Edcampusa, pedagogy not policy

Monday June 9th, 2014

 

Four days ago it was my youngest son’s birthday. I woke up early and made him breakfast in bed, handed over presents of a Lego Steve and toy light sabers (he is way too young for a real light saber), then I packed my bags.

lego steve lightsaber

 

My wife and I had debated driving all night on the 4th, but instead decided we really didn’t have enough resources to drive the family 1,000 miles away in a car with well over 200,000 miles on it just so dad could go to a conference. Again and again I’ve had to justify to my wife why I was spending my own money to go to Washington DC for a conference. She is used to losing me for the occasional Saturday, especially when the conferences are free, this time I spent close to $400 to pay for the trip.

Luckily I have relatives who would have taken offense if I didn’t sleep in the guest room and eat all their food because my district won’t pay for out-of-state conferences. I also used vacation days, I don’t earn professional development credit, and as career networking goes, well this is education and an edcamp to boot, there just won’t be high-powered executive looking to hire away great talent. I love my job, but occasionally I dream about being able to pay the mortgage on a regular basis.

On Friday June 6th 7:30 AM I showed my driver’s license to the security guard and was permitted to enter the hallowed halls of the Department of Education. Over the past several months an energetic and very excited teacher fellow, Emily Davis (I think the only person, besides myself, at the edcamp who follows more people on twitter then she has followers), had worked hard to carve out space for us edcampers to do what we do at edcamps right there under the noses of the driving force of programs such as Race To The Top.

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Mr. Duncan stopped in for a few minutes in the morning and then was off.  The cynical amongst us called it a drive by, others reasoned that one should not expect the Secretary of Education to dump his entire schedule to chat up a random selection of teachers. (Rumor has it that he had an interview with NPR.)

Arnie

There were some folks from the Department of Education in the sessions with us, some more obvious than others. The great thing about an edcamp is one person is the same as another. Perhaps if Duncan had stuck around, all the sessions he took part in would have devolved into a group of people trying to talk at him, (and occasionally throwing tomatoes). It may have been for the best that he left us alone to try to do what we do at edcamp.


topicsThere are always a few session on policy at an edcamp. This of course was edcampusa, some, perhaps all, thought is was the opportunity to have real teacher voice heard at the Department of Education. Whatever, we aren’t the first group of teachers to visit, though perhaps the first grassroots group of teachers.  Edcampers are by no means a political organization, rather they are educators who are actively stepping up to make changes in their schools and classroom.  I guess, being invited to the Department of Education felt like being asked to consult on policy.

policyDuring edcampchicago in 2012 (maybe 2013) I led a session on the RESPECT document. A paper written by former Department of Education fellows about how they envision a “renewed and transformed teaching profession in the 21st Century.” I talked to one of those fellows during that time and she said that as Arnie went on a bus tour around the country they would set up shop at each stop and ask teachers to comment and improve the document. There was space online at the Department of Education website, that allowed interested educators to comment on the document. During my session at edcampchicago of 300 attendees I think 4 showed up.

At edcampusa my session on webmaking with Mozilla was only attended by one person. (the session on maker spaces had 6 I think) She knew more about the subject than I did. As a college professor she was excited to see what happens when kids get a hold of tools such as webmaker and Scratch. On the other end of the spectrum, sessions on “How we should schools be evaluated” and “Measuring Education” were generally full.  I guess we should forget about the classroom and focus on fixing education, isn’t that the way most reformers do it?

At work as a technology integration and professional developer I spend a lot of time talking about pedagogy.  Using technology is not about the technology, it’s about quality teaching practices. The teachers don’t like it, the new boss wrote me up for it. Yet, I refuse to change, I refuse to be a person who teaches tools. (Seriously, when was the last time your boss hired someone to teach you how to use the accounting software at work?)

Most teachers and edcampers aren’t policy wonks, they are interested in changing classrooms. This can be seen as policy talk, but what we really do at edcamp is talk pedagogy, even if we don’t call it pedagogy. Pedagogy is the basis of quality classroom instruction, it is also the bedrock under which we should write school policy.


