoid it.

Yet, I wonder if those opportunities are any better than they were before? Are we growing more crops in our larger fields or more weeds like in this picture:

Do we still produce low interest lessons?

We want to create a sweet spot where our lessons are both high in relevance and interest:

I was thinking about flipped classrooms the other day. I know, everyone is hot for flipped classrooms, where you take the lecture (READ THAT: BORING) part of the lesson and “flip it” so that the kids get the boring part of the class at home, and the actual stuff they would have done at home in class. (I have several entries about flipping the classroom here.) So are we flipping the boredom to home instead of in class? Is that such a good thing? I am not sure. Are we not just shifting stuff around instead of making it more engaging and more relevant in many flipped class examples? Afterall, boring is boring, whether it is presented in class or on a computer screen at home. Watching this on a computer screen does not make it more meaningful, relevant or interesting:

Dan Melzer’s book “Assignments across the Curriculum A National Study of College Writing" looked at over 2000 writing assignments in post secondary schools. What he found was not surprising: Boring writing assignments lead to boring writing. As he recently told Inside Higher Ed:

"There’s a lot more testing with the teacher-as-examiner going on than we probably think, and that’s a real negative to me because it’s such a limited kind of writing,” Melzer said. “It should make people think about how we can improve upon the situation and have student do richer kinds of writing.”

Professors are also “obsessed” with grammatical correctness, even when they claim to value critical thinking, the study says. “Based on their discussions of grading criteria, instructors devote as much time to formal correctness as they do talking about content, and often grammatical correctness was a baseline for acceptability” – even when most syllabuses had typos or grammatical errors, Melzer says in the book; one of the “strongest patterns” in his research was the expectation of perfect grammar.

“At a minimum, your writing should be free of spelling errors and grammatical errors,” reads one sample assignment. Another business law professor’s assignment offers very specific guidance about how different grammatical and spelling errors will affect a student’s grade. Then, seemingly as an afterthought, the professor says: “Please offer analysis, also.”

Melzer argues that such an apparent emphasis on surface-level writing sends students “mixed messages” about the value of higher-order writing skills. It would also impede many students’ ability to “let things flow” to build writing fluency, he says.

You can find Melzer’s original paper here.

This HAS to apply at all levels, not just post secondary AND it has to apply to assignments other than just writing. If we create boring ,single disciplinary, low cognitive ability assignments, we will get back from students exactly what we ask them to provide: Low level, low interest papers.

If we assign those types of problems, we should not complain that students cannot “think out of the box” or “lack creativity.” If the assignment is stuck in the box, don’t expect the students to exist anywhere but in that same box.

This certainly makes the case for programs such as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) which has been around for quite a while, but is not used widely. Indeed, Melzer seems to be quite an advocate of WAC:

"The instructors in my research who assign the widest variety of purposes, audiences, and genres, who provide students with interesting and complex rhetorical situations rather than just the traditional lecture/exam format, and who teach writing as a process through peer response or responding to rough drafts are most often teaching in a course connected in some way to a Writing Across the Curriculum program. This may mean a writing-intensive course, a team-taught course with an English department faculty member, a learning community, or a course connected to a writing fellows program. Instructors from writing-intensive courses connected to established WAC programs at institutions such as the University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh, Cornell, University of Hawaii, Duke, University of Massachusetts, and Stanford assigned the most writing, asked students to write for the greatest variety of audiences in the greatest variety of genres, and adopted common WAC pedagogical tools such as journaling, freewriting, grading rubrics, and peer response."

"Boring is a boring does" to paraphrase Forrest Gump.

Lets Stop Trying to Teach Critical Thinking

Interesting take on something we hear a lot about. Can we actually tach critical thinking if we are not critical thinners to begin with? Here is the reprinted article:

Let’s stop trying to teach students critical thinking

By Dennis Hayes, University of Derby

Socrates, the father of critical thinking. lentina_x, CC BY-NC-SA

Many teachers say they strive to teach their students to be critical thinkers. They even pride themselves on it; after all, who wants children to just take in knowledge passively?

But there is a problem with this widespread belief. The truth is that you can’t teach people to be critical unless you are critical yourself. This involves more than asking young people to “look critically” at something, as if criticism was a mechanical task.

