One year later, nothing has changed

Did you ever start telling a story and part way through you are trying to remember if you've told the story before?  I feel that way a lot when I blog and wonder if maybe it's a sign to shut up but I'll likely just repeat the story. But I digress…

Yesterday's blog post was eerily similar to the one I wrote about the same conference a year earlier. Even the title was the same. I'm starting to steal from myself.  After a conversation with a disgruntled principal I realized I had had the same thought a year earlier. I still basically feel the same way.

If they’re just achieving better grades, better study habits and better test taking skills, it doesn’t seem all that important to me.  Now I realize that none of these speakers would say that’s what this does and they even reference rigorous standards and I think I heard the term 21st century learning (whatever that really is), I’m still fearful that the zeal to improve scores and test results leads to the perpetuation of school as we knew it and still know it.  The strategies of PLC’s and assessment, if not combined with a real understanding of what kids ought to be doing in school leave use just doing a better job of the schools of the 1950’s.

There are around 800 leaders from around the province and again, I just think the big picture of student engagement in authentic, relevant learning isn't being emphasized.  Every example of effective assessment seems to focus on Math. Why? Is it because Math is linear and easily reduced to a numerical value of learning?  Ken Robinson videos keep playing in my mind.  Our province's best work was released in 1989 called Common Essential Learnings or CELs. These things matter.  I'm sure I'm just in one of those moods but I just think we have to talk about what matters most. As I say above (is it bad when you start to quote yourself?), are we just getting better at what we've been doing for the past 50 years?  

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  • I know exactly what you mean! I’m having similar ‘deja vu’ moments (although I haven’t started stealing ideas from myself yet!). When I became a supporter of educational change I didn’t predict how hard it would be to convert others. Many of my colleagues are still completely oblivious to Web 2.0, let alone the possibilities it opens up for teaching and learning. They are barely aware of any ‘shift’ in educational thinking or interpret it as a ‘dumbing down’ of current curriculum. I think it’s important for the ‘change agents’ in schools everywhere to maintain the passion, continue to challenge thinking and to accept that ‘deja vu’ moments are an inevitable part of any change process.

  • Julie,
    This is one of the most frustrating problems when people bring up the subject of improving schools. Far too many people think anything that isn’t memorization or drilling in basic skills is simply “dumbing down” schools.

    “Yes, our children need to learn the basics, reading, writing, and arithmetic, but those basic skills are just the beginning. Sometime around middle school and high school students need to shift the focus more from practicing basic skills toward understanding and applying those skills in the real world.”

    Even here though I said the shift begins around middle school, that doesn’t mean elementary students spend all day memorizing the times tables. If students spend enough time exploring and that exploring requires basic skills then they don’t have to be told to memorize them, eventually they will get tired of looking up the same answer 12 times a day. (hopefully)

    Brendans last blog post..Homecoming Money Savings Tips and Hairstyles

  • Dean, I think that things have changed in the last year. What hasn’t changed are the faces presenting the advocacy or presenting effective case studies that road map how to do it, and what ‘new’ assessment methods look like. I can help but think that a lot of people who are talking at people in conferences are orbiting around the same themes as last year. I suggest that this is because there is now an established ‘club’ of experts. I have been to SL events recently and have been amazed that the ‘experts’ pass the ball around a small circle – and often valid and informed comments from the crowd are simple ignored.

    Change happens when you model better methods, better teaching and more effective ICT based classroom practice. Hands on, practical, personal profession development can do amazing things. Over the last year, I’m getting more an more concerned that this cult of personality – is self-serving – and is becoming part of the problem that the originally set out to solve.

    I Bet this aint a popular view mate, but hands on professional development that re-models learning at the teacher model is far more powerful and effective than listening to ‘wisdom of the crowds’ keynotes. We’re beyond ‘early adopters’ and need people to model ‘real workable’ solutions – I’m tired of hearing about things than happened a year or two ago, anecdotal stories and blue sky – all that does is reinforce how ‘hard’ it was (or is). Look at the orbit – how many new ‘faces’ are in it this year? Almost none.

    I won’t expose staff to this – it has no effect on daily change management.

    Dean Grooms last blog post..Learning with an audience

  • Dean and Julie,

    I guess I wasn’t as concerned with the delivery of PD but rather the acceptance that the continued emphasis on “the basics” whatever that is. The 3 R’s seem to get all the attention when it comes to assessment and we leave out everything else. I was fortunate to sit in on a student panel immediately after I wrote this and was so pleased with the way they articulated there thoughts on education. Themes of irrelevance, and “fake learning” were predominant. They actually said what I was thinking perhaps better than I did. I wish I would have waited to post this till after I heard them. I may still post my impressions of them.

  • I agree – I get the impression that the US focus on summative assessment – and how you can change that for the better though formative methods. We have that luxury in Australia, where that majority of the course grade comes from assignments and not ‘tests’. However – despite this, I am talking too about the fact that there are few people you can ‘see’ or ‘workshop’ with who can really reform curriculum, re-think PD and provide workable solutions – for the formative element that we enjoy in Australia.

