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R.A.D. Neurological Lesson Plan
Elementary Level or Beginning Foreign Language
By Paula Berlinck and Luciana Castro
2nd grade Portuguese Teachers
Sao Paulo, Brazil
Unit Title: Where does the bread come from?
Subject(s): Portuguese Grade Level(s): 2nd grade
Lesson Concept/Topic: Reading and Writing Non-fiction
Lesson Goals/Objectives: Reading and Writing Non-fiction
(and how they will be Neuro-logical)
How will you begin this lesson to engage learners’ attention?
The attention filter (RAS) gives priority to sensory input that is different than the expected pattern. Novelty, such as changes in voice, unusual objects, songs playing when they enter the classroom, will peak students curiosity and increase likelihood of the related lesson material being selected by the RAS attention filter.
1-As soon as each student arrives in the classroom they will find one wheat stalk on top of your own desk.
2-The students are going to watch and listen to the music “O cio da terra” de Milton Nascimento e Fernando Brandt
What will you do to sustain students’ attentive focus throughout the lesson?
The brain seeks the pleasure response to making correct predictions. When students have the opportunity to make and change predictions throughout a lesson, attention is sustained as the brain seeks clues to make accurate predictions. Individual response tools, such as white boards, can be used to make predictions and reduce mistake anxiety.
1-Make the link with the Field trip to the Bread Factory and list the Previous Knowledge about “Where does the bread come from?”
2- The teacher will start to read the book “Kika: De onde vem o pão?”
3- Treshing the wheat and grind to find out the flour
Motivation and Perseverance:
Which dopamine boosters will be included in your lesson?
The brain seeks the pleasure response to increased dopamine. Incorporating dopamine boosters (e.g., humor, movement, listening to music, working with peers) increases attention, motivation, and perseverance
4- Finishing the reading aloud of the book
5- Watching the video “Kika: De onde vem o pão?”
6- Using a Graphic Organize to compare and contrast the information in the book and the video
How will you help students see value and relevance in what they are learning – so they want to know what you have to teach?
Positive climate and prevention of high stressors promote information passage through the amygdala to the PFC. Motivation and effort increase when the brain expects pleasure. Buy-in examples include personal relevance, prediction, and performance tasks connecting to students’ interests and strengths.
7- Bake the Bread in the classroom
Every student will take part on the process, in group of 4 students at a time.
How will you tailor the lesson to address students’ differences in readiness, learning profile, and interests?
Differentiation allows students to work at their achievable challenge level. The students who understand the new topic, if required to keep reviewing with the group, may become bored and therefore stressed. If it is too challenging they will become frustrated. By providing learning opportunities within their range of achievable challenge, students engage through expectation of positive experiences.
8- Students will be able to choose one of the videos from the series “Kika: De onde vem?”, (Kika: Where it comes from?) where they can find different subjects that explain things like: the waves, where the eggs comes from, how TV works, etc)
Students will work in pairs, considering their complementary abilities
They are going to watch, to learn about the topic, take notes and then write it down to explain to another person. They could use different formats of graphic organizers, with more or less parts to drawn and break it down the information. They will be assisted by the teacher depending by their level.
Frequent Formative Assessment and Feedback:
How will you monitor students’ progress towards acquisition, meaning making, and transfer, during lesson events?
How will students get the feedback they need and opportunities to make use of it?
Effort is withheld when previous experiences have failed to achieve success. Breaking down learning tasks into achievable challenge segments, in which students experience and are aware of success on route to learning goals (e.g. analytic rubrics, effort-to-progress graphs) and reflect on what they learned and how they learned, builds their confidence that their effort can bring them closer to their goals.
Students will be active in some paces of the process. The summative assessment is the nonfiction text that they will write using movie information, translating it in a graphic organizer and/or nonfiction text like “how to” or “all about”.
Short-term Memory Encoding:
How will you activate prior knowledge to promote the brain’s acquiring new input?
Helping students to realize what they already know about a topic activates an existing memory pattern to which new input can link in the hippocampus. Graphic organizers, cross-curricular units, and bulletin boards that preview upcoming units are examples of prior knowledge activation tools.
Create a chart with the students remembering the prior knowledge that they have about the unit ALL ABOUT and HOW TO, that they had studied in their English class.
Mental manipulation for Long-term Memory:
How will students make meaning of learning so neuroplasticity constructs the neural connections of long-term memory?
When students acquire the information in a variety of ways e.g. visualization, movement, reading, hearing and “translate” learning into other representations (create a narrative, symbolize through a video, synthesize into the concise summary of a tweet) the activation of the short-term memory increases its connections (dendrites, synapses, myelin) to construct long-term memory.
As the students were exposed to a lot of different inputs, considering visualization, movement, reading, writing etc, we expect it will be built as a long-term memory.
Which executive function skills will be embedded in the lesson, homework, and projects? (e.g., analyze, organize, prioritize, plan goals, adapt, judge validity, think flexibly, assess risk, communicate clearly.)
It is important to provide ongoing meaningful ways for students to interact with information so that they apply, activate, and strengthen their developing networks of executive function. Assignments and assessments planned to promote the use of executive functions (e.g. making judgments, supporting opinions, analyzing source validity) activate these highest cognitive networks developing in students’ brains most profoundly during the school years.
All executive functions are in place
I recently had a discussion with a friend John, who is a Superintendent in a rural school district. We were discussing his district specifically and what it was providing its students in the way of relevant programs of study. The conversation came around to a question often asked and an answer that is too familiar. I asked what the purpose of school was? As educators what is it that we want for our students at the end of the journey of K-12? Of course the answer was to get them to college or to get them to a good job.
My friend was consulting with a number of local companies to determine what they were looking for in employees. He was also consulting with area colleges to see what they expected to receive as college ready students. He was doing everything a responsible, caring superintendent could do in order to properly prepare his students for the stated goals of education, getting to college, or getting a job.
Thinking about the goals, as pragmatic as they are, I was really having trouble with the idea of what the goals were. We were considering limiting kids’ learning to the limited needs an industrial complex, or the present entry requirements of institutions that are slow to change in an ever-changing culture.
My other problem with these almost universal goals of American education is that for too many kids these goals are not an inspiration to learn. If college is truly a goal for education, why is it that only a third of Americans have completed four-year degrees? The first answer that comes to mind is that most were not able to handle the studies involved. A more likely answer however, is that a degree has become cost prohibitive. People can no longer afford to go to college without incurring massive debt. How can any kid embrace a goal of education knowing that it is financially unattainable, or that it will come at a cost of unending loan payments? This is not unlike promising every kid playing sports should have an expectation to play in any of the national, professional sports leagues. Few might, but most will not.
This goal of a college career is certainly less of an incentive when we consider schools in areas of poverty. Middle-income people may have some shot at college with the help of family, but that puts the student and the family into years of debt. What chance do poor kids have, especially in the current political climate of limiting any government funding for anyone? Nationally, student debt is rising at an astronomical rate because of the need to fulfill the goal of college and its promise of financial security upon completion. Poor kids are told that college will break the cycle of poverty. How is that an incentive for a kid who knows its likelihood will never happen? Education’s goal is not the kid’s goal. That is not a winning strategy.
Now for the second goal of education for those who we recognize as the non-college ready students. Our goal is to place them in the labor force. We ask business and industry what they require of their employees, and then we work that into our education system. We have then prepared our students for the workforce of today. The problem here is that they are not prepared for the workforce of tomorrow. That is more likely the place that they will live. We saw the result of this when the economy went bust. Many workers who found themselves again in the job market, were not prepared for the world of work today. We can’t program kids to fit into a workforce that may not support their skills after they graduate. Business, industry and our entire society are subject to rapid change driven by the evolution of technology. Think of how different the workforce will look from when a kid enters school until his or her graduation. In that time, that twelve-year span, how many businesses died, and how many started anew? Yet, we will have programmed our kids to be work ready for a workforce that may no longer need those skills. Think of how long a time it took moving typewriters out of education in a world of word processors.
If college readiness and work readiness are failing goals in education, what should the goal of education be? I don’t know. I think life readiness or learning readiness might be more fitting for our world today. Teaching kids how to learn and continue to do so outside of a classroom is the best way to prepare them for whatever path they choose. A goal of self-reliance might serve kids better in the future. To enable a kid to learn without a teacher is the best gift a teacher can give a student.
Change will be slow however, because all of our educators and all of our society have been programmed to believe that school is to prepare kids for college or work. We have come to believe that education is salvation, when in fact it is the learning that is important. Education is a certificate of learning that comes at great expense. It does have its place however, and we will always hold it in high regard. The fact is however that fewer people will be able to pay for that piece of paper, but the learning it represents may cost a great deal less, not in terms of effort or work, but in terms of dollars and cents. In the future it may not be the degree, but the learning that is important. Maybe we need to reassess our goals in education?
A hot buzzword in education is the term ‘connected educator.’ For the past year, I’ve gone to unconferences, EdCamps, and had countless Twitter interactions. We always talk about what a ‘connected educator’ is.
Well, what about an ‘obsessive educator’?
It’s important to recognize this type of educator, too, as they are a strand of the ‘connected educator’. An obsessive educator is eternally hungry for teaching and learning knowledge. So hungry, that they’re never full. They’ll attend Saturday free conferences the weekend before Thanksgiving because they want to learn something, be inspired, meet others like them, and go home with their passion ablaze. Snow on a Saturday in Philadelphia? No problem for the obsessive educator. The pros way outweigh the cons. The obsessive educator burns the candle at both ends, only because there isn’t a third end.
The default setting for an obsessive educator is to communicate. Once an obsessive educator learns something new, they need to try it out immediately. And, then share out: not to brag or show off, but to deconstruct what just happened -- so more learning can occur. They want to break down why something worked, why something didn’t, or what they can do better.
They also want to help others get better. Making an investment in someone else by sharing new knowledge makes the obsessive educator happy. They know at some unknown future point, their investment will pay a dividend because a student will learn. And, that’s in their job description..
The obsessive educator is a teacher first, next, and always. And with teaching, there will be times when their peers don’t comprehend the material. They won’t see its relevance. Why do that? Who has time? Everything is already good the way it is, the obsessive educator hears. However, the obsessive educator sees a different picture than others hear. They don’t see the forest or the trees. Their vision is longer term, and it’s beautiful: a place where we are all connected and an obsession with learning becomes the norm.
But, they understand that their obsession is not the norm now. They understand that not everyone gets stoked when Tom Whitby and Todd Whitaker follow them on the same day. They understand that by taking pictures of the educational badges from the conferences they’ve attended that people they love, respect, and even marry may call them “Nerd Camp.” Because, the obsessive educator believes they get it -- the rest of the world will just catch up soon.
