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Why Do You Ask?

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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

How Much Is Happening on the Web?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Achievement Gap Discussion (Better Explanation)

It's difficult to give full meaning (and there complete understanding) in the 140 character limit of Twitter.  But I've been giving it a go on this concept of "achievement gap" as it has been defined (and therefore limited) in the context of educating young people.

From Wikipedia - Achievement gap refers to the observed disparity on a number of educational measures between the performance of groups of students, especially groups defined by gender, race/ethnicity, ability, and socioeconomic status.

Etymology - The word achieve comes from the Latin, caput (meaning head) and then Old French - chief (end, head). 

Definition - The meaning is To carry on to a final close; to bring out into a perfected state; to accomplish; to perform...

My disdain for the use of Achievement Gap in k-12 education:

Before I list my reasons, let me pose this question: When should anything in K-12 be at a point of "a perfected state?"

First, these "measures" are almost exclusively standardized tests.  When you see the plural, it really means more than one test has been given to "demonstrate" that some kids do not score as well as others, and there is consistency in the kids who do not do well.  Written (and circle-coloring) testing is too narrow a measurement for something as important as our children.

Second, these tests are given to children.  This, in my mind, is where I have the problem with the term "achievement" in describing the discrepancy of the test results among kids.  With no disrespect intended, we are talking about kids; kids who have had no opportunity to ACHIEVE anything in life because...well, they are kids.  Sure, some young people will accomplish some extraordinary feats, but that is why they are considered "extra"ordinary.

How many possible extraordinary actions have we missed because our kids were too busy worrying about scoring in the upper 5th percentile of a test that will not dictate personal success in actually accomplishing anything of substance?

Sadly, when kids see their results and they do not do well, this is not as much of an indication of what the kid has done in the past as much as it affects what the child will do in the future...they will BELIEVE THEY CANNOT ACHIEVE in their future.  This "self-fulfilled," "other-induced" prophecy is what disturbs me.  Students give up when there is no reason to do so.  The emphasis (and blind, religious zealousy) on testing is crippling the potential of people before they are even teenagers! 

Kids are attending school, but they have dropped out by the 5th or 6th grade, because they have been told they are not "achieving" at the same level of their peers.

Third, adults who are concerned with the education of children usually have good intentions, but they know not what they do when they use the words they use.  In this case, the use of the word "achievement gap" is used to say some kids do not perform as well as others on a test.  As adults we think we know what all kids at a given age should know...because we are adults with an education, the ones on the good side of the achievement gap.  Yes, I am implying a level of pomposity in the process of creating tests which the educated believe to be "fair to all kids."  Call it what it really is - TESTING GAP - then I'll be quiet about this issue.  We are ripping the hearts and spirits out of our kids!  If you don't see it or believe it, I have an open invitation to spend two days with me in my class.

Fourth, by segregating the data, we think that we can identify the children who need more help.  Here's what is really happening. We have created categories of children based on gender, race, and economics so we can maintain their rightful societal places, secure stereotypes, and create a permanent underclass. 

Yes, more kids are "passing" the tests, but the students are not fooled.  They still know if they can read and understand what they read.  The students know if they really understand Algebra at the age of 13. 

Further, I have a futuristic concern for the kids who are coming out on the positive side of the testing.  I have watched tests get easier and easier in order for schools to meet "Annual Yearly Progress." 

Some students are not working very hard at all, but they are testing at very high levels.  They are forming a false sense of accomplishment and "achievement."  They have yet to achieve anything of substance in life.  Although they will now be given opportunities that others will not be awarded, as if tests demonstrate ability, value, or contribution to humanity.

Fifth, Adults are fooling themselves into believing our kids are prepared for their next level of life and school, when they see test results.  Why do kids drop-out?  All kinds of reasons, but my guess is that the students who drop out are smart enough to know they are playing a game adults call school, and they are tired of the game.  These "false negatives" we call test results are not revealing the cancer that permeates the lives of our nation's kids. 

So what is my approach to help my 7th grade students prepare to succeed in life (and on tests)?

  1. I know my material.
  2. I get to know my students and what motivates them.
  3. In general, middle schoolers are rebels and like to prove others wrong.  They are competitive. So I set my kids up against the enemy - adults who make them take these tests (politicians, testing companies, future teachers and admins).  I'll explain this below.
  4. I do whatever it takes, as long as it is ethical, to get my kids to know the content.  I will not cheat for them or cheat them out of a real education.
EXPLANATION: Item #3 can easily be misinterpreted, so here is what I let my kids know. 

Politicians are using kids to get elected.  Test scores can be used either way.  Incumbents use good score to show that they are responsible for better schools.  Challengers use bad test scores to show they will do something different (like Obama did).  Either way, nothing really changes, except that kids will be used to get politicians elected.