As a teacher, you have to have a critical spirit. This does not mean moaning endlessly about education policies you dislike or telling students what they should think. It means first and foremost that you are capable of engaging in deep conversation. This means debate and discussion based on considerable knowledge – something that is almost entirely absent in the educational world. It also has to take place in public, with parents and others who are not teachers, not just in the classroom or staffroom.

The need for teachers to engage in this kind of deep conversation has been forgotten, because they think that being critical is a skill. But the philosopher John Passmore criticised this idea nearly half a century ago:

If being critical consisted simply in the application of a skill then it could in principle be taught by teachers who never engaged in it except as a game or defensive device, somewhat as a crack rifle shot who happened to be a pacifist might nevertheless be able to teach rifle-shooting to soldiers. But in fact being critical can be taught only by men who can themselves freely partake in critical discussion.

The misuses of ‘criticism’

The misuse of the idea of “criticism” first became clear to me when I gave a talk about critical thinking to a large group of first-year students. One student said that the lecturers she most disliked were the ones who banged on about the importance of being critical. She longed for one of them to assert or say something, so she could learn from them and perhaps challenge what they say.

The idea that critical thinking is a skill is the first of three popular, but false views that all do disservice to the idea of being critical. They also allow many teachers to believe they are critical thinkers when they are the opposite:

  1. “Critical thinking” is a skill. No it is not. At best this view reduces criticism to second-rate or elementary instruction in informal and some formal logic. It is usually second-rate logic and poor philosophy offered in bite-sized nuggets. Seen as a skill, critical thinking can also mean subjection to the conformism of an ideological yoke. If a feminist or Marxist teacher demands a certain perspective be adopted this may seem like it is “criticism” or acquiring a “critical perspective”, but it is actually a training in feminism or Marxism which could be done through tick box techniques. It almost acquires the character of a mental drill.

  2. “Critical thinking” means indoctrination. When teachers talk about the need to be “critical” they often mean instead that students must “conform”. It is often actually teaching students to be “critical” of their unacceptable ideas and adopt the right ones. Having to support multiculturalism and diversity are the most common of the “correct ideas” that everyone has to adopt. Professional programmes in education, nursing, social work and others often promote this sort of “criticism”. It used to be called “indoctrination”.

  3. “Critical theories” are “uncritical theories”. When some theory has the prefix “critical” it requires the uncritical acceptance of a certain political perspective. Critical theory, critical race theory, critical race philosophy, critical realism, critical reflective practice all explicitly have political aims.

What is criticism?

Criticism, according to Victorian cultural critic Matthew Arnold, is a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world. We should all be as “bound” by that definition as he was. We need only to teach the best that is known and thought and “criticism” will take care of itself. That is a lesson from 100 years ago that every teacher should learn.

Matthew Arnold knew how to be critical. Elliott & Fry, via Wikimedia Commons

Critical thinking seen as Arnold defined it is more like a character trait – like having “a critical spirit”, or a willingness to engage in the “give and take of critical discussion”. Criticism is always about the world and not about you.

The philosopher most associated with the critical spirit is Socrates. In the 1930s, Australian philosopher John Anderson put the Socratic view of education most clearly when he wrote: “The Socratic education begins … with the awakening of the mind to the need for criticism, to the uncertainty of the principles by which it supposed itself to be guided.”

But when I discuss Socratic criticism with teachers and teacher trainers I miss out Anderson’s mention of the word “uncertainty”. This is because many teachers will assume that this “uncertainty” means questioning those bad ideas you have and conforming to an agreed version of events, or an agreed theory.

Becoming a truly critical thinker is more difficult today because so many people want to be a Socrates. But Socrates only sought knowledge and to be a Socrates today means putting knowledge first.