(reprinted from Vicki's Rethinking Education blog)
APPR has created a tremendous amount of change in our districts and buildings. It has also increased the amount of work principals have to do on a daily basis, let alone the amount of stress. Staying positive is key to the success and survival of these demands. As a 13 year administrative veteran, here are some top tens I would like to share (In no particular order!)
1. Keep Your Door Open and Be Visible: Your staff, students and parents need to see you as the leader and you need to be accessible. Keep your door open, listen, listen, and listen even more. Give encouragement to your staff who are working hard to embrace a new curriculum and create engaging lessons for students. Be in their classroom, the hallways, the lunch room and the playground. Greet the buses and parents in the morning. Get on the announcements daily and say the pledge, your school pledge and your belief statement. It's powerful, it resonates, and starts the day on a positive note.
2. Use a Scheduler: If you don't write it down on your schedule to do a walk through, be visible, orthat observation, then it will not get done! I use Google Calendar and live by it. I have shared the calendar with my secretary who schedules my observations and meetings with staff when needed. Using an online calendar such as Google Calendar, iCal, or Outlook will help you organize YOU. The best part is that it notifies me of my schedule in the morning, and notifies me 10 minutes in advance.
3. Provide Mini-Observations: Teachers want feedback on how they are doing. When you do a walk through or mini-observation give them honest, constructive feedback. I like what Kim Marshall has listed in how to do mini-observations the right way: Unannounced, Frequent, Short, Face-to-face, Perceptive, Humble, Courageous, Systematic, Documented, Linked to Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation, 2nd Edition, 2013.) Marshall suggests to do 10 mini-observations on each teacher, throughout the school year.. That would be 1 mini-observation per month. In our district, we do 5 mini observations for tenured, 2 formal observations and 3 mini-observations for 1st year teachers, and 1 formal observation and 4 mini-observations for 2nd and 3rd year non-tenured teachers. What it has accomplished for me is having powerful, professional conversations about what is occurring in the classroom, asking questions of the staff, and coaching best practice. It is also building trust and it is so important to have those face-to-face conversations about what is working and what needs to be refined. It’s about growth and should not be about a “gotcha”.teamwork and improvement, Linked to end-of-year teacher evaluation, and Explained well. (Kim Marshall,
4. Share The Leadership: I am the sole administrator/lead learner at East Side, with a student population of 463 and about 60 staff members. There is no way I can do this job alone and I rely on the staff to help run the school. Give leadership roles to your teacher's. Give them opportunities to work together so they can manage the Common Core. They are the ones in the trenches and will help boost school morale and provide great education for our students.
5. Be the Lead Learner: Rather than being "the principal", be the Lead Learner. Joe Mazza, Lead Learner of Knapp Elementary School in the North Penn School District, PA, coined this term and it means to talk the talk and walk the walk. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Join your teachers in professional development. Share your learning and what you find. Get on Twitter people! (Social media networking is huge and you should be embracing this venue.) Gone are the days of the principal sitting in the office, managing discipline and minutia. We need to be visible, be a part of what is happening in our schools, and be in the classrooms.
6. Your Hour of Power: Tony Robbins says that we have to have a daily ritual of physical and emotional . This means having time for you. Are you experiencing an extraordinary life? He also says to put in some type of physical activity. I try to power walk the hallways of my school and examine student work displayed and in turn, see the pride in our students’ accomplishments. This also gives me an hour to reflect on the day and plan. Give yourself this hour to rejuvenate and reflect.
8. Climate and Culture: How is the climate of your building? Have you given a culture survey? Are you dealing with lots of discipline issues that boggle you down? Maybe it is time to implement a social and emotional curriculum such as Responsive Classroom or PBIS. If you don't address the social and emotional aspects of students and get to know your kids, forget about the academics. Programs such as these change the culture of your building not only for students, but for the adults. The social and emotional curriculum is just as important as the academic curriculum. Once you have the social and emotional curriculum in place, academics are a breeze. It is about the relationships we develop not only with our students, but also with adults.
9. Celebrate: Celebrate the joys of being a team, a school family. We just finished our Holiday stocking stuffing exchange and what amade for the staff. We also celebrate baby showers, weddings, birthdays, you name it. Again, as adults, it's about the relationships and working together to be the best we can be. I always say to the staff, "You are the best of the best." You say it often, and it starts to become a part of you, and we show our pride.
10. It's People, Not Programs: Todd Whitaker says it best that it’s about the teachers, the people, not the programs. “We can spend a great deal of time and energy looking for programs that will solve our problems. Too often, these programs do not bring the improvement or growth we need. Instead, we must focus on what really matters. It is never about’ programs; it is always about people.” (Todd Whitaker, What Great Principals Do Differently, 2003.) have new Common Core State Standards and those modules, but if you are not putting the time into your people, your staff and teachers, giving them time to plan, collaborate, reflect and giving them ownership, then it will be a tough road ahead. Empower your teachers and your staff, and you will have a better school. You know that if you have great teachers, you will have a great school. “The program itself is never the the problem.” (Todd Whitaker)
In the end, it is all about teamwork. As the lead learner, create those opportunities for collaboration, leadership, reflection and rejuvenation. You are the lead leaner and remember to remain positive!
I was having a great week. I had returned from ECET2, a convening celebrating effective teachers and teaching. It was hosted by the Gates Foundation (@gatesed), and all 350 attendees were nominated from major educational organizations. From that experience, I gained new friendships and possible opportunities for future collaboration. Our NJASCD North Region had a successful weekday PD event with Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) on Digital Learning and Leading. Eric even stayed 45 minutes after his presentation ended to ask me, and my North Region Co-Director, Billy J. Krakower (@wkrakower), how we were doing personally and professionally. Life was good. But all I could think about was some offhand comment someone had made to me a few days earlier.
It was an innocuous comment made to me by someone I don’t know. And, it’s so silly it doesn’t even bear repeating. Yet, I stayed in my car for almost ten minutes before reversing my car out of my parking spot.
In prior posts I’ve written about the importance of treating each other well and modeling it daily, the importance of honesty in our relationships with students, parents, and peers, and staying true to our core values as educators. I pride myself in finding the good in others, in our field, and myself, which is why as I reflected on this moment, I wondered where my unwavering positivity went. Why would I let someone I don’t know, who doesn’t know me and will never see me again, have a lasting effect on me? Why would I allow someone to take away my excellence?
Eric Bernstein (@bernsteinusc), in his race to write more than I do, wrote a beautiful piece about the importance of understanding who students are as people, and where they are as learners. (http://edge.ascd.org/_Lessons-From-the-Fonz-Part-1/blog/6562962/127586.html). His belief (and mine, too) is: the better we know our students, the more successful we can educate them. I think we can extend this concept: the better we know and are honest with ourselves, the better we can educate our students because we will be in a better place, too. And, it’s important for us to be honest with ourselves, acknowledge what irks us (like a throwaway comment by a stranger), and have a support system in place to assist us when we hear the negative whispers after a comment like that which feeds into our insecurities.
With the hope that this post supports other educators who hear and sometimes can’t block out the negative whispers, here is my advice to keep the faith:
1. Get Some Ed Therapy: Twitter has salvaged my day more than I like to admit. When I’m down, drained, or dejected, I click on my Tweetdeck shortcut and connect with my edufriends. They have become an extended family, one I share my thoughts, questions, concerns, and ruminations about life in and outside of education. I know they will always be my rock when I need them, and hope they know the same is true for me. My #ASCDL2L, #satchat, #njed, #arkedchat, #iaedchat, #edchat, and #ECET2 crew, I love you all. (Hashtag that).
2. Find Your Matt Hall: every person in education needs one person in their district who believes in them and shares of themselves, so we become better by learning from their experiences, instead of having to go through them ourselves. Matt Hall (@MHall_MST), the Science and Technology Supervisor in my district, is that person for me. Because he’s paid his dues, knows my driven nature and my end goals, listens to me when I speak, and guides me when my thinking needs redirection. And, he’s a vault. What goes on with Matt Hall, stays with Matt Hall.
3. Have a Phone Call with Someone from Iowa (or North Carolina, Minnesota, or New York): it was one year ago when I was at a crossroads professionally. I wasn’t sure where my path was leading, or if I could go further. Jimmy Casas (Casas_Jimmy), who I’d known briefly from a couple Twitter interactions, called me and spoke with me for an hour. We discussed me: who I was, who I wanted to be, what my long-term goals were, and why. Jimmy reminded me I couldn’t change my current situation, but I could change my mindset. And it was that conversation, followed by conversations with Steven Weber (@curriculumblog), Kimberly A. Hurd (@khurdhorst), and Maureen Connolly (http://goo.gl/RPN7DH) that prompted me to e-mail Marie Adair (@todayadair), the Executive Director of NJASCD, and ask what I could do to help the organization. Her response: “Whatever you are comfortable with. We’re just happy to have you join us.”