The natural question is how much of the policy talk actually made it across to the people in the Department of Education. Were the people from the Department of Education, that joined us in session mostly teacher fellows, there for a year and gone, or were they full-time staffers who actually have a voice in creating education policy? (How many people in these huge public buildings actually affect policy and how many just keep the government running?) We certainly had a star-studded group of educators who could speak well on such topics as education policy. Just these 8 could make a think tank worth millions.

Then again, to not have heard what we have been saying for so many years, testing is being misused and is statistically useless for evaluating teachers, schools need to be more student-centered, teachers need a voice, the model of schools we use is hopelessly outdated, and more. All of these things are not new, they are not a big secret. Heck, most of them are in the RESPECT document. They are just not being implemented.

Did we need to go to the Department of Education to tell them? Or do they need to come to us and see what we really do? Tom Whitby suggested that instead of doing a bunch of edcampusa in Washington DC, the staff should leave Washington and visit edcamps around the country. I know they have gone out in the past to visit schools, but the dog and pony shows that happen when outsiders visit a classroom is not a true indication of what really happens in our schools. Take a Saturday and spend 5 or 6 hours with teachers, don’t even tell them you are from the DOE, edcamps are like that, they don’t check your credentials at the door. Just be careful you might learn something.

Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism

…flexible…

Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.

 

I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.

 

 

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Open Online Experience Registration Begins

This year has been the year of MOOCs for me, and it seems the rest of the world. I started with DNLE at Stanford, the first MOOC I actually finished. (My first MOOC was edfutures with Dave Cormier in 2010 but I kind of petered out after 6 weeks)

In September I started working with Alec Couros and his many co-conspirator on #etmooc. I learned a lot about designing a connectivist MOOC. I put that learning to work right away in designing the Open Online Experience (#OOE13).

Over the past month or so I and 40 other educators have worked hard to develop OOE13. OOE13 is a 10 month course starting in September 2013 and ending in May 2014. There are two main goals of OOE13. The first is to help educators learn and develop the skills necessary to integrate technology into the classroom. The second is to help educators create and nurture connections that will continue through and beyond the experience.

The experience is specifically designed to parallel the school year. Which at first seems like a very long course, but in reality is a short 9 week course stretched out to allow busy working educators the time necessary to explore each topic without putting undue burden on their lives. We also hope it will become a theme for some groups as they work together during the year. We hope you will join us during the journey.

It isn’t necessary to register for the course, everything should flow through our wiki (http://ooe.wikispaces.com/), but to get the full effect we ask you to register here, or here.

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Teaching A Series of Techniques?

I’ve read this story twice now. At first I thought oh it sounds pretty good. Let’s examine quality teachers and see if we can spot some common characteristics. Unfortunately we have two problems.

  1. The common characteristics are opinions based on anecdotal evidence.
  2. They are teaching techniques not teaching methods or strategies.

Yes, yes I know there is no one right teaching method and classroom management is very important, but I hate to burst your bubble but there is no one right method of classroom management either. Some very effective teachers would take the 49 techniques and throw them out the window. On the other hand I do know some teachers who could use a good lesson or two on how to manage a classroom.

With that thought in mind here are some selected quotes from the article and some comments by me.

The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculum and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on.
But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans.
So the question begins: what do we do when children don’t listen?

That belief has spawned a nationwide movement to improve the quality of the teaching corps by firing the bad teachers and hiring better ones.

The belief that good teachers are born not made means we fire all of them and only hire back the good ones?

Yet so far, both merit-pay efforts and programs that recruit a more-elite teaching corps, like Teach for America, have thin records of reliably improving student learning. The smarter path to boosting student performance, Lemov maintains, is to improve the quality of the teachers who are already teaching.

…what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise.
He isn’t describing teaching, but rather classroom management techniques

No professional feels completely prepared on her first day of work, but while a new lawyer might work under the tutelage of a seasoned partner, a first-year teacher usually takes charge of her classroom from the very first day.
No real mentoring in any teacher education program. Why not first year with daily one on one mentoring and second year maybe 5 on one mentors with lots of time to observe and be observed?

