Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Our Job Is 'Kids'

Oh. My. Word.

I have some fantastic students--future teachers--and they often impress and amaze me. But every once in a while, one of my students speaks with such wisdom and clarity that it makes me take a step back.

In Introduction to Education I assign my students a weekly reflection paper about the readings and discussions we have in class. These short papers help give me insight into how they are understanding the course material, how they are making connections, how they are learning.

In a recent reflection about the tasks inherent in planning for instruction, one of my students wrote this gem:
Because we are the teachers planning for each day, we need to know what we are teaching. We need to know the content and curriculum – not just know the facts, but application also. As teachers, our job is “kids.” We learn content to teach the kids. We learn to be aware of kid development. We learn to form activities and friendly classroom for the kids. We learn to be a leader for kids.
She made connections here between several different ideas we had discussed at earlier points in the semester: she is showing how it all hangs together for her, which is great!

But that phrase right in the center of this, it got me! Here it is again, in case you missed it:

As a teachers, our job is "kids."

How about it, veterans? Do you still think of it this way? What is central to your work as a professional educator? Policies and procedures? That high-stakes test that's coming up? The latest district initiative? Meeting minimum standards?

Or are you in it for the kids?

Why are we teaching? Here's the voice of wisdom from a future teacher: our job is "kids." 

Image by Ilmicrophono Oggiono [CC BY 2.0]

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Problem with Grade Books

Grade books are a real problem, and I don't think enough teachers are actually thinking about how they use their grade books.

A grade book is intended to help keep track of student learning. But I wonder sometimes about this. The very design of a grade book is--whether digital or analog--to record symbols intended to represent a certain quantity of learning. Every piece of evidence a particular assessment vehicle provides has to be evaluated--measured, quantified, and scored--in order to be recorded in a grade book. Grade books are generally not designed to capture rich, holistic information. They are designed to capture tiny bits of information distilled and consolidated into symbols--points, scores, percentages, letters--that are easy to record in the tiny boxes that make up the grade book.

This is a photo of one of my first grade books. Look at all those "10's!"

And...there's the problem, I think. The technology of a grade book dictates how we use it. (And make no mistake, it's a technology, whether it's in digital or analog format. Curious about that idea? Here's another post that might help you understand my thinking on this concept of non-digital tools being technologies.) As the quote attributed to Marshal McLuhan puts it: "We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us."

Friday, November 13, 2015

When Learning Sticks

I had a joyful moment this week.

As a former middle school teacher, it is always just a bit odd for me to have one of my former young-adolescent students in class again now that I am teaching in higher ed. But it happens, and I'm getting used to it.

And, every once in a while, something wonderful happens.

One of my former middle-schoolers-turned-future-teacher caught me before class the other day:

"Hey, Mr. Mulder..."


"Remember when you taught us about cells in middle school? We learned about how things get in and out of cell membranes? And you taught us about diffusion?"

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Modern Educayshun: The Problem with Tolerance

A friend and fellow Christian educator shared this with me last night. It's a short film entitled "Modern Educayshun." I can't decide if it's a parody or a documentary; a horror film or a comedy. What I do know is that it is a look into the culture of education today. Perhaps it doesn't accurately describe your school setting, but I encourage you to watch it and think about if this is where education is headed in the Western World today. (And perhaps we've already arrived here?)

I have thoughts about this film, but I encourage you to watch it for yourself before reading on. It's only 7 minutes long.

Back when I was a freshman in college sitting in a large lecture hall--with a hundred or more other freshmen--taking a Western Civ course, our professor said something that has stuck with me through the intervening decades: "The arts are the mirror of a culture." I would say that this rings true in my life and experience. And this film seems to be holding up the mirror to contemporary education culture. There are several things in here that I think are perhaps hyperbole or satire...but hyperbole and satire can be ways of bringing the truth into focus. If you've viewed the film, I hope you'll take a moment to comment about your perceptions of the truth--or falsehood--this film portrays. (I won't be offended either way; I'm in no way connected to this film.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Should We Assess Assessment?

This is sort of a weird question I've been thinking about: "How can I best assess my students ability to assess and evaluate?"

I teach future teachers, and I have been thinking about assessment and evaluation a lot lately, because we've been learning about this in my "Planning, Instruction, and Assessment in Middle School" course. (Formerly known as "Middle School Curriculum and Instruction"...we are changing our focus a bit to better capture the key tasks that make up our professional work as teachers.) The students in this course are learning for the first time some of the rigors of the work of teaching: what is actually involved in the planning process at the lesson level? The instructional unit level? The whole course level? How do we know what our students know, and how do we understand what our students understand? How do we actually teach something to someone else?

I am trying to make this course both theoretically-informed, but also practically relevant for them. For example, in our assessment unit, we have talked about all sorts of assessment- and evaluation-related topics, from different choices for formative and summative assessments, to the value of standardized tests, to how to create rubrics and criteria charts, to whether it is ethical to grade on the curve, to how standards-based assessment works, to how to write different kinds of test questions, to what grades really mean. I'm striving to make it a pretty comprehensive course. It also has a lot of meta-analysis...I'm encouraging them to dissect my own instructional decision-making (which is a little scary, to be honest) to see how well I'm modeling and illustrating the things we are learning about at both a theoretical and practical level.