    While there are some ‘good’ workshop’s being done for teachers (mostly senior and principals) – the problem here is one of sustainability and scale. Creating a workable and ‘normal’ framework which supports ‘change’ is still a rare discussion in any ‘conference’ – we too are seeing and hearing the basics. Seems it’s a global problem right now, hence the wheel spinning.

    I posed a podcast this week, talking to students about their use of ICT in and out of the classroom, parent perceptions and the effect that working in a ‘global’ classroom had on the quality of their work and their perceptions of audience. Maybe there are some common themes? Cheers.

    Dean Grooms last blog post..Learning with an audience

  • Dean – please don’t worry about repeating yourself because some of us are just now benefitting from your work and your wisdom.

    I too had the chance to hear a student panel this summer and found that the students involved were very articulate and thoughtful. Similar themes of irrelevance emerged and in fact at least one of the students had found an online course (outside of our system) that met his needs better and pursued his own learning path.

    I’ll be hosting a forum of parents next month and asking for their input on a vision for our district. Your post has reminded me that I have to ensure they go beyond thinking about the 3 Rs – I must get them to focus on “the big picture of student engagement in authentic, relevant learning”. I might just have to find a way to have some students do that for me!

  • Interesting thoughts, but I don’t understand the either-or point. Students need both drill and expression in schooling as well as in music, martial arts, track and field, etc. Why does anyone think academics are any different? How many musicians perform well without practicing hours a day before a concert?

    Here’s an example of my concern with such either-or thinking by educators. My grandaughter wants to attend a top ranked boarding school in the U.S. She wants “to learn to my capacity.” Straight “A” grades, top of each of her public school classes. Read at 12th grade tested level since 3rd grade. Spends most of her school day waiting for teachers to allow her to move on to the next lesson.

    She has acceptable, 90th to 99th standardized math scores, but not on the SSAT. So, boarding school admission officers suggested she have a tutor before taking the SSAT again. She took the math assessment test at Kumon. These use timed, wrong from right scoring. They expect her to answer about 100 calculations correctly in 20 minutes, such as 6500 ./. 15. The proctor said good students should be able to do these in their head and that’s what their tutoring emphasizes. She came out in the high 50th percentile. Her teachers don’t “believe” in such speed practices/drills.

    Respectfully, I don’t see how the either-or view of teachers has not hurt her more than it’s helped.

    Bob Heinys last blog post..World Wide Web Foundation Addresses Disinformation

  • Bob,

    Good point and I certainly hope I didn’t mean to discount Math or Reading but rather the emphasis on those two areas over the arts. It’s clear many schools, teachers and policy makers see the arts as “electives” or less than academic. I’d encourage you to watch this interview of Sir Ken Robinson. He articulates this better than I can.

  • Jim Strom

    As a “retired” teacher, I find myself periodically embarrassed by what I “had” to teach back then. In fact, I apologized to a former student slash current co-worker just yesterday. My word to you teachers, “Be bold. Be brave. Break through the walls of resistance to change. Teach students, not subjects. Express your joie de vivre. Allow them to get out of their desks.”

  • sophie

    I was at the conference….I was at the one a year ago. I keep waiting for an “aha” moment instead of an “oh yeah..heard it before” moment. I’m taking Jim’s advice and being bold, brave….. trying to drag some of my colleagues with me. But why do I sometimes feel I need to be subversive about it?

  • Hi there,
    whilst surfing for ideas about assessment I reached your blog….and very interesting it is too!
    As a primary school teacher inEngland I am charged with rolling out assessment for learning with my 6 and 7 year olds, Now Iam constantly yapping onto them about learning objectives, success criteria, learning partners blah blah blah Not only do I not believe that this daily dose of formative assessment is sustainable, but I think I am in serious danger of stressing mychildren out. I see them physically yawn when I near them to give them their daily feedback on the learning.
    How on earth did I ever learn to read and write without the constant assessing diatribe I churn out?
    Why am I so dissaffected ???? because I know what I am doing is still about product and not process. I think the 21st century requires learners who are taught in a very different way…iin a way that allows them to go on and create some new knowledge….the kind that will solve problems….but alas my ideas are too contentious for my head teacher….blah life!

    silvanas last blog post..Harry Potter , will he stand the test of time?

  • I've taught at both ends of the spectrum (20+ years with learners experiencing academic problems and 10 years with medical students) and I am continually astounded by the continuing emphasis on the idea that successfully learning = memorization not thinking. Medical students are considered by many to be at the top of the academic pyramid, they easily memorize 20X the number of facts that arts students do, but they are not very prepared to confront problems and mysteries.
    I've had several conversations lately about why we are seeing such emphasis on topics like creationism and other denials of science and I think it's because our school system has put so much emphasis on the authority of the "correct answer" to standardized questions that as adults, these students go looking for authority fiqures (church, media) to tell them the answers.