Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The guiding question should always be, "Is this what is best for kids?"... Right!

@arneduncan Arne Duncan I couldn't agree more. RT @DellaCCS @arneduncan The guiding question should always be, "Is this what is best for kids?"

Am I the only teacher that is tired of hearing this? There was a time when I believed we should ask, “Is this what is best for kids?” or “Does this affect our students?” before discussing any issue. I thought this would be a good way to avoid the 45 minute conversation about the pros and cons of assigned teacher parking at a school faculty meeting. Just imagine how much fluff could be dropped from the numerous meetings we attend each week. Anyway, my opinion has changed slightly. Why? Simply because the words have no meaning. How can they?

I have no doubt that the people that utter these phrases, and then proceed to push their detrimental educational policies, truly believe that they are doing what is best for students. My problem is this, simply saying you are doing what is best for kids does not make it the case!

I braved the heat to attend the Save Our School’s March in DC this July. As a teacher I felt a responsibility to my students to do so. I figured I have no right to complain about the problems with standardized testing if I am not willing to do anything about it. Here is the thing, I have a ten year old son who is diagnosed with autism. I know he is behind grade level. When he started kindergarten he could not speak a complete sentence. As he prepares for fifth grade he reads, writes, talks in non-stop complete sentences, and does math. His standardized test will show he is behind grade level and could aid in labeling his teachers and school as failing. When in truth, his teachers are all incredible and we owe them so much. I do not need a standardized test to tell me how his school and his teachers are doing. I also know exposing him to one is not what is best for him.

So I have to ask, with all the educators, parents, students, administrators, authors, bloggers, and other invested parties across the United States expressing their dissatisfaction with NCLB, RttT, and standardized testing is Arne Duncan even listening? I get the feeling that the guiding principle is not, “Is this what is best for kids?” Rather... it is, “Is this what I think is best for kids?” Or possibly...”Is this what is best for kids within the confines of the agenda I am pushing?”

We need to be honest here, if the “educational reformers” were really concerned about doing what is best for kids they would stop ignoring and vilifying the people that work directly with our students every day.

When I read the above post it really annoyed me! I am sure I am not the only one irritated by this post though, why does it bother you?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What happens when you give students choice?

Last week I told my environmental classes to pick a topic that falls under the umbrella of the BP oil spill. They could pick anything that interested them. They then had to develop five research questions that would guide their research. I created a google doc and shared it with everyone in each class. The students posted their topic, research questions, and eventually their answers. The students used google doc's collaborative capabilities to leave each other comments and suggestions. The students were then given the challenge of publishing their work in a way in which our district and community could learn from it. Students again used the google doc to make suggestions and comments about how they would do this. I love that all three classes picked a different tool to complete the challenge.

The students were given choice in both their individual topics and in how the class would publish them. Although they worked individually or in groups of two on their topics, they worked collaboratively throughout the project in making comments on each others work, proofreading posts, developing a reference page, and in making other formatting decisions.

This was the first time I have attempted a project with so much freedom and I am extremely happy with the results. That is not to say that it went perfectly by any stretch of the imagination though. In many cases I wish the students research would have went a bit deeper. Many of the students might have taken the project a bit more seriously. It may have taken a day or two longer than needed. Many students would claim they were done when there was many ways in which they could have continued to contribute. Considering all these flaws, the bottom line is that this was a very new experience for all of us. I will get better at facilitating it, and they will get better at working together. In the end, you can be the judge if it was successful or not.

I am posting the following message on our district website tomorrow after meeting with each class one more time:

April 20, 2011 marks the one year anniversary of the BP gulf coast oil spill. Environmental science students were asked recently to research a topic that related to the spill and interested them. They were then asked to work together as a class to find a way to share what they have learned with each other and the world. Below are the results of their endeavours. Please take some time and discover for yourself the effects such a terrible disaster has on the environment. The students would love to hear from you, feel free to leave comments for them!

Environmental Science Period 5
Environmental Science Period 7
Environmental Science Period 10