Like Eric Bernstein’s post, I tried to focus on three main points. Additionally, Eric mentioned his desire to keep his message short, but acknowledged the challenges inherent in that. With that being said, I wanted to list the 99 people who have mentored me on the anniversary of my mindset changing conversations. I am not a better person, father, husband, or teacher without them in my life. I have listed Eric Sheninger, Billy Krakower, Eric Bernstein, Matt Hall, Jimmy Casas, Steven Weber, Kim Hurd, Maureen Connolly, and Marie Adair already, so I will start at the number ten, in no order. Each one of them has helped shape and mold me in some way. To acknowledge that, I have included their Twitter handles if they have them. All are worthy of a follow, and will reciprocate sharing ideas with the goal that we all go further together. We may have 99 problems, but a mentor should not be one:
10. David Culberhouse (@dculberhouse)
11. Daisy Dyer-Duerr (@daisydyerduerr)
12. Scott Rocco (@scottrrocco)
13. Brad Currie (@bcurrie5)
14. John Fritzky (@johnfritzky)
15. Jay Eitner (@isupereit)
16. Anthony Fitzpatrick (@antfitz)
17. Diane Jacobs
18. Pam Lester (@njpam)
19. Mariann Helfant
20. MaryJean DiRoberto
21. Tom Tramaglini (@tomtramaglini)
22. Matt Mingle (@mmingle1)
23. Alina Davis (@alinadavis)
24. Fred Ende (@fredende)
25. Becki Kelly (@bekcikelly)
26. Kevin Kelly (@emammuskevink)
27. Tony Sinanis (@tonysinanis)
28. Ross LeBrun (@MrLeBrun)
29. Darren Vanishkian (@mrvteaches)
30. Glenn Robbins (@glennr1809)
31. Rebecca McLelland-Crawley
32. Bruce Arcurio (@principalarc)
33. Scott Totten (@4bettereducatio)
34. Kevin Connell (@WHS_Principal)
35. Krista Rundell (@klrundell)
36. Cory Radisch (@MAMS_Principal)
37. Meg (Simpson) Cohen (@megkcohen)
38. Tina Byland
39. Klea Scharberg
40. Suzy Brooks (@simplysuzy)
41. Eric Russo (@erusso78)
42. Walter McKenzie (@walterindc)
43. Kristen Olsen (@kristenbolsen)
44. Kevin Parr
45. Robert Zywicki (@zywickir)
46. Chris Giordano (@giordanohistory)
47. Jim Cordery (@jcordery)
48. Drew Frank (@ugafrank)
49. Jasper Fox, Sr. (@jsprfox)
50. Kate Baker (@ktbkr4)
51. Megan Stamer (@meganstamer)
52. John Falino (@johnfalino1)
53. Jon Harper (@johnharper70bd)
54. Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins)
55. Kirsten Wilson (@teachkiwi)
56. Dan P. Butler (@danpbutler)
57. Tim Ito (@timito4)
58. Andre Meadows (@andre_meadows)
59. Tom Whitford (@twhitford)
60. Matt Renwick (@readbyexample)
61. Chris Bronke (@mrbronke)
62. Daniel Ryder (@wickeddecentlearning)
63. Emily Land (@eland1682)
64. Jessica (J-Wright) Wright (@jessicampitts)
65. Phil Griffins (@philgriffins)
66. Jennifer Orr (@jenorr)
67. Sophia Weissenborn (@srweissenborn)
68. Kristie Martorelli (@azstoykristie)
69. Michelle Lampinen (@michlampinen)
70. Manan Shah (@shahlock)
71. Tom Murray (@thomascmurray)
72. Rich Kiker (@rkiker)
73. Irvin Scott (@iscott4)
74. Vivett Hymens (@lotyssblossym)
75. Jon Spencer (@jonspencer4)
76. Jozette Martinez (jozi_is_awesome)
77. Peggy Stewart (@myglobalside)
78. Michael J. Dunlea (@michaeljdunlea)
79. Karen Arnold (@sanford475)
80. Ashleigh Ferguson (@ferg_ashleigh)
81. Jill Thompson (@edu_thompson)
82. Rick Hess (@rickhess99)
83. Maddie Fennell (@maddief)
84. Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker)
85. Jeff Zoul (@jeff_zoul)
86. Jen Audley (@jen_audley)
87. Kevin Scott (@edu_kevin_)
88. Kathryn Suk (@ksukeduc)
89. Baruti Kafele (@principalkafele)
90. Peter DeWitt (@petermdewitt)
91. Anthony McMichael (@a_mcmichael)
92. Natalie Franzi (@nataliefranzi)
93. Paul Bogush (@paulbogush)
94. Sam Morra (@sammorra)
95. Spike C. Cook (@drspokecook)
96. Colin Wikan (@colinwikan)
97. George Courous (@gcouros)
98. Scott Taylor (@tayloredlead)
99. Dave Burgess (@burgessdave)
“All You Need to Do Is Keep That Child Buoyed”
The First of Three Lessons on How to Support Students with Learning Differences from the Fonz
One of my self-proclaimed areas of relative strength as a teacher educator is in helping regular education teachers understand learning disabilities and how to work with students who have special learning needs in the regular education classroom. I suspect that the earliest contributions to this strength had to do with my (as yet officially) undiagnosed ADHD. Having been that student who did not fit the traditional learner mold, but usually being a high achiever, I understood early on that every person did not learn the same way and that just because people do not learn the same way does not mean they do not learn well. After seeing Henry Winkler (@hwinkler4real) on a recent episode (February 12, 2014) of Morning Joe, I learned that Winkler is another (far more famous) example of my personal experience and understanding of learning differently. Listening to Winkler, I felt validated in the way I have approached discussions with pre-service and in-service teachers about teaching students with disabilities—reading disabilities, in particular—and was moved to write my next blog based on Winkler’s words in that interview.
After my last blog post theme, connecting teacher professional learning to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (http://edge.ascd.org/_Meaningful-Learning-An-Excellent-Adventure/blog/6562392/127586.html), I thought that maybe I could write about lessons in education or learning from Henry Winkler’s famed Happy Days character, “The Fonz!” I searched the web for quotes from Happy Days in hopes of finding ways the Fonz’s wisdom could be connected to teaching and learning. Sure enough, I found a pearl in Season One of Happy Days, the episode “Fonzie Drops In,” which (just as surely) proved that this approach was probably not my best brainchild ever:
Richie [speaking to the Fonz]: You make school sound like good fun.
Fonzie: Well, school's got good points. I mean, smoking in the bathroom, cutting classes, showing my tattoo to the chicks.
So...I decided that pop culture would NOT form the theme for this blog post! Ultimately, though, I hope that Henry Winkler has actually created a new pop cultural icon, Hank Zipzer. Winkler has created this series of chapter books together with co-author Lin Oliver (@linoliver) based on many of Winkler’s own experiences. The Hank Zipzer series (www.hankzipzer.com, @hankzipzertv) follows the adventures and misadventures of this bright fourth grade (then fifth and sixth, and soon second grade in an anticipated prequel series) student with the same learning challenges Winkler experiences. My third grade son (who is learning to master some of his own differences in learning style) has just started reading the first book in the series and it has been great to see him relate to the story and character and be motivated past some of his own reluctance to read.
After re-watching that interview on Morning Joe, I realized that I didn’t need the Fonz for this blog post. I realized that I could address several important points from the words of the Fonz’s self-proclaimed alter-ego, Winkler, himself. I decided to focus on understanding the experience of being a student with a learning difference and how educators (and parents) can better support those (and ALL) students. Three things that Winkler said in the Morning Joe interview anchor some salient points from my thinking about supporting students:
1) “I covered my shame and humiliation for not being able to figure out what was going on, with humor...” (MSNBC, 2014)
2) “...we have to start teaching children the way they CAN learn and not what we think they SHOULD learn....” (MSNBC, 2014)
3) “...all you need to do is keep that child buoyed...” (MSNBC, 2014)
Mostly in an effort to keep up with the blogging pace of Barry Saide (@BarryKid1), I have decided to break this into three different blog posts (perhaps also to save you from a single 5000+ word blog post—which I think probably violates some rule of blogging! I know @Joe_Mazza, there are no rules...nonetheless, 5000 words seems excessive for one post). Each post will address one of the three key points highlighted by Henry Winkler’s words from that Morning Joe interview.
“I covered my shame and humiliation for not being able to figure out what was going on, with humor”
One of the most powerful professional learning experiences I ever had with respect to understanding the experiences of students with disabilities was watching the film F.A.T. City Workshop (Lavoie, et. al, 2004). The shame and humiliation that Winkler describes lead to the “F,” “A,” and “T” in Lavoie’s F.A.T. City: Frustration, Anxiety, and Tension.
Children who struggle with different learning needs experience increasing frustration that they just can’t “get it.” There are many things that we tell students who are struggling, especially to read. Lavoie notes three of the most common in F.A.T. City:
As Winkler explained in a different interview, “I was called lazy. I was called stupid. I was told I was not living up to my potential.” Yet, he went on to explain that all the time inside he was thinking “I don’t think I’m stupid. I don’t want to be stupid. I’m trying as hard as I can. I really am” (Yale, n.d.). Students who are struggling already know they are not getting it and our typical responses only compound the frustration—as they really do WANT to get it.
The persistent experience of “not getting it” results in anxiety about being called on in class or looking stupid in front of peers. Winkler described being called, in 1999, to read for a new Neil Simon play—ostensibly, a significant career opportunity—and he explained how he very easily initially reacted to himself “you can’t do this, you’ll be out of the business, you’ll be out of your life. Aside from this, you’ll be embarrassing yourself into oblivion” (Yale, n.d.). Winkler had that anxiety after already being an established, successful, and even revered actor. Imagine the anxiety that is experienced by the student with learning differences every time the teacher is cold calling, or as the ping pong reading comes ever closer to her or him. Lavoie explains, and I have seen in my own classrooms, the cognitive demand of the anxiety that those students are experiencing when thinking about what or when they will be called on and how their “not getting it” may make them look in front of the teacher or, worse, their peers.
The cognitive load of the anxiety leaves little space for focus on things that those students would otherwise be able to learn and understand. We need to come up with strategies to reduce that anxiety for our students. One simple change would be to have a silent cue that only you and the specific student know—when you give them that cue, they know they are the next person to be called on. This will likely not reduce the anxiety the student experiences at the time you actually call on her or him. What it will do, though, is relieve the cognitive load of worrying if they will be next—allowing room for them to engage with and learn the content that is being delivered in the mean time.
Winkler describes covering his shame “with humor.” The acting-out behaviors that generate the laughs create the third aspect of Lavoie’s F.A.T. trifecta, tension between teacher (or parent) and the young person. Winkler aptly notes that “A child doesn't wake up in the morning saying 'Wow, I'm gonna be an idiot today, I'm gonna cause trouble,' ” yet, causing trouble is often the only way that young people who are struggling with learning can “save face” or avoid feeling ashamed by their lack of understanding. Those who don’t act-out, often exhibit another protective behavior, hiding—making themselves small and hoping no one notices they are even there. In either event, there is always a reason why young people behave in an apparently asocial manner. That reason is almost always for self-protection or self-preservation. Research by Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey (1995) resulted in the construction of a cycle of acting-out behavior and explain that even maladaptive behaviors typically serve an adaptive purpose.
Most often, educators and parents focus on punishing the asocial behaviors of young people. Winkler describes his experience with his own parents growing up: “My parents were determined to find the punishment that was going to force me to get better grades” (Murfitt, 2008). However, as Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey (1995) explain, punishments for the acting-out behavior tend not to be effective or long-term behavior changers. Actually, they note, punishing the acting-out behavior often reinforces the behavior by fulfilling the need (e.g., avoidance of the originating situation). Rather, they explain that the underlying behavioral contingency (the if-then construct—e.g., if I act out and can get in trouble, then the teacher will focus on punishing me and will not make me answer the question I don’t understand and I won’t be embarrassed by giving a wrong answer or if I refuse to read my book and, instead, argue about it with my parents, then I will get sent to my room and not end up having to do the reading) must be identified and the needs that lead to the behavior are what, in fact, should be addressed.
The bottom line: We should use our energies to seek an understanding of what motivates student behavior and ask ourselves why this young person feels compelled to act-out (or hide). This lesson is absolutely one that will benefit all of our students, regardless of learning styles and disability—and will support a positive, safe learning climate in all of our classrooms.
Thank you for taking the time to read this far and I do hope that you will be on the lookout for part two of this blog post—“...we have to start teaching children the way they CAN learn and not what we think they SHOULD learn....”
Lavoie, R. D., Rosen, P., Eagle Hill School Outreach., Peter Rosen Productions., & PBS Video. (2004). How difficult can this be?: Understanding learning disabilities: frustration, anxiety, tension, the F.A.T. city workshop. Alexandria, VA: PBS.
