Pygmailian and Praise

I was reading through my backlog of education-related blogs today and came across what I thought was a good post over at Assistive Principles that was about (among other things) the consequences of praise (or at least the over use/misuse of praise).  According to the author of the post:
...[students] feel they deserve high praise and accolades for ordinary, mundane things.

...It's now politically correct to praise failure; how could they understand [achievement] in a time where even the losing teams get prizes?

...that self-esteem-motivated praise ends up devaluing ALL praise, and praise can be a powerful tool when used properly.

This got me thinking about the Pygmalian Effect and the role of expectations in the entire process.  We have to have clear, realistic expectations for our students AND create the environment where students internalize and believe in these expectations.  I'm sure that the judicious use of praise plays a role in here somewhere.  It really got me to thinking about how I set expectations for my students and how other teachers do the same thing.  We do this, right? The author ends the post with a touching story that reminds us that all students come to us from different places and we need to know the person in order to determine what praise to apply and when to apply it.
We motivate some kids to get to college; we motivate others just to get to tomorrow. Some of these kids get praised for little things because it's all they get a chance to do. Not all of them, and certainly not some of them . . . but a few--a very specific few--deserve the pat on the back for trying.

As a teacher, I'll try to be more conscious about setting expectations and applying praise at it relates to those expectations and to the particular student to whom the praise is intended.

More change?

Seems like change is the current hot buzzword.  The folks at Kaplan University are using it in their new ads.  Ads that are very critical of the current teaching methodology.  What do you think?  Do you agree with the tone and message of these ads (ignoring the fact that they are for a University).  I do like the idea about using technology to enhance and transform the way that we learn, however I worry that many "traditional" classrooms simply re-create this model in a digital, online form (ex. Blackboard).  This is not exactly transformational.  Transformational happens once we start teaching students how to think creatively.  Also, GO UNCLE PHIL!

Kaplan University Ads

"We need to change the system". amen.

At one point this presenter says "we need to remember we teach kids not subjects".  I like that.  While he does not present any totally new, he says it all very well and quickly (sometimes thinkers tend to ramble).  I like the message in here about the role of technology in education.  If we are not utilizing the most powerful communication tool in history... we are doing a disservice.

Watch the video.  You will like it and it is only 5 minutes long.  You can also see the slides from the presentation here.

Report Cards... for the Teacher

I came across a blog post the other day that discussed the possibility of having an annual report card for school teachers.

I’ve given some thought to the notion of report cards for teachers. The school board and superintendent along with the teachers union can work together on the design. One important function of the report card would be to communicate the “teacher’s results” to the public (that is once we determine what the results should look like and from what they should be derived!)

Now I'm not a fan of report cards for students for a variety of reasons so I will remain very skeptical about report cards for teachers. Now, this being said, the issues I have with report cards are that a) they don't tell you very much; b) they don't accurately assess ability; and c) people tend to "fixate" on them even though they are not helpful (a) and not accurate (b).

I guess I'm not sure to what problem a "teacher report card" is the solution. Is it to hold "bad" teachers accountable (good luck defining a "bad" teacher)? Is it to help the teacher to identify areas of need (according to whom)? Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. I'm all for helping ALL teachers become better at his or her craft, I just don't think this would be a logical way to go about doing it.

School to pay ALL teachers $125,000+/year

So, do you think increased salary will allow a school to hire and retain the best teachers? A new charter school in NYC is going to attempt to find out. This innovative middle school is going to spend the next 15 months recruiting top teachers (who meet their rigorous standards) from all over the place. The starting pay for all teachers is $125,000/year AND teachers can earn an additional $25,000/year in bonus. Now, there are some unique expectations to this staggering compensation plan including teaching, learning and leading activities built into every day. While the day and year is longer* it also builds in (and compensates for) the time for teachers to become masters of their craft by recognizing that preps, observations, and other professional activities contribute to overall teacher quality. Notice that teachers at this school only teach 4 blocks/day (and they are single subject).

Teacher Day

Most interesting to me is the concept of teacher's observing each other. My school has been talking about the benefits of this activity and we are recognizing the challenges (mostly due to time related issues). This school builds colleague observation into every day:

Each teacher observes his/her partner teacher 1 period per day and is observed by his/her partner teacher 1 period per day. Sharing common prep periods allows partner teachers to debrief the observations and plan lessons together.

I have to say I'm really interested in the research that is going to be generated from this site. When you get a chance, check out the links in this post and let me know if you think this will be a successful model or not. Would you be willing to work in a school like this? What do you think of their expectations, especially the teacher-leader ones?

* I know many teachers who put in similar hours and ARE NOT compensated for it.