The Conversation

Dennis Hayes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

If teachers put the boring stuff outside the class in a flipped classroom, isn’t it still boring stuff? -Holt

If teachers put the boring stuff outside the class in a flipped classroom, isn’t it still boring stuff? -Holt

(Source: recitethis.com)

Don’t Believe Every Meme You See

Have you seen this meme going around Facebook? It is quite popular and has a gizillion “Likes.” I saw it on a few of my friends feeds, and it got me wondering if indeed the sentiment was true. Let’s think about it for a second:

The quote is: “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in High School to teaching remedial English in college.” The quote is from a fellow named Joseph Sobran, a well known anti-Semitic conservative columnist who passed away in 2010. I suspect most people that pass these memes on have no idea who the person that made the quotes they agree with were like. They just like the quote and pass it on. No deep thought involved or needed to click “Send” or “Share.” The accompanying picture shows a kid wearing a Dunce hat sitting next to a computer, IMPLYING that computers make you a dunce.

These types of things show up almost on a weekly basis on the internet. Most of us have also seen the meme about the 8th grade test from 1895 or something, that most people today could not pass:

Such questions ask how many rods in an acre, and of course the scientifically inaccurate question asking students to explain why the Atlantic Coast is cooler than the Pacific Coast at a similar latitude (hmm..it isn’t actually, the water temperature is actually cooler on the US Pacific coast due to the way the ocean currents rotate..but I digress. Perhaps that is a trick question.)

The point of both of these memes is to demonstrate how poorly educated students today are compared to their counterparts 100 or so years ago. (I find it highly amusing that the people that are clicking “Like” probably could not pass that test, so what does that say about them?) By God, we are not teaching the Major Epochs in US History anymore! Dammit, my kids don’t know all the Republics of Europe! It is the Common Core’s fault! (Here is a list of them by the way. How many did you know?)

Of course those people that think kids today are just stupid, and that education is far inferior today than it was 100 years ago are totally wrong. Here is why:

Beginning with the Sobran quote, Latin and Greek, for the most part were taught in Prep schools, not your basic one room school house. For proof, look at the 1895 Kansas test and see how many questions ask about Greek or Latin? There are none. Frankly, Greek and Latin were part of a Rich White Male’s college prep education. The vast majority of students in school at the time, if they were even lucky enough to be in school because it was not mandatory, never took Latin, never took Greek, and almost certainly never took both together. If your Daddy was the owner of Standard Oil or your last name was Rockefeller, then you learned Latin and Greek. If your daddy was a dirt farmer, then you probably didn’t go to school at all.

As for remedial English college courses, there is some thought today that these courses are merely cash cows for cash-strapped universities and community colleges that are looking for any way possible to get students to pony up extra dough. Studies are now showing that remedial courses in post secondary schools are not needed in many cases, but still are offered or mandated. Many students in them do not need to be there, so for Sobran to say that remedial courses are bad is really saying that the system to get students enrolled in them is bad, not that the students or their education is lacking.

The people that make these memes are also ignoring basic US history. After WWII, there was a great number of returning vets that all of a sudden were placed back into the education system. Were they there to learn Latin and Greek? Of course not, They came back and wanted an education that would get them a job. As you can easily see from the graph below, the number of post secondary degrees awarded by accredited schools in the US has shot through the roof since the end of the Second World War. Latin and Greek were dropped out of most curricula because they were not needed to understand the jobs being offered, just as today. How many of you have had to pass a Greek test in order to get a job? Latin?

What the folks that decry how poorly our students are prepared ( do we really need to know such trivia as the feminine of Ox or the major rivers of South America?) rarely if ever turn the tables and ask if a student in 1895 Salina Kansas could pass a 2014 Eighth Grade standardized test? Consider the following question, taken off a pretty typical standardized science test:

How do you think those Kansas farm boys in 1895 would be up to answering that question? Probably not. The point is, tests are written for the times that the tests take place, not for 100 years after they were written. The other point is that education is designed to meet the needs of the CURRENT society, not the needs of society 10 decades past.

On a side note, the next time you come across the Kansas Test, you might want to point out that the Kansas Test was probably NOT an 8th grade test but rather a test for someone applying for a job TEACHING in Salina Kansas. There is nothing on the original document that says “Eighth Grade Test” and in fact there are questions about tax rates and school funding, knowledge probably even a 19th century farm kid in 8th grade didn’t need to know, then or now.

Now, if you REALLY want to know the state of education in the US from an historical perspective, you need to read Diane Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
Of course, it will take you a little more time than simply hitting the “Share” key on Facebook to actually learn the history of education.