MSNBC. (2014, Feb12). Morning Joe: Henry Winkler’s kids book tackles dyslexia. Video retrieved February 18, 2014, from http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/henry-winklers-kids-book-tackles-dyslexia-148785731602.
Murfitt, N. (2008, Dec 8). 'I was called Dumb Dog': Henry Winkler's happy days as The Fonz were blighted by condition undiagnosed for 35 years. Daily Mail. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1092477/I-called-Dumb-Dog-Henry-Winklers-happy-days-The-Fonz-blighted-condition-undiagnosed-35-years.html.
Walker, H. M., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial behavior in school: Strategies and best practices. Pacific Grove, Calif: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.
Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. (n.d.). Henry Winkler, Actor, Producer, Author. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://dyslexia.yale.edu/Winkler.html.
What is family?
If you go by the dictionary definition, it’s people who are related to you by common blood and descendants. If you follow the lyrics of Sister Sledge, it’s based on friendship, commonalities, closeness. And, if you were at ECET2, you realize it’s the 350 people you laughed, cried, and shared stories with during a three day convening based on a common passion for being an educator.
ECET2 is an acronym for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching, a convening hosted and funded by the Gates Foundation (@gatesed). Each of the educators invited to attend were nominated by a professional organization to best represent them. These organizations put up their A-Team, their MacGyvers, their Shakespeares, believing within each nominated person’s DNA was a common trait: a desire to support the whole child and their families. These attendees were not superheroes. They were more than that: people whose only invincibility was their unwavering belief that all students had the power to learn, as long as we empowered them to do so.
I was one of those 350 edustars. I was nominated by ASCD. Surprised that they chose me, smart enough not to question it, just thankfully blessed, I humbly accepted. (Didn’t want them to reconsider). I would find out later that this “Why me?” question was another commonality my new edufamily shared, because in our minds just doing our jobs got us here.
Our role at home was to help raise and nurture the next group of societal leaders, using our classroom and subject matter as the forum to teach problem solving, questioning, active listening, collaboration, teamwork, and advocacy. As ECET2 attendees, we would model, rinse, and repeat these skills through three intensely thought provoking days, 8,000 feet above sea level, in Snowbird, Utah.
The elevation in the ECET2 acronym meant raising our edugame through guided discussions, interactive presentations, Ted-style talks, and social downtime. We met in small, colleague circles, discussing chosen focus topics. We shared resources, asked questions, and actively listened, all under the agreement that the first rule of colleague circles was you don’t talk about colleague circles. It was the law of Las Vegas: what goes on in the circle stays in the circle.
This respectful collegiality, this understanding that our takeaway from each colleague circle, presentation, and discussion was to learn from and with each other, signified the power of a phrase I learned from George Couros (@gcouros): the smartest person in the room is the room. Or, as my friend and ASCD co-presenter, Eric Russo (@erusso78) said during our presentation on EduCore, “Barry and I were geeking out before with our breakfast table. Talking growth mindset, special education, school culture, and problem of practice, sharing documents we created, all while eating bacon.”
We all geeked out with each other by alternately learning, teaching, and leading so each member of our ECET2 family got better. So they could celebrate their new knowledge within their district, school, and student families. And, so we could all feel a little more effective in the process.
Katie Novak (@katienovakudl) called ECET2 “a movement.” I love her thinking, but it runs deeper than that for me. Originally, I saw the nomination by ASCD and the invitation to ECET2 by the Gates Foundation as a sign that ‘I’d made it’. When I attended the convening, I realized the ‘it’ was just the beginning of the journey. The real test to see whether I was worthy of my invite and had learned from my experience was what I would do next. How would I show my appreciation for my experience with my ECET2 family? How would I pay it forward to my edufamily at home?
The underlying approach to learning at ECET2 was to challenge and provoke our thinking through honest dialogue. No one at the convening did this better than Rick Hess (@rickhess99), of American Enterprise Institute, and Maddie Fennell (@maddief) who co-presented on ‘Cage Busting Leadership’. I asked him if he was interested in collaborating on a weekly Twitter chat. I believe our extended education family needs to hear his voice, have an opportunity to interact with him, and grow from these discussions. Rick’s response: “Love the chat idea...will figure out a way to make this happen.”
Challenging and provoking thinking comes from teacher activism. I touched base with Jessica Wright (@jessicampitts), Suzy Brooks (@simplysuzy), Chris Bronke (@mrbronke), Jen Orr (@jenorr), Vivett Hemans (@lotyssblossym), Emily Land (@eland1682), Tamera Dixon (mstdixon), and Dan Ryder (@wickeddecent). They are my pre-ECET2 family. We’d organized and led a Twitter chat the night before the convening began (http://storify.com/barrykid1/pre-ecet2-twitter-chat-on-2-16-14). We’re going to continue that discussion with a bi-monthly Twitter chat for all past and present ECET2 attendees, as well as any educators interested in Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. We’ll expand and turnkey focus topics discussed in Utah, and globally extend our colleague circles. Maybe members of the Gates Foundation, like: Dr. Irvin Scott (@iscott4), Dr. Vicki Phillips (@drvickip), Nate Brown (@hnborown1), Amy Hodges Slamp (@amyslamp), and Isis Randolph-McCree (@isismccree) would guest moderate. (hint, hint).
Teacher activism needs to be local, too. I connected with the three other New Jersey attendees at the convening: Peggy Stewart (@myglobalside), Michael J, Dunlea (@michaeljdunlea), and Katherine Bassett. With the help of our new friends from Pittsburgh (@ecet2pgh) who’ve previously hosted a regional ECET2, we’re going to figure out a way to do one too, to elevate and celebrate our effective teachers and teaching family in New Jersey. We’d love to collaborate with others on this, so if others in our area would like to pay it forward with us, let us know.
I know Sister Sledge and the dictionary both have it right: family is bound by like DNA, commonalities, and a similar mindset. That is why we say our close friends are ‘like family,’ and certain friends are ‘my brother,’ or, ‘my sister.’ From my three days in Utah, my edufriends became edufamily. And with their help and support, who knows what we will achieve? Regardless of outcome, our journey will continue together as we elevate and celebrate each other, and make one another more effective in the process.
Author’s note: to honor all who influenced me and helped make me better, I noted people’s Twitter handles. They’re great teachers, and even better people. Give them a follow. They’ll make you better, like they did me. And, you won’t have to go to Utah to do it.
This post is a part of the ASCD Forum conversation “how do cultivate and support teacher leaders?” To learn more about the ASCD Forum, go to www.ascd.org/ascdforum.
Find the Good.
When I first started teaching, I’d heard and read of the importance of finding something to like about each student, even the student whose positive qualities were hard to find. I was told, “It can be as simple as the color shirt they’re wearing. Maybe they’re wearing red and you like red.Use that to drive your interactions with that student.”
Thirteen years later, I realize what the messenger meant. I think they meant: “maybe the child has a nice sense of style. They dress well. The shirt is a cool one, and I wish I could get away with wearing that one now.”
I hear from time to time when meeting with parents: “I know you have your favorites. It’s natural, everyone does.” I agree with the premise, that some students are very personable: they come in with positive experiences about school and the world. Perhaps they have a great support system. They’re charming, social, or their wittiness is matched by great comedic timing. They’re easy to like. They’re easy to find the good in. You don’t even need to tell them, they know. Someone’s probably told them before you even met them.
However, we didn’t get into this field for the easy. We did for the intrinsic rewards: the ability to create positive change by finding the good in those who may not know the good they carry. To shine a light on what’s not readily evident. To search, find, and celebrate. We’re unique. That is good.
Sounds easy.It’s not.
Students, their parents, and we educators all come into our environment each day an unfinished product. We’ve got our warts, our schemas, and our issues. Sometimes they’re easily visible, and sometimes we just think they are. While we cannot change anything that has happened when we were wards of the education system, we can create a positive one for those who move forward through it now. That means we can embody the good, find the good in others, make sure we call attention to it so the student and their parent knows it, and use that knowledge to help the child and his/her support system trend positively from this point forward.
This repeated process enables us to find the good quicker in others, as the lens we look at people through has changed. It keeps us positive during the challenging days. And, it reminds us that all of us are capable of growth and learning. We just need to be willing to stay consistent to the process, because finding the good is a repetitive one. Find it enough, and it will find you, too.
ASCD has found the good in me. Members of the organization nominated me and three of my peers to attend Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers (#ECET2). This event is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The 250 of us invited by the Foundation, will connect, collaborate, and leverage the goodness in each other. Prior to meeting everyone this coming Monday, we will host a Tweetup on Twitter Sunday night from 8 - 9 PM EST. All current and past ECET2’ers are welcome. Our goal is to find the goodness in each other, carry that with us to the convening, and turnkey it back home to our students.
Find the good.
Then, let it find you.
I am an upbeat person and typically listen to upbeat music to get myself ready for the workday. The two genres that energize me most are hair band metal and today’s pop music. Think Bon Jovi and Motley Crue meet Katy Perry and Lorde. These genres put me in a good place, and I feel ready to take on the day. (Don’t judge).
I was listening to a song by Sara Bareilles titled “Brave” this morning. There was a line that hit home for me:
“Say what you wanna’ say
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna’ see you be brave.”
I wondered the rest of the day: how often am I brave in education? I think I am with my teaching: I stay current in my research on best practice and am always looking to integrate new learning into the classroom. I continually invest in myself by reading my PLN’s education blogs, attend conferences, co-moderate and participate in Twitter #edchats, write, and co-direct a region of a valued professional educational organization. But, do I invest in myself and others when it’s difficult, when I may face initial isolation for my honesty, when it’s harder for me to be brave?
Bravery as an educator (to me) means the willingness to be open and honest with peers when discussing best practice. I believe I need to be brave and willing to disagree respectfully with the hope that through this dialogue my fellow educators and I will both grow in a backdrop of honesty. This means we “say what you wanna’ say, and let the words fall out.”
When we do this, we aren’t being unprofessional or judging one another. Instead, we’re willing to have the hard conversation. It isn’t personal to us, it’s about personalizing the learning and making it relevant to the children we serve. Because, isn’t that why we went into education in the first place -- to make a difference with students and their parents? To change things for the better, so others could have a better overall educational experience than we had?
Bravery as an educator to me also means the willingness to be direct and honest with the parents’ of children who need it. It’s not easy to sit with a parent and explain why their child isn’t behaving in class, producing quality work, or making good choices. However, if we want to make the difference we told ourselves when we went into this field, then we need to have this conversation. Daily, if need be. Because if we don’t, not only are we not being brave, but we’re not honoring the educators who did invest positively in us and the lives of others.
Martin Luther King Jr. stated in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, that “The architects of the constitution wrote a promissory note...instead of honoring this sacred obligation...America defaulted on this check….which came back marked insufficient funds.”
