Friday, June 28, 2013

5 Ways To Make Professional Development More Interesting

Originally posted by Ryan Schaaf on 

“Katie Lepi at Edudemic provides some easy suggestions for making professional development more interesting and engaging. Often times, teachers feel their time is wasted with such professional practices, so it is essential to try dynamic experiences and reach the doubters on your staff.”

Whether you call it professional development, faculty meetings, or in-service days, getting together with your teaching colleagues to meet about school happenings and curriculum can seem sometimes tedious, and for many, plain old not fun. But they’re a necessary part of being a teacher, and since they’re pretty inevitable, they might as well be as interesting as possible.
While most teachers have no direct control over what happens in a school faculty meeting, many administrators are (and we know you’re out there!), and hopefully, suggestions for teachers would be welcomed. Why not channel some of the energy you’ve used into making engaging activities for your classroom, and use them in the professional development arena? We’ve talked a little bit about using the flipped classroom model in professional development, but below, we have five (more general) suggestions for making professional development more interesting and engaging.


Time It Out

Give each topic a certain amount of discussion time, and each follow up question/answer a limited response time (such as 90 seconds). This helps keep everyone on topic and keeps the discussion moving along – and tends to also discourage/end long rants and such.

Flip Your Meeting

We’ve talked about flipping your PD in the past, but we still stand behind the idea that it can really work. Give out the agenda to the meeting ahead of time, and all participants should come prepared with both questions and materials, rather than just being passive listeners.

Give Everyone A Voice

In every group, there are those that are more than willing to not say a word, and those that are quite happy to take up the speaking time that the silent parties don’t want. Encourage everyone to speak – and make sure that everyone can speak uninterrupted to get their ideas across. See above tip, ‘Time It Out’, to help keep every speaker on track.

Use Technology

You’re using it in your classroom, why not use it in your professional development? Maybe you can Skype in a guest speaker to talk or under-the-weather staff member to listen and participate. Use a checklist or to-do app projected to keep track of the agenda for participants.

Be Hands On

There are always new technologies and tools being used – whether an entirely new to your classroom device like an iPad or a classroom management system, or a new app, taking some time to learn about how to use the tool is always useful. It sounds pretty obvious, but we’ve talked to a lot of teachers who are handed an iPad and simply told “here you go!”. Harness the knowledge of your colleagues and take a quick lesson from them – working in small groups would be ideal here so that everyone gets some hands on time.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to Learn Math course from Stanford University with Jo Boaler

This is an exciting opportunity for teachers to join a free online course this summer facilitated by Jo Boaler!!

Watch the video above for a brief explanation and then go to this link for more info and to register.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The 7 Most (And Least) Effective Ways To Improve Student Achievement

Originally from a post by Ian Jukes on 

“Katie Lepi features a great infographic in the following article she wrote for Edudemic. More than anything, we want learning to have a profound impact on our students—the kind that makes them want to be learners for life.”
There are a lot of different theories out there on what works and what doesn’t in education. The infographic below showcases the results of a study that looked at a number of different items and if they negatively or positively affected student achievement. The scope of these projects is rather huge – over 50,000 studies including over 240 million students!  While the research is based on the work of one individual and his team, the 7 most positive and negative ways to improve student achievement are quite interesting. Read on to find out more.

7 ‘Top Effects’

  • Self reported grades/student expectations
  • Teacher credibility
  • Feedback
  • Phonics instruction
  • Classroom management
  • Parental involvement
  • Cooperative learning

7 ‘Bottom Effects’

  • Principals / School Leaders
  • Homework
  • Class Size
  • Extra Curricular Programs
  • Ability Grouping
  • Gender
  • Open vs. Traditional learning spaces

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It’s Time to Refocus on the Learner

Posted by Ian Jukes on

“Mike Fisher writes in the following article for SmartBlog on Education that, "... the system and the institution are methodically destroying learning." He points to the methodology of testing and assessment that serves to 'quantify' everything from the effectiveness of learning to teacher performance, and more. He also asks us to consider who standardized tests are really designed for—the system or the student. Some real food for thought here, so I encourage you to read on.”

via SmartBlog on Education
This past weekend, I worked with Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 at an educational conference in Jacksonville, Fla.

In the car on the way to the conference recently, Steve and I were discussing the “institution” of school and the “system” of school. The largest part of our conversation centered around the fact that we have, collectively as a nation, created a massive operation for educating children that does not work.

The “institution” is the bureaucratic, policy side of public education that demands that “each get some.” The “system” is the mechanism for delivering the “some” to all. The good ideas that created the system and thus the institution around it are lost in the shuffle. Doing what’s best for kids and doing what’s fair for all have each become a separate megalopolis each on a separate continent.