Teaching that Sticks from the Heath Brothers

Oldie but goodie. Here is a link to the famous “Teaching that Sticks” resource created by the Heath Brothers of “Made to Stick” fame.

Educator as a Design Thinker

Some good resources for this topic here:

Ideo. (n.d.).  Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit – 
http://www.designthinkingforeducators.com/about-toolkit/

Pfau, P. (2014).  Rethinking Education with Design Thinking – http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/February-2014/Rethinking-Education-with-Design-Thinking/.

Speicher, S. (2013).  Design Thinking in Schools: An Emerging Movement Building Creative Confidence in our Youth -  http://gettingsmart.com/2013/11/design-thinking-schools-emerging-movement-building-creative-confidence-youth/

Teachthought. (2013). 45 Design Thinking Resources For Educators http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/45-design-thinking-resources-for-educators/.

Educator as a Design Thinker

Some good resources for this topic here:

Ideo. (n.d.). Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit –
http://www.designthinkingforeducators.com/about-toolkit/

Pfau, P. (2014). Rethinking Education with Design Thinking – http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/February-2014/Rethinking-Education-with-Design-Thinking/.

Speicher, S. (2013). Design Thinking in Schools: An Emerging Movement Building Creative Confidence in our Youth - http://gettingsmart.com/2013/11/design-thinking-schools-emerging-movement-building-creative-confidence-youth/

Teachthought. (2013). 45 Design Thinking Resources For Educators http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/45-design-thinking-resources-for-educators/.

This French tech school has no teachers, no books, no tuition — and it could change everything

How much credit do we give to intrinsic motivation? Daniel Pink’s “Drive" was all about the internal motivators that produce great work, and not surprisingly, very little of it had to do with money.

This article seems to back up the research that says students can be extremely self motivated when their passions are ignited.

From the article:
“The basic idea of École 42 is to throw all the students — 800 to 1,000 per year — into a single building in the heart of Paris, give them Macs with big Cinema displays, and throw increasingly difficult programming challenges at them. The students are given little direction about how to solve the problems, so they have to turn to each other — and to the Internet — to figure out the solutions.”

How would a public school function of that were the model we used?

"The upshot: If it works, the school’s course of education will produce coders who are incredibly self-motivated, well-rounded in all aspects of software engineering, and willing to work hard. (The four-week tryout alone, with its 100-hour weeks, blows away the French government’s official 35-hour-work week.)"

"The no-teachers approach makes sense, as nearly anything you need to know about programming can now be found, for free, on the Internet. Motivated people can easily teach themselves any language they need to know in a few months of intensive work. But motivation is what’s hard to come by, and to sustain — ask anyone who has tried out Codecademy but not stuck with it. That has prompted the creation of “learn to code” bootcamps and schools around the world. École 42 takes a similar inspiration but allows the students to generate their own enthusiasm via collaborative (and somewhat competitive) teamwork."

Agree with this technique or not, it is an interesting experiment that should be watched.

Training Chefs or Training Cooks: Thoughts on Professional Development

What is the difference between a cook and a chef? The dictionary defines a cook as “a person who prepares and cooks food, especially as a job or in a specified way.” A chef on the other hand, is someone that is “the chief cook, especially in a restaurant or hotel, usually responsible for planning menus, ordering foodstuffs, overseeing food preparation, and supervising the kitchen staff.” When I think of a chef I think of someone like this:

I see a chef as someone that understands how the flavors of food interact. How an entire meal, each part of it, from the beginning to end, becomes an experience. Which wine goes with which food, how flavors mingle. Someone who is paid to think of an entire menu from appetizer to dessert.

When I think of chefs I think of words like creativity, unique, inventive.

When I think of cooks, I think more of a technician, someone who puts together food that someone else has already figured out. Think of a cook at a place like Applebee’s or Denny’s: They don’t create new foods, they simply put together the food in order that someone else, a chef, at some corporate headquarters put together.

When I think of a cook, I think of someone like this:

When I think of a cook, I think of words like mechanical, automatic, robotic.