When we make decisions that impact children and their families, let’s make sure that those deposits we make in them never come back insufficient. That’s not brave. And, I think whether someone listens to Sara Bareilles or not, we can all agree that the more honest and real we are in our relationships, the more satisfied we all will be. Then, when we “let the words fall out,” we’ll be ready for them. And, we’ll hear them the way they’re meant to be heard. (Now you can judge).
My mother used to tell me I was "very persistent" growing up. "You didn't take no for an answer," she often said. One of her favorite examples of this was when I was fired from a summer camp job and managed to get rehired for the following summer. (I was 22).
I made a lot of mistakes that first summer working as a head counselor, most of them because of pride and immaturity: being afraid to ask questions when unsure, not actively listening to the children and assistant counselors in my group (I was real good at telling them what to do), and not utilizing problem solving strategies prior to making decisions.
When I wasn't rehired I was surprised: didn't most of the kids like me? So, I had a few parental complaints. Don't we all? Yes, the Camp Director had to speak to me privately once or twice. Isn't that an initiation rite? (It wasn't).
The camp let me know by letter that I would not be rehired for the following summer. The administration cited my "inconsistency in relating to staff, campers and their families. on a regular basis." I really liked working at the camp, liked the kids, and enjoyed the staff. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. However, the place I liked didn't think I'd be a good fit in the culture and climate they created.
I needed to be honest with myself if I was going to grow and put forth a better me: introspect, digest what the camp administration stated to me during our "one-to-one conversations" over the summer and in the letter, then share with the Camp Director and Camp Owner that I'd learned from my failures.
So, I wrote my own letter. To them. I stated that I understood I had made some poor decisions when interacting with some of my younger counselors and campers. My role was to model how to behave in a recreational atmosphere, build on the positive environment they'd created, and send the children home wanting to come back the next day. Campers needed to have fun playing sports while feel safe and appreciated. Their parents needed to feel that the environment was nurturing. I hadn't fulfilled my end of the bargain, and if the administration hadn't fired me, they wouldn't have done their job.
However, my job description was now to show them I listened to them, that I took the time to have an honest conversation with myself, and I wanted an opportunity to show them I used my failures as learning opportunities. I asked the Camp Owner and Camp Director for two things in my letter to them: to meet with me so I could apologize personally, and if they were open to it, to hire me back on a contingent basis. Week to week, day to day, unpaid, didn't matter to me. I wanted to be there. I wanted to make a difference.
The Camp Owner and Camp Director met with me. They were honest with me, sharing what got them to the point where firing me was the best option. I reciprocated their honesty, explaining my thought process during different incidents, what I learned from each experience, and all I asked for was an opportunity to continue to learn in an environment I truly enjoyed. We could figure out the money situation later.
I was hired back. I'd like to say I was a a new man, but I wasn't. I still made errors in decision making as I continued to learn. But, I grew. Rapidly. I made less mistakes. I shared my stories with new counselors and counselors in training who I saw making similar decisions early in their career. I made fun of myself, and said, "Don't pull a Barry." For some of them it stuck, and we remain friends to this day. For some, they weren't ready to hear the message, weren't rehired, and made a choice to seek future employment and guidance elsewhere.
I stayed at the camp for seven more years, until an opportunity to direct a summer camp came my way. My mom references this camp story as an example of me "being persistent, of not hearing no. I still can't believe you got that job back." I view it in a different lens now: I was taught that having grit, perseverance, and a willingness to take risks were worthwhile. I didn't like being fired, so I asked myself what I could do to change the situation. When I made mistakes during my following years at camp, my administration took the time to ask me questions instead of making snap decisions: explain what happened? What was your thought process? Why did you chose to solve the problem that way? Upon reflection, what can you do differently next time? How do we know this experience will make you better?
I keep these questions and this story in mind when I work with students and teachers. No one comes in fully-formed. (Exhibit A: me). We all have room to grow, and it's incumbent upon me to teach others how to think (not what to think), identify mistakes and learn from them, as my camp administrators did for me.
I wouldn't honor them if I did not pay it forward, and remember their lessons when I need to tap into my own perseverance and grit. Because, each opportunity in my work with teachers and students is another chance to reinforce to the Camp Director and Owner who rehired me that their investment in me taught me something, and made a difference in my life. And if I'm lucky, a student I've taught, a child I've worked with in the Before and Aftercare program, or a teacher I've mentored will internalize and model what I've shared so they "Don't pull a Barry" too.
Along with my schedule of social studies classes, I also serve as an advisor for fifteen students once a week. Through advisory I spend time looking at their grades, checking in with their lives, and mostly building relationships that are often lost between teachers and students in high school. While I love the chance to have such a close relationship with a handful of student, it seems like a week does not go by without one or more of them asking me about why they have to study this subject or another. “Why do I need to take Calculus?” or “why do I need biology when I am not going to be a biologist?” For a long time, I would simply tell them that learning math, science, english, and history were all part of what made them well rounded students, able to succeed in college and beyond. Recently, I came to a different conclusion.
With a continuing pressure from many groups to push the idea of making students successful in the 21st century employment market, to focus on STEM, and to teach classes that have a direct and measurable economic impact, social studies are often neglected. It seems as if in the short time students have in school, they could spend their time much more effectively learning computer programming, or physics, or calculus than “soft skills.” As a recent New York Times article by Gerald Howard stated:
We live in a time when college enrollment in the humanities is declining precipitously, in good part because majoring in such subjects seems unlikely to result in gainful employment in a strapped economy.
Yet the social studies themselves allow me to answer these recalcitrant students. It is the social studies that answer the why question in education. Social studies are the reason why we learn everything else in school. It is through the social studies that we learn a practical application of everything else that we study.
When we study science, we are preparing to understand the things like climate change, deforestation, and desertification that we look at human geography and current world issues courses. When we study math we are learning about principles and equations that allow us to understand government debt, economic crises, and future trade issues as they come up in world history and economics classes. When we study english and look at literature, we are gaining a deeper appreciation of the lives and views of people that we come across in our classes and the rest of our lives. While the science, math, and english courses provide the tools we need to understand our world, it is the social studies classes that provide us the laboratory space to apply them to the world around us.
Without these labs of citizenship, our students will be unprepared to lead the change that will be called for in the future. Instead of getting practical experience guided by experts deeply committed to their field, they will be set adrift in the world and need to learn fast without the resources to do so. As social studies teachers, we must defend our work as the birthplace of citizenship.
Many people believe education must have an direct economic impact, and that there needs to be a return on investment that is clear and tangible. They focus on STEM because it will prepare students for the jobs of the future, but they neglect the fact that we will want more than just workers in the future. We live in a democracy, which requires more than just workers, it requires engaged citizens willing to take charge and lead their country forward. If we neglect to train actively engaged citizens, we will have a country of people who know how to take orders and do their jobs, but no one able to lead and question if those job should even be done. Social studies courses are where we learn to ask the questions needed to sustain democracy.
While I used to tell my advisory students that they learned math, science and english because these subjects made them well rounded students, I have now changed my response. Now, when I am asked the same question I answer, “so you can be successful in your social studies classes.”
I remember the moment clearly when my mindset changed. I was sitting on the couch with my three-year-old two weeks ago. We were both happy. Him watching Toy Story 2. Me sitting next to him. He reached out and grabbed my hand. For the next 3 minutes he held it. We didn't say a word. We didn't need to. We just shared a blanket, enjoyed each other's company, and what was on TV.
As an often nervous parent, I am prone to overanalyzing situations involving my children. (I hear others are prone to this). I run through a litany of questions, chief among them: are my boys happy? Are they safe? Am I doing the right thing as a parent? These, and a multitude of other questions often blind me to what's in front of me -- two healthy, happy little boys, eager to experiment with the world and all the things within it. It is my neurosis that gets in their way.
As Jake held my hand and we watched the movie, the whispers I often hear did not creep into my consciousness. I didn't think: is he watching too much TV? Am I just being a lazy parent? Instead my thoughts kept drifting back to one feeling, that I was truly content. I didn't want to be anywhere else. And, neither did my son. It was a simple moment, and it was beautiful. I wondered, how can I hold on to this? Recreate it for others?
All people should have the feeling I did, especially when it relates to being in school. Too often I hear of friends who have had less than positive experiences as former students. That saddens me. Everyone should have an opportunity to learn in a positive environment, to enjoy the learning process, and feel comfortable and content within it. To think to themselves, as I did when watching TV, that this is a perfect moment and I don't want to be anywhere else.
So, now I ask myself each day: how can I capture this moment and keep it with me wherever I go? How can I use this as the driving force within my teaching, so no matter how challenging it gets professionally, I can always come from this place of contentment, of love? And, how can I share this with my students, their families, and my peers so they identify their own moments, their own love, and utilize their own 'moments on the couch' to drive them forward? Because if I don't, I've wasted the moment Jake and I shared on the couch. That would be sad, too.
A friend of mine who is not an educator told me recently that he felt badly for me. He cited the usual challenges I hear (students, parents, expectations, government, etc). My reply was quick, "I've never been more positive about my field and my role in it." I think he thought I was full of it. And he'd be right, I was full of it: full of joy and happiness, all because of one moment on the couch.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I will never forget why I teach.
I teach because I care.
I know there is always someone who needs my help, support, guidance, time, and love.
I give my best effort because I want society to reflect my efforts.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I began teaching because I enjoyed working with children and their parents. That will never change.
No one taught me about those who didn't want my help, but I learned. I help them anyway.
Whenever I hear students or their families being negative, I remind them of all the small steps it took them to get where they are. A lot of small steps no one sees equals the big steps people do.
When I teach my students to persevere, take risks, and hard work will pay off sometime, I cannot forget those lessons, either. Because, we know they're true.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I am energized and nod my head enthusiastically when I hear the passion exude from my peers.
I feel excited when I hear, read, or see a good idea that I want to modify and use.
I love talking education, with anyone, at any time. My wife thinks I'm nuts.
I did something else for a living. I can't imagine making that mistake again.
I am an educator because I always chose to make a difference.
I teach, I learn, I lead with all of my fellow educators. Every day. As hard as I can. Because we're all worth it.
This past weekend, I attended an education conference with some of the preeminent minds in the field. The focus was on educational technology: its importance, how to integrate it relevantly, and how to market it to staff members who might be resistant. Presenters came from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and even Arkansas. (Sorry, had to). Well known connected educators dotted the audience, among them Tom Whitby, the “Godfather” of Twitter #edu chats. There were a lot of brilliant minds talking about moving education forward in an engaging manner for students. What was I focused on? The charging stations, of course.
The location for the conference was at New Milford High School, in New Jersey. It’s an older building, but the infrastructure for wireless connectivity was unbelievable. There were over 400 registrants at the conference using wireless devices (many more than one), and there was no online lag time. Additionally, Eric Shenninger, the Principal of New Milford High School, mentioned at the end of the keynote address that there were charging stations for wireless devices located all throughout the building.
