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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Are We Turning a Corner, Or Am I Too Hopeful?

I have so much going around in my head, I have to get it down.  It is all inter-related, but may not seem so to the reader.

We are in a SACS Accreditation year.  That means we re-create a vision, mission, and improvement plan among other things.  We provide paper to prove that we care about our school, students, and purpose.

It appears the year is going to be about differentiating instruction.  This has been a cornerstone concept and practice of mine since my years in the Social Studies classroom from 1995-2000.  Gardner's concepts make sense to me.  Luckily the course I teach for the University of Phoenix/Axia has a component of Multiple Intelligence, and it is may favorite section.  My students usually say they wish they had this information years ago.  Anyway...

Our principal used Karl Fisch's "Did You Know/Shift Happens" video as part of an hour-long staff development meeting on Friday.  I only attended the final (of four) sessions.  It was near the end of the day, so I am sure the teachers were tired; and it was Friday. 

After the video we discussed a book we are reading as a staff, The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, by Carol Ann Tomlinson.  It is a good book, worth the time it takes to read. 

Let me see if I can summarize my positive thoughts: 
  • The teachers paid attention to the video. 
  • The principal mentioned the slide about Great Britain being the world leader in 1900, and how it seemed out of place with the forward-thinking information in the rest of the presentation.  Why was the slide included?  His take (and accurate from some of the discussions last year when Fisch published his first edition) Great Britain, in less than a century lost their influence because they refused to change.
  • A conversation was started.
  • TeacherTube was mentioned by the principal as a place to look for online videos that might be useful for classes.
Let me see if i can summarize my negative thoughts:
  • The video, though it started a conversation, led teachers to more of a "sadness for this generation" rather than an outlook of potential for differentiating instruction and providing engagement for our students (of which over 50% are from other countries).  e.g. 1 of 8 couples will meet online, led one teacher to say, "But how many of those relationships will last?"  To which I responded, "How many have lasted in the past generation?"  Interestingly, there were three people in the room of around 30 who met their partner online - two couples have married, and the other one is engaged. 
  • I saw this meeting as an opportunity to discuss how technology could help differentiate instruction for our students.  I used David Warlick's "which is riskier" scenario - the risk that our kids might see something bad online or the risk that our kids will not be literate because we are afraid to use online resources.  I mentioned how important it should be that instruction drive filtering policy rather than filtering policy drive instructional options.  I'm not convinced anyone is ready for that discussion in our district. 
  • I think teachers in our district have been bombarded with initiatives over the past 10 years, and therefore they are skeptical of yet another passing fancy.  In order to assist our students in reading English (63% of our students are Hispanic) we experimented with Direct Instruction (late 1990s), and now with Literacy Collaborative.  In between we have used Schelechty‚Äôs Working On The Work Framework, and Wiggins & McTighe's Understanding by Design.  If one did not know better, it would appear that we are grasping at straws, spending an ungodly amount of money on programs we think might work miracles. 
I still believe too many people in education believe there is a method we can implement to fix educational problems.  I have watched Ken Robinson's TED speech yet again (maybe the 50th time).  I agree with him that the creativeness is educated out of us by the design of the public school systems.  It is evident in many teachers.  Teachers, for the most part, believe that there must be a step-by-step method that will make their students successful.  They are not artistic or creative in developing a different way of presenting material to the students under their care.  From my observation, differentiation has been nothing more than reteaching the material another time, to a smaller group of students who didn't get it the first time...but they are still using the same method of teaching, all the while believing it is different.  I'm saddened by this.  We still are ignorant (truly not knowing) that the methods we are using really didn't work in the 1980s, but "it's the way we learned it, so it's good enough now too."  If it is not ignorance, it must be intentional; and I cannot accept that option right now.  Perhaps Tomlinson's book study will help.

I heard two different teachers ask, "How do we do this," and I think that is where they are.  We have been given theory, ideas, and principles.  Our recent professional development has been like the first two years of college, a bunch of classes we don't care about.  It's time for some true practice of how to go about changing the way we do business.  Who can show us HOW?  When will we be shown HOW to reach our students?  I'm not convinced anyone from the outside can show us HOW.  I'm not convinced anyone on the inside will use anyone on the inside to show us HOW.  The expert must come from more than 100 miles away, right.

I am happy that someone has discovered TeacherTube.  It is encouraging, but there are so many things in the Web 2.0 world that no one has heard of, let alone used as a tool from which to learn.  I don't know how much longer I can wait, or even if I can.  As I have stated before, when I came to this system in 1996, we were considered a leader in technology use in the Southeast.  In the past seven years, I have watched as other systems around us have passed us by, and shook their heads as they did.  We said it was because of our demographic changes.  That was, and still is, the excuse.  But the demographics have been changing in neighboring systems too.  While we made excuses, others found ways to integrate and embed technology in their daily classroom routines to reach the diverse students they received.  It led me to make an analogy from the Did You Know discussion - Great Britain is to 20th century progress as DPS is to instructional/educational technology.  I'm not sure if I can continue to fight for a Great Britain-like school system, while the neighboring systems pass us by.  Can I make any difference coming from our Media Center?  Do I need a fresh start somewhere else?  Is education just a game we can't win?

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