I was thinking about the differences between a chef and cook the other day when we were in a meeting discussing professional development for teachers. The discussion focused on what would make our district’s professional development more meaningful. Should it be more focused? Should it be more in depth? Should we follow the guidelines of the Learning Forward , an organization I have spoken of in previous entries.

Maybe I was hungry. Maybe my blood sugar was low. But I couldn’t help think that no matter how good the professional development is, if we are not making educational chefs out of our teachers, if we are just asking them to be educational cooks, then no amount or quality of inservice is going to be worthwhile.

Professional development has to be structured n such a way that educators at all levels begin to be chefs: innovative, inventive, creative, unique. Teach the teachers to be that way, and you will get students that are that way.

If our expectation is that teachers will merely be technicians of teaching that they are mechanical, automatic, robotic then we will get mechanical, automatic, robotic students, something that is totally out of synch now with what we want from our 21st Century learners.

EdSurge recent reported on “How Teachers are Learning: Professional Development Remix. That report, which highlighted several important new PD tools that are available right now from free to paid is a nice summary of there PD learning cycle which includes:

Engaging: “These tools enable teachers to join groups, ask questions and share resources. Most tools that allow educators to engage also include a “Learn” component, such as webinars, online courses, and modules.”

Learning: “These are content-rich tools presented in a variety of ways including online courses, webinars or self-paced modules. Some of these tools also provide “Support” capabilities that help teachers implement skills and ideas.”

Supporting: “These tools help educators connect and share their practice with experienced mentors for feedback and coaching. Some tools in the “Support” category allow teachers to also “Engage” with their peers, as well as to “Measure” their learning.”

Measuring: “These tools are usually associated with some form of collecting data on a teacher’s practice. They provide some way to measure a teacher’s growth or progress in adopting new practices or acquiring new skills.”

Unfortunately, nowhere in that nicely done report do the authors look at whether or not the product teaches creativity, self thought, independent exploration, all the things needed to make a cook a chef.

Even the literature overlooks what I think is the obvious: To make PD effective, you have to make the learner a learner.

The 2010 Department of Education’s National Ed Tech Plan listed the top seven attributes of effective PD:

  1. Relate to teachers’ content areas;
  2. Be collaborative;
  3. Be consistent with technology goals in the district;
  4. Allow for active engagement with content;
  5. Be tailored to different levels of teachers’ knowledge, skill, and interest;
  6. Be sustained;
  7. Include follow-up activities.

I suppose one could make the case that creativity could be squeezed into any of those seven, but lets face it: In a time crunch, no one is looking for creativity in PD.

So I want to throw down a challenge to all the professional development organizations and all the professional developers out there doing work this summer: Ask yourselves these questions before you present your PD:

  • Do teachers have the ability to create something in this PD that is not canned?
  • Can educators make the connection between the PD and what they teach? If so, how can they demonstrate that connection to you?
  • Can your PD be connected to other PD that they have received, ESPECIALLY if it was not done by you? Are they able to make connections?
  • Are the teachers in your sessions free to question you? Are you willing to take criticism?

Paula Scher once said “We can pick our teachers and we can pick our friends and we can pick the books we read and the music we listen to and the movies we see, etcetera. You are a mashup of what you let into your life.”

Teachers, in the classroom, are a mashup of all the PD and training they have received over the years. If we ignore the creative side, if we do not allow them to be creative during PD, then we squander a great opportunity for them to mash creativity into their lessons with there students. If we do not allow them to be chefs in our PD, they won’t allow their students to be chefs either. And we will continue to make generation and generation of cooks.

Jun 8

8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness from Edutopia

Nice read. Perhaps it is time for a “Mythbusters” episode devoted to education.

Click on the title to go to the article.
Here are the 8:
Myth #1: Teachers are the Most Important Influence on a Child’s Education
Myth #2: Homework Boosts Achievement
Myth #3: Class Size Does Not Matter
Myth #4: A Successful Program Works Everywhere
Myth #5: Zero-Tolerance Policies are Making Schools Safer
Myth #6: Money Doesn’t Matter
Myth #7: College Admissions are Based on Academic Achievement and Test Scores
Myth #8: Merit Pay for Teachers Improves Student Performance

Jun 4

Using Readability Websites to Improve Student Writing

We all have seen those websites that score different readability levels of written passages. Readability_Score.com is one such site. They work like this:

You copy some text, paste it into the box, and a readability score will come up. Lexile levels, grade levels, and text statistics like word counts all come up almost immediately. A great way for bloggers and authors to see if they are writing on level.