What a brilliant idea, I thought. Imagine the hidden message to all who enter this building each day: you will use technology daily. We understand that in order for you to be successful in the future, you will need to be intuitive with technology today. Think of the secondary expectation embedded in the charging stations: we trust you. We trust that you will use technology for its intended use. You can charge your device whenever you’re low on batter power, and it will be here when you return.
A common theme among the presenters at the conference was that technology is a tool grounded in the human element. It is a way to bring people together, to form connections, extend knowledge in a different modality, and another way to synergize good teaching with good tools. Technology isn’t meant to replace educators, it is meant to enhance them. As the lead learner, teachers still plan, organize, present, and guide. Technology is there to support the infrastructure educators put in place in their classrooms.
The infrastructure of charging stations and strong wireless broadband connectivity embeds the message of trust we try to build with our students. In order for learning to occur at its optimal level, humans must feel comfortable in their environment. They must feel secure in it, supported by it, and able to grow within it. Making clear to students that they’re in an environment where they’ll be prepared for a technologically driven future, in an environment where the infrastructure can handle it makes it clear that we care about them. The secondary embedded message that your technology is safe in here, you can leave it, and it will be here when you return, speaks to the climate and culture created by the administrative team at New Milford High School.
As people moved from presentation to presentation, I kept looking at all the charging stations. I heard high school students giving directions, connecting with conference attendees, and answering questions. A couple students were presented with a question they were unsure how to answer. “We’ll ask Eric,” they said. They asked him the question, got the answer, and moved on – using his first name when talking to him. This happened repeatedly during the day, conversations between Eric and his students, all on a first name basis.
Another embedded message of trust on display: we will provide you with all the technological opportunities we can to make you successful, but we know that your success still depends on the communication and connections we model and form during our conversations with you. We will do that by respecting each other and calling one another by our first name, as we are one unified community learning and growing together.
What a message.
In order for me to lead effectively in my classroom, I needed to make sure I was teaching the right things. Otherwise, what were students learning? And, why were they learning it?
Students need to be personally invested in their learning in order for them to be most successful. What’s taught needs to be relevant to them. The curriculum can be rigorous to the 10th power, but if it isn’t taught in a way that is engaging and fun, students will not produce work that is reflective, vulnerable, risky, and potentially full of mistakes.
Mistakes help us to grow when we acknowledge them and are willing to identify what we did versus what we should do the next time. As I sat down to preplan my year as a fifth grade teacher, I needed to reflect on where I was as a learner: what was I doing well? What could I improve on? What was hard for me? And, what were my goals for the year?
What I’ve mentioned are all things I ask of my students: take risks, invest in yourself, advocate, and be open to new ideas because, good learning is messy before it looks good. As I tell my students, if you have truly waded through the mess to construct new meaning and have learned the material, you can teach it to someone else. This is the highest level of learning, and this is how we create leaders. As a leader in my classroom, I need to embody and model these soft skills I ask of my students. Otherwise, I am a hollow leader. And, I felt hollow as I preplanned my year.
When I meet with each one of my students at six week intervals to discuss how they are doing in meeting their hope and goal for the school year, I ask them to answer the questions I posted above so we can have an authentic, meaningful conversation. We get to know each other and ourselves better, thereby deepening our trust in one another. When a student is struggling, we work through it, so both of us have a deepening understanding of why they feel the way they do. Once identified, we can figure out a potential solution to the problem. The challenge is in the identifying. I needed to do the same thing I asked of my students: reflect, ask questions, and identify the genesis for my hollowness As I thought through each question, the same refrain kept repeating: ‘I do the same things every year, but why do I do them?’ I needed to become relevant again, things needed to make sense, and I needed to have fun in order to meet the needs of my learners, and myself.
During the school year, peers will stop in my room for something and comment on student behavior, or on our practice. We hear a lot of “you’re very nice to each other,” “there’s a good vibe in here,” and “you all seem to be really having fun.” All these things are true in the moment. But, have I grown during this time, too? Or, am I just regurgitating the same lesson plans each year? Yes, we do Morning Meeting, Energizers, and Closing Circle. We incorporate cooperative learning and team-building skills into all learning experiences. But, I realized that I was leaning too much on prior lesson plans and prior knowledge. As a teacher, I know that prior knowledge should springboard to deeper understanding, not serve as a final resting spot for learning. When that happens, I am not growing. If I am not maxing out my potential each day, I am definitely not doing that for my students. I needed to model the expectations I had for my students. Otherwise, I was doing them, and myself, a disservice. And, education should never be that.
I went back to the theorists and books on my shelf. I pulled out Jensen’s Brain Based Learning, Denton and Kriete’s First Six Weeks of School, and Kriete’s Morning Meeting Book. I reread pieces of each, took notes, reworked ideas in my head, wrote lesson plans from scratch, and fought with my computer. Half-written pieces on pieces of paper, manila file folders, and books surrounded me. As my wife reminded me of the mess I was making it all made sense: I needed to set the purpose for my learning, teaching, and leading through a hope and goal I shared with others. And, I could do that at Back to School Night. How more accountable could I be then? Every parent of every child I was teaching this year would be there. They would hold me accountable for my hope and goal. I needed to think through my message to them. What did I want to say? What was most important? What did they need to know? How could I weave that into a hope and goal that they could see directly impacted my teaching and would positively influence their child on a day to day basis.
I decided my hope and goal would focus on three key ideals: learn, teach, and lead. I needed to learn each student’s needs, connect it back to what the research shared as best practice, weave these best practices into my teaching, and create a group of young future leaders. I would be modeling the highest level of understanding through my leadership. With my hope and goal cemented, and my lesson plans formulated, I began to learn, teach, and lead again. With passion. When I lost my PowerPoint slideshow the day of Back to School Night, I dug up an old one for window dressing. I spoke without the notes I prepared. I focused on the key aspects of our classroom organization: social – emotional growth, learning risk – taking in our learning, questioning to stimulate deeper understanding, and enjoyment of the learning process. With that would come the academic stamina and perseverance parents could point to as growth occurring.
The rest is yet to be written. Back to School Night went well. I shared the connection between the social curriculum and its impact on the academic curriculum. My passion and vulnerability was visible in my hope and goal for our fifth grade students. And, I learned something. Now, I’ll go teach and lead.
For the past 12 Back to School Nights, I've presented in a very prescribed way. I introduce myself, my years in education, my in-district accomplishments, and my organizational affiliates. I focus on the textbooks we use, the subject matter we cover, and the goals of being a student in whichever grade I was teaching at the time.
It was a dry, easy sell, and did not reflect the social curriculum I've tried to embed into everything we do as students and people in the classroom. I've always felt it was hard to explain to parents who were raised in an academically driven culture, who have attended big name schools of higher learning and have impressive job titles, that the research shows that a child needs to feel a sense of belonging, significance, and fun in order to do their best learning. That a handshake greeting from a peer and teacher each day may be the validating experience that drives their child to take a risk and apply a new strategy when approaching a multi-step math problem. That when we create the environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes (because that's how people learn), then true learning will occur. I always wondered if parents would think I was 'soft' for this philosophical belief.
So my ultimate goal of creating lifelong learners beginning in the elementary grades, who were driven not by the letter grade, but by the learning itself, was kept under wraps. We held daily Morning Meetings, infused Energizers during transition times, and met as a class during Closing Circle. These opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning eliminated a lot of the little cliques I used to see form among students. The faces or body language students would use when I grouped them with other students they didn't connect with were slim and none. Students treated each other respectfully, fairly, and in many cases, patiently. These approaches to learning drove our academics, and allowed us to learn at a more rapid rate. The consistent reflections we conducted at the end of each lesson (what did you learn from working with Jake? what did Sam say during your conversation on the Civil War?) enabled us to see one another as peers, not people who happened to be in the same class.
Parents, during conference time, would say to me, "Fred really likes those Morning Meetings," or, "Hillary can't stop talking about that 'Just Like Me' energizer." I would nod my head, smile, and simply state we do 'team building exercises.'
However, this past Back to School Night was different. Perhaps it was the fact that I lost my PowerPoint presentation two hours before I was supposed to present. Or, maybe I was ready to model what I've told my students to believe about risk taking: you will learn more from the mistakes you make and the failures you have, than any success you achieve. Fail means a first attempt in learning, and if we're really open to new ideas, willing to think creatively, and trust our ability, we need to try new things and embrace our instincts.
So, at Back to School Night I took the risk and left myself vulnerable. I presented a bare bones PowerPoint that focused on the philosophy, theory, and research behind how our classroom was organized and run. We modeled social skills because they aren't inherent. That my mini-lessons were no more than 15 minutes, because it wasn't about me as a 'sage on a stage', but as 'guide on the side'. Students would learn more from each other than they would ever learn from me. After all, there was only one me, and 20+ of them. That research in the business world proves that more people lose their job, not because of a lack of knowledge, but an inability to work with others. So, it was incumbent upon me as the children's teacher, to create a comfortable environment where soft skills like collaboration, cooperation, problem solving, perseverance, failure, and grit were celebrated as successes. Mistakes were looked at as learning opportunities. And students took ownership for their work, even when the grade wasn't what they wanted.
An amazing thing happened as I got halfway through my presentation: parents began to nod their heads in agreement. Some wrote down notes. Others stared at me without yawning. And at the end, I made it clear we were all in this together. That our classroom community extended outside the classroom to their homes. We were only as strong as each other, and we were all 'pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, for the same thing' -- what was best for their children. And, if they didn't understand something I did, call or e-mail me. I wouldn't take offense to it. If anything, I would appreciate their sharing their concerns, and we could work together to figure out solutions when issues arose. I just asked for the benefit of the doubt, as I would give them, so we adults could also best model the behavior and soft skills we were working on in the classroom.
I shared my last slide, thanked parents for coming, and then ended stopped talking. Some parents came up to me and said hello. Others had a couple academic questions, or a general "How's my son doing in class?"
As one parent walked out though, she turned around and said to me, "You should really have some kind of regular meeting with parents. Talk about topics in education. I felt like I needed to learn so much more." I told her it was a good idea and I'd think about it. First, I needed to digest what I just did.
And learn from it.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a corrected version of the originally posted commentary. An earlier version stated that the potential number of required Keystone exams in Pennsylvania is ten. The actual number is five. The new Pennsylvania regulations will require students to eventually pass five exams, and, if the legislature approves funding for an additional five, those five will be administered on a voluntary basis by Pennsylvania school districts.
(The author of this commentary, Elliott Seif, is a former social studies teacher, Professor of Education at Temple University, and Director of Curriculum-Instruction Services for the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. He is currently an educational advocate, author, trainer, and Philadelphia School District volunteer. More of his commentary can be found at ASCD Edge, http://bit.ly/13sMIUZ, and on his website, www.era3learning.org.)
