My current clinical practice assignment differs from the author’s experience in a few ways. The main difference is in the class scheduling. The school which the author was at has a block schedule where class periods are 80 to 90 minutes long. This ties in mostly with his takeaway about the periods of time in which students are sitting. Class periods at my school are only 55 minutes, with six minute passing periods, so students are up and about at least every hour.
In my experience, one hour is about the limit for the period of time I can spend consecutively sitting in an unengaging environment; that limit is tested for me just about every Monday, so I certainly sympathize with the students whom the author observed being required to sit for an extended period of time.
The author's description of passive listening is a hallmark of the “old” teaching style that is centered around lectures and teacher demonstrations, rather than student activity. I have not seen this teaching style in use much at my clinical practice site. My cooperating teacher uses a system where students are given their task list at the beginning of the week and have the duration of the week to complete it. They are able to freely work and collaborate, and there is only 15 to 20 minutes of lecture during the week. There is still a place for lecturing in the classroom, though I do want to de-emphasize it. However, once these kids get to college, what are they going to experience? Massive lecture halls where they sit and listen to a professor (or assistant professor) lecture for an entire class.
I have observed some situations similar to the third point made in the article, particularly the use of sarcasm in the classroom. Several teachers that I have seen, both this semester and in the fall, like the classroom environment to be more relaxed and not quite as rigid with taskmaster-like rules enforcement. These teachers do use sarcasm as ways to remind students that even though the environment is relaxed, the teacher is still in charge and knows things that the students do not. This is not my personal style, but I’m not sure that it is entirely as destructive as the author believes it is.
One thing mentioned several times in the account is the importance of allowing students to ask questions about previous lessons or concepts they do not understand. I don’t believe that this practice would be entirely helpful in most classroom settings. In an AP or IB setting, perhaps this will work, as the students there are pushing for college credit and have that drive to figure things out. In the college prep classrooms I have been in, most students are not willing to ask questions. When a teacher (including myself) asks the class if they have any questions about the content that was being covered, there will be zero questions asked. Do they understand everything? Their submitted work says no.
Wiggins, G. (2014, October 10). A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days - a sobering lesson learned. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/a-veteran-teacher-turned-coach-shadows-2-students-for-2-days-a-sobering-lesson-learned/
Chapter 3, on testing:
“It isn’t just the dropouts whose motivation to learn is being affected by the relentless focus on testing and memorization. It’s nearly all students.” (Wagner 114)
The only kids who enjoy taking quizzes are the ones who get As on them. These are also the only ones who study. They don’t even enjoy taking the quiz, really; they just enjoy seeing their grades go up. I don’t see the value in training kids to win a trivia contest. Very few of them will go on to careers in which the memorization of places and people from 100+ years ago will be beneficial to them.
In my experience, the resistance to changing the system of objective, multiple-choice testing is not just a political one at the state and national level. I just had a conversation with my cooperating teacher this morning about his practice of administering an objective, multiple-choice quiz in his classes every Friday. He insists that repeating this practice every Friday is the best way to check for understanding and reinforce content knowledge. I don’t agree with this, and neither do the students’ grades.
This form of testing does not train students to comprehend complex reading materials, think analytically, write more effectively or perform research. These are the greatest areas of concern that need to be addressed for college-bound students.
Chapter 4, on teacher education and maintenance:
“What one has to do to become certified as a teacher or administrator is nearly identical to what students have to do for a high school diploma- take a disjointed collection of courses of uneven quality and then pass tests that rarely measure the skills that matter most.” (Wagner 148)
This is painfully true. While the courses at CSUSM are more interconnected with each other than many other credential programs, there is still an uneven quality to them, and the reality that the tests and assessments taken (including the CSET) are a poor indicator of our ability to deliver content and develop student skills.
If I designed an educational program, it would focus more on direct experience, and less on theoretical, high-minded idealism. There is the way that schools should work, and there is the way that schools actually work right now. We need to be be better-prepared for the latter; as novice teachers, we will not really be able to transform things toward the former. We can certainly benefit from learning how to integrate technology, improve assessments, but there are going to be hand and fast limitations on the things we can alter.