Virginia considers leaving NCLB

The decision could make Virginia the first state to set a deadline – summer 2009 – for planning a pullout from the No Child Left Behind Act, which ties billions of dollars to federally mandated testing standards in public schools.

Does this surprise anybody? The bigger question is one of funding. VA receives approximately $350 million from the federal government right now for education. While this is a small part of VA's total education spending it could represent a significant piece of certain programs. With many divisions running short of cash, can any of them afford to forgo even 2-3% of their income?

Source: Virginia considers leaving NCLB


I know I'm like a broken record here, but how many of these could be met with students and teachers using blogs? Another question, how many of these are not really 21st century skills but simply skills that all students (and adults) should have?

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments


Grading Neighborhood Schools...

So I was reading this article on Walt Mossberg's blog about three sites that allow you to look up data on local schools. One of the sites mentioned jumped out at me... (if only I would have bought some of these domain names). In particular, there were a couple of quotes that caught my eye and inspired me to investigate a bit more.

The rest of the site contains over 4,000 articles written by well-known education sources like the New York University Child Study Center, Reading is Fundamental and the Autism Society of America. It also contains a Web magazine and a rather involved discussion-board community where members can ask questions of like-minded parents and the site’s experts, who respond with advice and suggestions of articles that might be helpful.

Well, that sounds pretty good, right? And finally... excels as a general education site and will be a comfort to parents in search of reliable advice.

Excels, huh? Good advice for parents? Sounds like it could be a nice resource. Well, I'll check it out in a bit more detail. The few minutes I spent there looked alright (aside from the numerous advertisements). If you get a chance take a look. I'd like to know what you think. Leave a comment.

Creativity is as important as literacy

Wow! Quite a statement, right? Watch this presentation and let me know what you think. I have to say I think I agree with Sir Ken. As a side note, you might know I'm fascinated with presentations... video, audio, powerpoint, etc. This man is really good at presenting, getting his ideas and agenda across.

Incidently, The Deputy Head scooped me on this post. I was thinking about posting it last week but I kept procrastinating... in my defense, I wanted to write something :-) So, he and I either think a lot alike or he is somehow eavesdropping on my computer.

It's a Tool

PPT slideSo I was teaching some 6th graders today and we were discussing PowerPoint. I asked the students "what is PowerPoint?" The responses I received were about what I expected. "PowerPoint is a bunch of slides", "PowerPoint is used in meetings?" (I chuckled at this one), etc. One student, however, gave me the answer I was looking for. She said, "PowerPoint is a tool". I had previously talked to this class about technology being a tool that can be used to solve problems so I asked her what problems can be solved with this tool. She said that PowerPoint could be used to help "people communicate and share ideas". I was thrilled. "Yes," I said, "remember, an effective use of PowerPoint helps you get your ideas and messages across... but it is those ideas that should take center stage, not the tool". Good class, they are getting it!

What I Learned Today

Today I was working with a bunch of 5th graders and man, we were focused. We were so involved in what we were building on the computer (remind me to put a sample up here) that we lost track of time. We "lost" a whole 30 minutes! When I asked the students to quickly save, log off and get ready to go they actually thought I was kidding. Time flies when you are having fun, I guess. As a side note, I'm not sure there is much that makes me happier as a teacher as when students are actually disappointed that the class is over.

Then what are we teaching?

So I was reading this article in eSchool News about how concerned the American public is about the state of education in our country. It would appear (according to the poll) that we are not preparing students to be competitive in the mod-ren age.
Americans are deeply concerned that the United States is not preparing students with the skills they need to compete in the new global economy, according to the poll. Eighty-eight percent of voters say they believe schools can, and should, incorporate 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and self-direction, and computer and technology skills into the curriculum.

I really cannot argue with this as I also agree that we should be prepping our children to excel at problem solving and to think critically and ask questions about the world around them, I mean, look at the problems we face that they are going to have to solve: global warming, AIDs, extreme poverty, Northern Virginia traffic. However, just because the perception at large is that we are not teaching these types of skills does not mean that we aren't. Maybe we are so busy teaching that we are not doing a good job at PR? (more teacher blogging needed?) I digress, The reality is that these complicated, ill-defined problems don't have answers that will be solved by students who are experts at regurgitating facts, right? So, why are we assessing students in such a one-dimensional manner?

One disclaimer, the poll was commissioned by a group known collectively as the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. I'm sure that their hearts are set on creating a highly qualified workforce (currently in 5th grade) but there might be a wee bit of bias here. I mean, how altruistic can a group be whose members depend on these 21st century skills to produce and consume the products that they build? Of course, they are just problem solving, right?

source: eSchool News online - Voters urge teaching of 21st-century skills; Partnership for 21st Century Skills