Introduction and Overview
The new Chapter 4 regulations, recently adopted by the Pennsylvania State Board, will require all Pennsylvania students to pass new Keystone exams in order to graduate. Initially, three exams will be required for graduation (English, Biology and Mathematics). Two others will be added in the next few years (English Composition and Civics and Government) for a total of five required exams. If money is appropriated by the legislature, five additional exams will be added in future years, but will be voluntary for school districts to administer.
The purpose of this commentary is to make a strong case in opposition to the implementation of these regulations, using the following arguments:
I also suggest a number of alternative ways that the funding for the Keystone exams can be used more effectively, and also suggest a possible way to implement the Keystone exams, focused around the Keystone Academic Honors Diploma, that would be a much better vehicle for implementation and provide much greater incentives for taking and passing the exams.
Five arguments as to why these exams should not be required
1. The Keystone exams will have a significant negative impact on schools
Contrary to popular belief, Pennsylvania’s schools do a decent job in educating students to be college and career ready. Over 83% of students in Pennsylvania graduate from high school, and a large percentage go on to some form of higher education. While the graduation rates for Blacks and Latinos are lower (about 65% each) the graduation rate for whites is 88%. Often the problem today for students who go on to complete a college degree is not that they are not prepared for career and work, but that there are too few jobs waiting for them that demand the high level skills that they now possess.
However, even with these successes, schools do need to improve what they do to prepare students for a 21st century world. There are still too many students who drop out of school or are apathetic about learning. K-12 schools need to do more to get students to engage in learning, make learning more relevant, develop the talents and interests of students, promote thinking and problem solving, improve student comprehension skills, and develop connections to the outside world of work and citizenship. There is too little emphasis on writing clearly and effectively. Greater emphasis needs to be placed on engaging students in becoming interested in and understanding core concepts in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects. Also, in some school districts, the sports culture is significantly more important that the culture of academics.
Will the Keystone exams help to solve these problems? NOT LIKELY. Exams such as these do not help to engage students in learning and make learning more relevant – in fact, they will most likely lower motivation to learn, since the types of questions asked on the exams are divorced from real world issues and problems (see sample questions in the appendix). Requiring that all students pass all the Keystone exams will probably increase the dropout rate. The exams will not broaden the educational experience of students, improve thinking or writing, or help reduce apathy towards learning. In short, the required exams will do little or nothing to improve the educational climate, curriculum, and instruction practices necessary to help prepare students for a 21st century world. In fact, they will be a drag on making changes that would really help students prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s world.
In addition, administering and implementing Keystone exam requirements will be difficult, complex, and costly. Staff members will need to find the time to administer and monitor each test three times a year as required by the law. Once the five required exams are in place, fifteen tests will need to be administered each year. The school is expected to offer the tests as final exams, a complicated process, since many courses in these subjects are offered at many different grade levels (for example, algebra in some districts is offered as early as sixth grade to some students). The school will need to develop and maintain a complex record keeping system in order to track who passes and who doesn’t pass the several modules within each test. The school district has to arrange for tutoring time and supplemental instruction if a student doesn’t pass a test or a module. If a student fails a test twice, he or she must develop a project that could take 15 hours to complete (probably on line which means more computers in each school) that must be developed in the presence of a district test administrator, and will be scored by educators across the State through the Department of Education. All of these requirements will take a great deal of time and money. The more courses that are added, the more time and money!
It is also unlikely that these tests will become a substitute for all final exams. They will probably be offered for some courses at times awkward for use as final exams (such as before a course is completed). The results will probably not be returned to a teacher in time for him or her to use the results in lieu of a final exam. And the different levels of courses offered by high schools (for example, academic and honors) in all three subjects make it unlikely that the same standardized test can be used for every course.
In sum, these tests will not help schools to improve what they do. They will not raise standards, but have significant negative effects on schools. Their implementation will create significant personnel and staff difficulties due to the need for administering, monitoring, recording test data information, tutoring, and using the tests effectively within the high school.
2. The exam requirements will have a significant negative impact on students
During their high school years, students take a variety of courses and programs. Students are involved with many different teachers and experiences that provide both a standardized and customized quality education. By graduation, major differences appear. Some students are good at math; others in English. Some demonstrate their talents in the arts; others in sports; some have a lot of trouble in some subjects, but excel in others. Some get high marks and honors, while others do less well. In other words, there is great variety among students in their skills, their talents, their interests, and their achievements. All this is consistent with a 21st century American society that has highly diverse, varied, and complex career and college paths.
In order to graduate, students must overcome many hurdles, including passing courses in many different subjects, taking tests, doing research projects, and so on. They are usually required to pass core courses and take final exams in subjects that overlap with the initial Keystone exams - science, mathematics, and English. In most schools, students are offered elective courses that they can take to help them develop their interests or build academic desires.
Some schools today are “themed” schools. Students choose to go to these schools, and the elective work that students do there is usually concentrated in certain areas, such as the arts, culinary arts, technical careers, communications, science, math and engineering, and politics and law. Some “alternative” schools enable students to focus their learning around relevant, interesting, authentic projects, or to go back to an individualized school experience that helps them to complete a high school program after they have dropped out of school, or to develop a customized learning experience that fits their special needs.
Currently, all Pennsylvania high schools today are required by Chapter 4 to have students do a major project in order to graduate (note: the revised Chapter 4 regulations eliminated this from the Chapter 4 requirements).
If they successfully navigate all these hurdles, then they get a diploma and go on to a myriad of post high school experiences – a four-year university or college with different emphases and majors, two-year community colleges, technical or specialized schools, or the armed forces are the usual routes.
Now along comes the State Board and Department of Education and they say – wait!! It is not enough to succeed through four years of high school with these varied programs and customized learning experiences. We need to make sure that every single one of our students graduate with exactly the same “high standards”, starting with science, math and Literature subjects, by passing State-developed high stakes tests. These standardized tests, using multiple-choice and short answer formats, will guarantee that every one of our students who graduate can do algebra; that they know the ins and outs of biology; and, finally, that they can read out of context passages from literature and answer questions, answer vocabulary questions, and the like. Once we get those in place, we’ll add some more, such as exams in composition and civics and government. We will stipulate that if any student fails to pass any one of the required tests, they will not get a degree. All their four years of hard work is out the window. Period. They might pass two of the three exams (or later four out of five), or miss passing one because they missed two questions below the proficient cutoff score. It won’t matter.
Now some students will not be bothered by these new exam requirements, and will pass them with ease. But many others will struggle. The many diverse types of students across the State, in a variety of types of high schools, courses, and programs, will take a test, or part of it, twice in order to pass, and some will fail twice and then be required to do a project in order to pass. There will be a number of students who will not pass one, two or three tests, even with the three tries, and even if they work hard at their high school courses and pass them, they will not be able to graduate.
If you want to see the great folly of this, you might also want to look at the sample test questions in biology and math that I took from the Department of Education’s sample question booklets and included in this appendix. You might ask yourselves whether answering these questions is really necessary in order for a student to be “career and college ready”. Think about whether every single student across the great state of ours should be required to know the answers to these types of questions in order to graduate. Think about whether you have had any need to know the answers to these questions in order to be successful in your own chosen field. Think about whether college and career success depends on whether a student is able to score proficiently on these exams.
To illustrate what I mean, currently, in a school in Philadelphia that I volunteer in, between 65-75% of the students now pass the English PSSA exam. But 90% of the students go on to college. Some of those who pass the PSSA exam don’t make it through college, while others who do not pass are successful. In other words, the current PSSA results do not predict how students will perform in college when they graduate! Thank goodness they are not required for graduation.
Imagine that your own children were in high school, suddenly confronted with a new set of gatekeeper tests, and your child had trouble passing one of them. Think about the frustrations and anxieties that would ensue. Would your child begin to give up on school? Would you be frustrated for your child? Imagine that your child was able to do the work in his or her courses, that he or she was an average student, but simply had trouble with one of those subjects. Would you want that to happen to your own child?
Ironically, according to a May article in USA Today, several other states are now beginning to move to eliminate their graduation testing requirements because of the problems they have caused for many of their students.
3. The Keystone exam requirement will significantly increase costs to the State and individual school districts
The development and implementation costs and resulting fiscal consequences for both Pennsylvania and its school districts will be high, and, especially in these difficult fiscal times, will divert monies from the real needs of schools and students. The State’s costs include the continued development and scoring of these tests every year, along with the scoring of the tests and the projects that result when students fail the test twice (probably thousands of students across the state). Start-up costs have already been estimated to run into close to two hundred million dollars, with additional millions to maintain, develop, update and score the tests in future years. When additional tests are added, the costs will significantly increase.
In addition, there will be significant, mandated, unfunded costs and personnel requirements in every school district in the State with a high school, due to the need for administering, monitoring, recording test data information, tutoring, and using the tests effectively within the high school. Imagine what it will take in a large high school with 2500 or 3000 students to cope with this new requirement! What about the costs to a District like Philadelphia with so many large and small high schools. And all this happening at a time when education budgets, programs and services are being cut all across the State.
Other costs include the need to retool the curriculum to align with each test, purchase new textbooks, add more test-prep services and courses, assure that there are enough computers on hand for students who need to complete a project, and so on.
In order to estimate the cost, I am assuming at least $50 million dollars a year at the State level will be spend on these tests (I think that the costs will be much more). In addition, let us assume that there are 400 high schools in the Commonwealth (a low figure), and that each spends an average of about $200,000 to administer, monitor, record keep, and provide supplemental instruction for these tests (a low figure). Multiply 400 by $200,000 – that comes to $80,000,000 dollars across the State. That means that it will take at least $130,000,000 (a very conservative estimate) every year to develop, score, administer, support, and record information about these three tests and projects. The figure will increase significantly as more exams are added.
Is this what we want our education money to be spent on? Are these exams worth the costs, personnel time, energy, and additional resources that it will take to implement them?
4. Less high school innovation will result from adding the Keystone Exam requirement
Another disadvantage and serious consequence of this law will be to stifle innovation at the high school level. We live in a rapidly changing world that often requires significant innovations and changes to maintain strong educational programs. For example, some schools in the State have moved to create a more integrated science-math-engineering-technology (STEM) approach to curriculum. Mathematics is sometimes taught not by each individual math subject, such as algebra and geometry, but through an integrated mathematics approach focused around real-life, more authentic problems. There is major diversity and continual changes in the literature read in English courses throughout the State. Up-dated science courses often reduce the emphasis on teaching the knowledge of science, but instead motivate and interest students by emphasizing the science inquiry and investigation skills associated with scientific discovery. More focus on test-prep could mean less time and opportunities to be involved in sports, in the arts, or to take interesting electives. Project based learning, one of the key innovative sets of practices in today’s age, are endangered if subject-based multiple-choice short answer tests are required for graduation. In some innovative high schools, comprehensive portfolios of student work have been developed to assess students over time – these will be less likely to be implemented when standardized tests become a requirement for every student to pass in order to graduate.