There should be a greater focus on strategies to teach the class as a whole and less emphasis on special student groups. Right now it feels like 80 percent of our coursework is focused on teaching 20 percent of the students. I don’t deny the value of differentiating content for English learners and students with special needs but it feels like there is far more emphasis being placed on it for us than there is for the teachers we are working with.
Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don't teach the new survival skills our children need--and what we can do about it. New York: Basic Books.
Michael Wechs’s video “a few ideas…” attempts to show things from the student perspective and presents statistics to back it up. The main criticism levied at the education system is the idea of objective testing and the regurgitation of facts. Students spend a lot of time in class on social media or playing video games because they do not feel that the time they spend in class is well-spent. I am inclined to agree with much of this. Curriculum needs to be developed so that students don’t just learn facts, but skills and literacies that they will need beyond school. This is sorely missing, especially in many social studies departments, which still seem to think that knowing who Erich von Ludendorff was is somehow beneficial to students. So there’s really nothing new to me in this video; it’s just a gimmicky way of re-stating what we’ve seen in this credential program for the past six months.
On the other hand, JTHS EdTech’s “Transforming Teaching and Learning with an Authentic Audience” does present new ideas. Students don’t want just feedback from teachers; they want it from peers, too. Cross-class blogging is one way to tap into that. Teachers can provide the necessary feedback to get things right and develop skills, but feedback from peers is also helpful and in my opinion, can also provide the form of social validation that teenagers crave (and teachers cannot provide). Students will also be motivated to put forth a better effort when they know that their work will be seen by a larger audience and not just the instructor.
Both videos are below.
My colleagues pointed out some interesting quotes and asked thoughtful questions about the text, and arrived at some interesting conclusions about the reading so far.
Wagner points out that “Critical thinking” that everybody talks about but few people make a point of explaining or understanding what exactly it means. Students and educators may be confronted with critical thinking problems during their everyday lives without even realizing it, and in failing to make the connection between critical thinking and the classroom.
Even thus, Wagner seems to place more value on critical thinking than actual employers do. I worked in the private sector for the past decade before entering this credential program. During that time I worked in retail, health information, government, and finance. Every one of those employers wanted people who could accomplish simple tasks and follow regulations. Critical thinking may be valuable in fields like business and tech development, but the overwhelming majority of individuals will not be going into those fields.
Wagner also details his visits to several classrooms at different schools, giving them a negative review based on what he saw as old-school teaching. It's probably just as unfair to judge a classroom based on a single unplanned visit as it is to give it a glowing review based on a planned visit where the teacher puts on a show. Schools are still in transition. I’m not convinced that every lesson can be a positively dynamic, interactive, engaging thing. I am all for collaborative work and assignments that unlock the higher levels on the depth of knowledge wheel, but doing those every day, in every class would be exhausting for the students and the teachers. There is still a place for Level 1 work.
Early on in the text, it quotes Michael Wesch on the easiness of sharing, collaborating and publishing information, among other things. The ease with which students can share information with each other makes traditional assignments a thing of the past. There is no purpose to be served by tasking students with learning something out of the textbook and writing about what they learned, since one student will do it, take a picture with his cell phone, and share it with all of the other students.
That isn’t to say that there is no need for school. There are skills students need to acquire. Even though information is easy to come by, finding that information, analyzing and critiquing it to decipher its meaning and evaluate its importance and place in their world. That is something they cannot get by copying information off of a cell phone picture. It requires proficiency with technology and with their own mind. If an American student is unable to develop these skills, he will eventually lose out to a kid in Hamburg or Bangkok or Istanbul who can.
Giving students access to technology in the classroom is one component of helping them to acquire those skills, but as educators, we need to develop technical skills of our own in order to facilitate this. This requires a rather radical change in the foundations of education that is certain to upset and be opposed by a number of forces, including old-school educators and administrators, and the publishers of traditional dead-tree textbooks.
The new generation of educators (hopefully including me) must continue to advocate for these changes as often as possible, to move to power of the learning experience from the teachers and administration and into the hands of students with technology. Overall, Richardson makes a good case for this, but ultimately could have done so just as effectively with fewer words.