Cook County Normal School, run for years by John Dewey’s precursor Francis Parker. The school graduated future teachers only if they demonstrated an ability to control a classroom at an adjacent “practice school” attended by real children; faculty members, meanwhile, used the practice school as a laboratory to hone what Parker proudly called a new “science” of education
Still not talking about teaching, but rather classroom management

Many education professors adopted the tools of social science and took on schools as their subject. Others flew the banner of progressivism or its contemporary cousin constructivism: a theory of learning that emphasizes the importance of students’ taking ownership of their own work above all else.
Yet I don’t see why this in any way conflicts with learning classroom management techniques. (Remember this one for later)

Yet schools can’t always control for the quality of the experienced teacher, and education-school professors often have little contact with actual schools.
Why the hell not?

His heartfelt lesson plans — write in your journal while listening to music; analyze Beatles songs like poems — received blank stares.
That’s a lesson plan?

The official title, attached to a book version being released in April, is “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.
The video’s are all elementary students, do they work with middle school / high school students? While the techniques look nice they don’t talk about how to set them up; oh wait I have to buy the training to do that. The real question I have is what do you do with the student who consistently disrupts class, but the dean has made it clear he doesn’t want to see the child in the office all day everyday and you are only allowed to suspend the student 10 days per year. What happens when you call 30 different home numbers but none of them work. The parents don’t care. The administration has given up. You can’t get the kid suspended or expelled even when they threaten your life. Basically, nothing in your arsenal of classroom management techniques has any effect. What then? If this student puts his/her head down and doesn’t bother anyone I can teach the rest of the class, but if I spend 10 minutes everyday putting out fires he/she starts how can I bring the rest of the class up? What do I do when a student transfers into my classroom two months into the school year and missed all my precious “teaching my students how to be students lessons”. What is that student is disruptive and 4 years below grade level? He/She has no records and it takes 9 months to get all the paperwork done to get him/her the help they need. What if they move to a new school and don’t tell anyone? That new school has to start the paperwork all over again. I can have great classroom management techniques but I also need support on all levels, parents, administration, and sometimes police.

The romantic objection to emphasizing it is that a class too focused on rules and order will only replicate the power structure; a more common view is that classroom management is essential but somewhat boring and certainly less interesting than creating lesson plans. While some education schools offer courses in classroom management, they often address only abstract ideas, like the importance of writing up systems of rules, rather than the rules themselves. Other education schools do not teach the subject at all. Lemov’s view is that getting students to pay attention is not only crucial but also a skill as specialized, intricate and learnable as playing guitar.
So what you are saying is all other education schools suck. Teachers should learn classroom management first and in some cases only.

Is good classroom management enough to ensure good instruction?
Finally, and yes the answer is no.


One of those researchers was Deborah Loewenberg Ball, an assistant professor who also taught math part time at an East Lansing elementary school and whose classroom was a model for teachers in training.
These videos seem to be more about allowing students to think and discuss concepts and very little about classroom management. It’s all about letting students use their brains. This looks suspiciously like a teacher who cares about quality education first and classroom management second, but yet still manages to do both. Note that the “Sean” numbers lesson was actually a lesson that went off track, an action that is frowned upon at “Uncommon Schools”

Teaching, even teaching third-grade math, is extraordinarily specialized, requiring both intricate skills and complex knowledge about math.
What teaching is specialized and requires intricate skills and complex knowledge?

Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it. Then they need to take each mind from not getting it to mastery.
Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching

  • which visual tools to use to represent fractions
  • sense of the everyday errors
  • “Teaching depends on what other people think,” Ball told me, “not what you think.”

She had been teaching for only two months, yet her fifth-grade math class was both completely focused on her and completely quiet.
Why do we assume this shows proof that she is a good teacher?

advanced to a technique
techniques are not teaching.

We almost had some good writing in the middle there, but we ended on a sour note. Really this articles seemed more like a 9 page advertisement for “Uncommon Schools” and their new book coming out in April.

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