5. The new regulations eliminate the graduation project requirement that has strengthened school programs over time and insured that students have developed important skills associated with living in today’s world.
There is another problem with the changes to Chapter 4 – the elimination of the graduation project requirement that required every student to develop a project in order to graduate. This requirement made sense! Many districts in the Commonwealth use the project requirement to insure that students could ask good questions, solve problems, conduct research, communicate with the outside world, read a wide variety of material, think clearly, write a good paper, and communicate by making a presentation to others. There was great flexibility in how Districts implemented the project requirement, including some who integrated projects into their courses. Students across the state developed projects around their interests, used multiple resources, demonstrated their writing skills, and share their results through presentations to members of the community and professional educators. Some put the results on line for others to see. This requirement often meant that skills that are not normally assessed through the course of high school work, and that are very important, were assessed. Now this project requirement is gone. It should be put back into Chapter 4 before the regulations are completed.
Alternatives to the Keystone exam requirement
How we could improve educational programs and put the money that will go to develop, score, and administer these tests to better use? Here are some examples.
First and foremost, most districts in the Commonwealth have cut their programs and services to students, and they could use this money to bring back programs in their districts that make a difference. But I can also think of many other, better ways to spend the money at the State level to improve educational practice. Here are some:
If the State were to bring back the graduation project requirement that has been an important requirement for more than fifteen years, then the money could also be used to help strengthen the required project and make it a more meaningful and significant for all students.
But here’s another idea. I would prefer not to offer these tests at all, but, given the fact that many believe that these exams are important, I would support this alternative if it were included in Chapter 4. Suppose, instead of requiring that all students pass these tests, the Commonwealth developed a Keystone Honors Academic Diploma. School districts could offer these tests to those students who wish to take them, and, if they passed all of them, they would be given this diploma. Instead of making the tests a forced and required hurdle that must be passed, the tests would become a badge of honor, an incentive for those who wished to use them that way. What a difference that would make in how the tests would be viewed and used within Pennsylvania!
Another option that should be included in Chapter 4 is the development of an alternative assessment system to the Keystone exams. In New York State, a consortium of high schools has developed portfolio assessment systems that are focused around varied student work. The current Chapter 4 regulations make it virtually impossible to create an alternative portfolio assessment system similar to the Consortium model.
Some Final Thoughts
The Chapter 4 regulations that require Keystone exams in order to graduate are bad for students, bad for schools, and bad for the Commonwealth’s educational policy. The tests may initially seem like a good idea, a way to strengthen education in the State, but, in reality, they would do little or nothing to strengthen overall high school programs and prepare students to be college and career ready. They would add another student barrier to graduation, cause more students to drop out of school, reduce student motivation and interest in learning, and do little to help provide the kinds of skills students need for college and career. They will require significant additional funding from both the State and high school districts. They will reduce the level of innovation and change needed in today’s world, add a complex administrative and personnel burden, require more test-prep, and reduce time spent on other, more valuable high school experiences. They will, in general, weaken, rather than strengthen, high school programs in the Commonwealth.
The current Chapter 4 regulations should be redesigned and overhauled to eliminate the exam requirement for all students. The graduation project should be returned to Chapter 4. If required exams must still be included in the regulations, then I suggest that the regulations make it easier to develop alternative assessment models that match 21st century student needs. If exams are kept in place, then a better alternative to requiring their passing by every student is to use the Keystone Honors Academic Diploma approach, described above. The money spent on developing and administering these exams would be better spent on Pennsylvania helping schools and districts ramp up their programs and assessment systems, and for strapped school districts to use the money to strengthen their programs and services to students.
SAMPLE KEYSTONE QUESTIONS, MATH (1-4) AND BIOLOGY (5-8)
1. Which of the following inequalities is true for all real values of x?
A. x3 ≥ x2
B. 3x2 ≥ 2x3
C. (2x)2 ≥ 3x2
D. 3(x – 2)2 ≥ 3x2 – 2
2. An expression is shown below.
For which value of x should the expression be further simplified?
A. x = 10
B. x = 13
C. x = 21
D. x = 38
3. Two monomials are shown below.
What is the least common multiple (LCM) of these monomials?
4. The results of an experiment were listed in several numerical forms as listed below.
5–3 4/7 √5 3/8 0.003
A. Order the numbers listed from least to greatest.
B. Another experiment required evaluating the expression shown below.
1/6 ( √36 ÷ 3–2) + 43 ÷ I–8I
What is the value of the expression?
C. The last experiment required simplifying 7 √425 . The steps taken are shown below.
step 1: 7 (400 + 25)
step 2: 7(20 + 5)
step 3: 7(25)
step 4: 175
One of the steps shown is incorrect.
Rewrite the incorrect step so that it is correct.
D. Using the corrected step from part C, simplify 7 √425 .
7 √425 =
5. Living organisms can be classified as prokaryotes or eukaryotes. Which two structures are common to both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells?
A. cell wall and nucleus
B. cell wall and chloroplast
C. plasma membrane and nucleus
D. plasma membrane and cytoplasm
6. Which statement best describes an effect of the low density of frozen water in a lake?
A. When water freezes, it contracts, decreasing
the water level in a lake.
B. Water in a lake freezes from the bottom up,
killing most aquatic organisms.
C. When water in a lake freezes, it floats, providing
insulation for organisms below.
D. Water removes thermal energy from the land
around a lake, causing the lake to freeze.
7. Which statement correctly describes how carbon’s ability to form four bonds makes it uniquely suited to form macromolecules?
A. It forms short, simple carbon chains.
B. It forms large, complex, diverse molecules.
C. It forms covalent bonds with other carbon
D. It forms covalent bonds that can exist in a
8. A scientist observes that, when the pH of the environment surrounding an enzyme is changed, the rate the enzyme catalyzes a reaction greatly decreases. Which statement best describes how a change in pH can affect an enzyme?
A. A pH change can cause the enzyme to change
B. A pH change can remove energy necessary to
activate an enzyme.
C. A pH change can add new molecules to the
structure of the enzyme.
D. A pH change can cause an enzyme to react
with a different substrate.
I joined my ASCD state level executive board this past April. I hadn't planned on it. When I made the decision to pursue administrative openings, I thought I needed to take outside professional development. Make sure my mindset was globally relevant. Make certain my educational philosophy meshed with the current research on best practice. Maybe talk to educators outside my district, gain a different perspective, perhaps make a friend or two.
What I found from the two April professional development workshops I went to were people like me: looking to learn, passionate about education, and freely sharing their knowledge. There was no competition to get ahead, no elitism, just a common thread: let's learn together, share our thoughts, and then turnkey it back from whence we came. I needed more of this.
I reached out to the Executive Director of our state affiliate and was invited to attend the next executive board meeting. ASCD L2L was highlighted as an important way for us to continue to learn from other ASCD members, as well as share what we're doing (plus, they pay for your room and feed you a lot). I asked to attend, and my invitation was accepted. I didn't know what I was getting into.
|Ben Shuldiner and Amy Brennan interacting with the audience.|
I entered the hotel thinking, 'oh they have a 24 hour gym', and left two days later with my brain doing mental gymnastics and my workout clothes untouched. In between it seemed each person I met was highly credentialed, doing great work in education, and humble while discussing it (they were also likable, darn it). I thought to myself, 'big fish, big pond. Am I out of my element?' I met +Benjamin Shuldiner, the youngest principal ever in New York State, who dodged bullets in Crown Heights to visit each student's home, and created such buy-in during his 9 years there that his graduation rate (23%) and gang involvement (98%) flipped. I laughed with @BernsteinUSC about all ASCDL2L's sleeping in nearby 'unrooms' on whatever floor you happened to be in for the spirit of the unconference. I later found out Eric had a doctorate from Penn AND a law degree from UCONN, was a former principal, and a current faculty member at USC. Even my mentor and self-appointed guide, +Matthew Mingle, while reserved, was quietly driven: finishing his doctorate, about to move into a director of curriculum position, and highlighted by ASCD Executive Director, Gene R. Carter, in his keynote speech to all ASCD L2L attendees. I thought, 'why am I here?'
At two points in the conference I was able to answer that question. During our unconference brainstorming session, +Walter McKenzie, asked the attendees what were some essential questions to explore based on our morning learning session and our focus on whole child advocacy. After listening to others and channeling my anxiety, I shared my passion within education - soft skills. I asked Walter if we could consider that if the Common Core State Standards were the pinnacle, with the goal of preparing students to be successful in life as well as college and career ready, shouldn't we focus on the 1st level of that: being able to work as a member of a team, possessing a collaborative mindset, perseverance, grit, ability to learn from failure, etc.? I didn't see much reaction from my peers in the room when I shared this comment, so when Walter asked us to break into groups based on our essential questions, I didn't even go to my question group. I envisioned myself standing in an empty spot, me, next to my question posted on chart paper, just hanging out with each other. So, I hooked on with +Fred Ende and Jill Thompson, who had an interesting idea about reflecting on hiring practices for the future.
What a learning experience it was working with Fred AND not believing in my essential question. I engaged with the other members of the group on Fred's topic. We brainstormed together, and I found my voice. There were times when my thoughts were echoed, validated, or extended by others. Other times, disagreed with and explained why. I finally felt in my comfort zone, sitting around a round table, sharing out ideas with other passionate educators. Yeah, my resume wasn't as pretty, but that didn't matter to my peers at the table. They looked at me when they spoke, addressed what I said, and could care less about what stock I came from. They only cared if I had something to say, and probably were fine with me even if I didn't. So, why should it matter to me?
Meanwhile, my essential question group formed. They were the largest group of educators. They later presented an impassioned speech about what attendees would learn if we stopped by their unconference. I first thought to myself, 'Wow, that would have been a cool group to join, too!' I then thought, 'I guess I can trust my instincts as a future leader like I can as a current classroom teacher.'
What an empowering moment this was for me. My voice was heard and accepted. My essential question was validated by another group of ASCD educators I had never even met. And when we presented, my idea for us to share our brainstorm in a larger round table discussion when we had an iPad sound glitch was embraced and enacted beautifully by Ben and @amyrbrennan. When the presentations were over, all attendees clapped for one another. I clapped, too. Not just for what everyone had accomplished, but for my new friends, and the opportunities they gave me to feel a part of something bigger.
When we were asked to reflect on what we learned from the ASCDL2L Conference, I will remember one thing most of all: as I posed for a picture with the group of educators I had previously been in awe of and uncomfortable with, I realized I had reached a new level of learning: acceptance of self and others, willingness to show vulnerability, and a deeper ability to work as a collaborative member of a group. I had increased MY soft skills. And, I had made a group of friends I was determined to stay in touch with -- until the next L2L, when I could see them again.