Testing Companies must create tests that politicians will use in their states to get elected.  This means that in order for tests to be considered valid and reliable, not every student can pass (or meet the standard).  If every child passes, then the test is too easy, and politicians will not contract with that testing company.  A certain number of students are not meant to pass.  It is intentional.  So they will use words that make them sound smart, that kids will not know: not content words, but words or idioms in the question. 

For example, "What conclusion can you draw from this photograph?"  There is no Spanish equivalent for this idiomatic phrase, so ELL students from Mexico are looking to literally draw a something.  Is that considered "racially biased?"

Future Teachers and Administrators do not know the kids they will have, so many of them make judgments based on test scores and punitive records (I also don't like the term "discipline" when it is punishment, but that's another post for another time).  The scores you get from tests will determine which classes (and which teachers) you will get in the future.  If students want the good teachers, the fun teachers, the teachers who will care about them, then getting good test scores is necessary.  It is the game of school they must play.  It's a shame, really, but we are all human, and we have been conditioned to judge students on their scores.

Final thought: To borrow from, and update Dr. King:  I have a dream that one day my students will be judged not on the results of their test scores but on the resolve of their commitment to personal excellence.

Posted via email from Murry's World

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Response to Scott Moritz's article on Why NOT to buy an iPhone

You can read his article here.

Here are my reasons for not buying an iPhone.


There you have it.

Posted via email from Murry's World

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Teachers Working Like Musicians

I had to get this down so I wouldn't forget.

I've been to Riverbend to see Sheryl Crow and Alison Krauss, and other bands on the side stages.  I love music...nearly any kind of music. 

My wife and I talked about how some musicians really work hard to bring the crowd into their show. 

Sometimes they play popular songs...like Alison Krauss and Union Station played for nearly an hour before playing "Man of Constant Sorrow" from the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.  The crowd, since they a) weren't familiar with Krauss's songs, b) have grown up with no appreciation of the work that others do, and c) have little respect for those around them, was too loud and disruptive until the familiar song was played.  Then, everyone sang along, as if they were lifelong fans.  [Hypocrites.]

A couple years ago, The Steve Miller Band was at Riverbend.  They were great.  The crowd was singing nearly every song they played.

It made me wonder a few things about teaching and the interaction between a teacher and students.

  1. Why doesn't a teacher record everything done in class, post it online as an "albums" based on their units of instruction?
  2. Why do many teachers believe they have to change things from year to year to keep the material fresh, when an audience in a concert prefers (and is more engaged in) the stuff that is familiar to them?  How can we make our content somewhat familiar to our students?  I know...
  3. Why don't schools offer "summertime school" for kids to watch the videos of the upcoming year to get an idea of what is coming their way.  Like downloading songs of the artist you are going to hear in a month?
  4. Why don't we make homework a viewing or listening of the material that is coming in the near future to introduce students to the content before it is formally presented to them in the <strike> concert </strike>classroom?
I know many teachers do not want to be considered "entertainers" in their classrooms, but it was sure amazing to me how many people KNOW the lyrics to songs from 20-30 years ago.  That seems more like something that was learned and not just memorized.

Posted via email from Murry's World

Here's A Problem With School Reform Efforts...

Colorado takes bold move in education reform....who are we kidding....nothing bold, nothing earth-shattering, nothing will change, except the amount of government expenditures as high quality teachers leave the classrooms, and are replaced with entry-level government automatons.

Teachers, like any profession, are comprised of great ones, good ones, temporarily unproductive ones, and incompetent ones. I have no problem with saying that.  It's true of lawyers, doctors, politicians, salespeople, athletes, etc.

Here's my problem with all the garbage in reform talk for schools.

For years teachers have no say in what they can teach and decreasing say in how they can teach, and it will get much worse before anyone realizes it's mediocrity the current reformers are aiming to achieve.

A modest, yet serious proposal.

Give me a say in what I (the trained professional teacher, who is serious about teaching and learning, and hasn't run away from the job) think is important for my students to learn.  By "give me a say" I do not mean gather a hand-selected representation (which usually does not represent me anyway) to develop wimpy, underclassed standards. 

Let me provide the state with what I will teach.  Let me decide the most appropriate form of assessment for my students.  Then stay out of my way while I prove that my kids can learn, will learn, and will be motivated to do things way beyond the silliness of the weak standards (sometimes even incorrect ones) and election-gimmick test scores.

For teachers who are learning the craft of teaching, give them some government-provided, indoctrination-driven curriculum until the new teachers decide if the career of teaching is even something they care about doing for more than the three-year average.  Once they prove they can teach that junk, then allow tenure to mean that they can write their own curriculum, complete with assessment tools, for approval.

For teachers who do not want to work on their own, and have no problem with government drivel, they can continue to use the standardized approach to education.