For instance, here is a short passage from a recent blog entry:

“To be brutally honest, I am becoming quite frustrated with the tone being giving to trainers especially from those who have been in the classroom for more than five years….. I sincerely believe that if you understood the requirements of our jobs, which includes training teachers and making sure that mandates that we have no control over are understood and carried out, please step back and rethink before you tell a us “this won’t work.” I won’t go on and on about how much the requirements for training have changed — but OHMIGOSH it has. And I am exhausted. I love sharing new ideas with you — I truly believe that I have something good to share with you — but the immediate dismissal and the utter lack of open mindedness needs to diminish. You tune me out before you even allow me to utter a single word.For those of you who are being kind, who walk along side trainers and encourage, share suggestions, nudge when necessary, and continue to reinforce all to do their best. THANK YOU. For those of you who are haughty, judgmental, condescending, and unkind….I still have to train you. It is my job. But just like a student who won’t listen, you make my job more difficult and like any human, I get irritated. Training adults when I was educated to train children may be the HARDEST thing I have ever done…..I almost gave up 4 or 5 times this year…..it was the kind comments, the encouraging comments, the helpful comments that kept me going. THANK YOU.”

When I entered this passage in Readability_Score.com here is what I found out about that passage:


Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 7.5
Gunning-Fog Score 10.3
Coleman-Liau Index 9.6
SMOG Index 7.4
Automated Readability Index 7.2
Average Grade Level 8.4

That passage was written on an 8th grade level. Okay, I am not proud.

Suppose I wanted to improve that writing. What if that passage was an assignment, and the teacher gave it back to me and said “Tim, nice 8th grade work there. How about writing it for a 10th grade class?”

Immediately the student, me, is forced to step up my game. I have to rewrite it for a more educated audience. I have to tighten it up, use more sophisticated words and sentence structures. After rewriting the passage, it looked like this:

“Honestly, I have become frustrated with how professional developers are being treated, especially from educators who have been teaching for more than five years. I think that if educators understood the mandated training which we have no control over they might rethink any kind of emotional outburst, such as “this wont work.”

The needs and the issues surrounding training have changed in multiple ways over the years. It is exhausting to think about and I am exhausted.

I enjoy sharing new ideas with educators and I truly believe that I have something worthwhile to share, but the immediate dismissals and the utter lack of open mindedness needs to end. Teachers tune me out before they even allow me to utter a single word.

However, for those of you who are kind and who walk along side us trainers all the while encouraging, sharing suggestions, nudging when necessary, and continuing to reinforce all to do their best I say “Thank You.” For those of you who continue to be haughty, judgmental, condescending, and unkind, please keep in mind that I still have to train you. Training is my job. But if you are going to act just like a student who won’t listen, you make my job more difficult. Like any human, I will get irritated.

Training adults when I was educated to train children may be the HARDEST thing I have ever done and I almost gave up 4 or 5 times this year. Thankfully, it was the kind comments, the encouraging comments, the helpful comments that kept me going.”

This time, the score was:

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.3
Gunning-Fog Score 12.1
Coleman-Liau Index 10.9
SMOG Index 8.7
Automated Readability Index 9.3
Average Grade Level 10.1

I moved up to 10th grade!

Can you see how this can be used by a teacher to improve writing? Teachers can put in writing limits as well as readability scores:
For this assignment, the word count can be no more than XXXX words.
The sentence length can be more than 15 words per sentence average.

And this technique works at any grade level. Imagine telling your 3rd graders you want them writing on a 5th grade level! How jazzed would they be? How hard would they write to become “fifth graders?”

We always want students to be reading at or above grade level. Why not have that same expectation for writing?

So try it out. And just for grins, want to know the grade level of this blog entry? Copy and paste it into Readability to find out for yourself.

Here is a nice summary of what Readability websites score, and a listing of other score sites.