For those of us with the gumption to disagree publicly with where our country is headed in the arena of education, let us prove that we can take public education students and make them as competitive as the private-school politicians and their kids.  Competitive is the correct word, right? It is a race, right?

Oh, wait...perhaps that's why our government is trying to ruin public education...it is a race, and we provide too big a threat to our politicians' and big business' children and grandchildren in the mart of competitive commerce and politics. 

Can you tell I'm getting tired of it all?

Posted via email from Murry's World

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sky before Alison Krauss concert at Riverbend

From R. Murry

Posted via email from Murry's World

Friday, June 11, 2010

It is always a pleasure to see someone do what they love

Especially when it obvious. Sheryl Crow loves what she does. She gets better as her concert goes on. There is pleasure on her voice and her face when she sings and plays. Simply amazing!

From R. Murry

Posted via email from Murry's World

Seats for Sheryl Crow.

On the riverfront for Riverbend 2010 in Chattanooga. Found a guy who sells/makes African drums. Planning to buy one tomorrow for my classroom.

From R. Murry

Posted via email from Murry's World

The Great Debates - Chicken or Egg & Teach or Tech

Thanks to the Washington Post article that says Interactive White Boards are basically bunk, the conversation has begun again.

Gary Stager wages his ever-popular war on the "big mouse" technology on Twitter.  It's great entertainment.

Sylvia Martinez jumps ahead (and saves us over $6000) on the the next big thing - the interactive tabletop.

Technology for the sake of technology.  How long will it take to figure this out?


Teaching is an art.  I am writing a book, with a deadline of December 6 (my birthday) about this topic.

The "profession" of teaching has been run roughshod over because we collectively believe teaching can be reduced to a scientific approach of dumping learning content into the heads of children.  Teachers have been forced to teach in worst of circumstances.  I don't care if you are in inner city, urban, suburb, or rural areas, teachers have been given a difficult task and told they must perform the impossible.  I'm not talking about violence in schools, or the oddities that make the news.  I'm talking about the day-to-day work of a teacher in America.

Through the "let's not hurt feelings" decades of the last 30 years, teachers have been forced to have a classroom of students ranging from high intelligence levels to language learners to special education (low intelligent levels), to behaviorially maladjusted, to whatever category we seek to deny exists in a single classroom with a few minutes to "do the miracle" of teaching every child in that setting.  And we accepted it, because to do so was to say that you did not "care about" all the children. I contend that we do our kids a disservice by including such a "diverse" cast of characters in a single classroom, most times with one teacher, and then playing charades that every child is equal, and will be given the best education they could receive.

YET - teachers do this every day!  We somehow take a messy palate of various shades of intelligence, opportunities, experiences, hopes, and dreams and struggle to make sense of the situation in an effort to create a masterpiece out of the lives of the children under our instruction.

Enough on that...for now.

Because of this mass of confusion we have created in public education over the past generation or two, everyone (teachers, admins, parents, politicians, test companies, publishers, and now tech firms) have bastardized (or standardized) the process of learning and the intent of education.  We run numbers, manufacture data (as Alan Levine said in Twitter "we torture data until it confesses" - Jan 30, 2008), and seek to uses scientific structures to perform artistic feats.  We treat our students as robots. We provide input (standards) in hope of future output (high-stakes tests) in the name of efficiency and a false sense of effectiveness.

Since we devalued students to robots, the role of technology in the process is not a big leap in modern pedagogy.  Be it PowerPoint, IWB, SMART, Computer labs, tablets, smart phones, iPods, or any other tool, the tool in and of itself will never answer our questions of what works in helping a student learn. 

These tools (and tools yet to be invented and sold) will never be a magic bullet to solve the question of improving learning or increasing achievement or decreasing the achievement gap (whatever "achievement" we're talking about - it seems only to be measured by questionable test scores anyway).

In the hand of an artistic teacher, a marker and butcher paper is all they need to reach the children in their classrooms.  For an artistic teacher, a stump of a tree and a well conceived story is all they need to make an indelible imprint on the mind of a student.  In the hand an artistic teacher an IWB might open the world to a single-town young person's vision, but so can an ancient map.

However, in the hand of a teacher who has relegated themselves to a scientific, mechanical approach to teaching, you could give them a space shuttle, and the kids may never leave the force of gravity (or racism, or oppression, or opposition) that holds them back from becoming a successful, happy human.

Education - It's not about the tool, or the technology.  It is about the relationship between student and teacher. Use the tools to develop relationships with students and parents and watch improvements in learning happen...or is it already too late?

Posted via email from Murry's World

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Luis Salazar - pregame of Chattanooga Football Club game.

Good to see him pursue his passion.

From R. Murry

Posted via email from Murry's World