Education has become so institutionalized that the act of “doing” something equates to readiness for the next checked off item on the “to do” list of instructional practice. The ebb and flow of “doing” becomes the barometer for success as measured by standardized high stakes tests that, in one moment, assess a students ability to “do school,” measure a teacher’s effectiveness, and be a checks and balances sheet to maintain the system as directed by the institution.

Note that in the previous paragraph, the word “learning” was not used. In a Huffington Post article from last March, Connie Yowell describes education as what institutions do and learning as what people do. What’s happening, though, is the system and the institution are methodically destroying learning. I think it’s high time we refocus on the learner.

The system and the institution would have you believe that it is possible to well quantify the learning with one high-stakes assessment that serves as a good indicator of year to year growth, how well a teacher teaches, and whether or not the school as a whole is an effective system. The problem is with the variables. In science, we draw conclusions based on the experimentation of one variable at a time, a process approach that helps winnow the possible outcomes of comparative observation. In our current model, the system and the institution are on a multi-variable train that not only amounts to bad science but, in turn, leads to bad practices.

Case in point:  Students in New York recently took the first version of the new common core-aligned tests. They were asked questions that were more rigorous than ever before in an attempt to measure the learning of the common core standards. The stories that came out of the woodwork over the course of the week involved students walking out of the test, kids crying, kids unable to finish, kids just giving up, etc. The test was designed to measure the degree to which the students met the common core standards. The test does not allow for variations in home environment, parental support, socioeconomic status, etc.
The test was designed to evaluate the system and perpetuate the institution. The tests in other states that are being designed to evaluate the “learning” are all heading in the same direction.

Do we want our students ready for college and careers?Absolutely.

Do we want them ready to meet the challenges of the world they will graduate into? You betcha.

Do we need assessment? Of course.

Do we want them suffering through assessments that were designed with the institution/system rather than the child in mind? Not at all.

Assessment is not bad. In a previous blog post, I wrote about why in the world we would practice for a game we never played or rehearse for a performance we never give. I also don’t disagree with checks and balances in the system, but the system must have integrity. That means that we must not only find ways to more rationally assess students without causing complete psychological breakdowns on test days but also that we address some of the other variables that the system and the institution keep in the periphery, primarily poverty and family/environmental support.

Instead of the grimness of the dark and scary hell week of assessments, perhaps we start looking at what can be embedded in instruction. Perhaps we look at leveraging opportunities for choice and differentiated products through performance tasks and problem-based scenarios that not only generate a product but also are a launching pad for the next learning moment.

There are no easy answers here, I know that. But I also know that there are still kids at the heart of all of this. The institution and the system need to refocus on that. We have an unbelievable challenge and a massive obligation to get this right.
Mike Fisher (@fisher1000) has more than a decade of classroom and professional-development experience. He is a full-time educational consultant and instructional coach and works primarily with school districts to integrate the Common Core State Standards, make data-informed instructional decisions, sustain their curriculum mapping initiatives and immerse instructional technology. Learn more at The Digigogy Collaborative or on his blog.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Why School Leaders Should Build An Intentional School Culture

Originally Posted by Ian Jukes on
“When we talk about school culture, we're talking about a big picture that encompasses a variety of different things. It's not just social interaction and collaboration in classes and clubs; it's about beliefs, values, traditions, and the climate itself that defines the school's environment. So why is this important to our students? This article from Jennifer Medberry talks about the importance of fostering the best school culture possible and the benefits it leads to.”

via Edudemic
For school leaders, defining a school’s culture – the core values, practices and organizational structures – is a necessity. In fact, a school’s ability to improve performance depends on it. But fostering a performance-based culture is not something that can be completed and checked off a single to-do list; it is an ongoing process.

How do schools accomplish this? It’s all about intention. High-performing schools are intentional about creating culture by introducing clear cultural expectations, and holding staff and students accountable to these core values. When clear expectations for behavior are established and reinforced – while allowing room for reflection and adjustments to these standards – a growth-minded, results-driven environment can be achieved.

I recently led a workshop on the topic of school culture for the New York City Department of Education’s New Schools Intensive (NSI), program for school leaders that are opening new schools, and one of the big takeaways was the importance of communication.

When setting expectations, clear communication is key.

High-performing school leaders are effective in messaging that school is a place with specific standards that enable both staff and students to thrive. I often share the following example with school leaders and find that it resonates – unlike an elevator or a place of worship, where there are unspoken norms for behavior, new schools and existing schools that aim to rebuild their culture need expectations to be stated explicitly.

These values are upheld through established cultural elements that are consistent and visible from classroom to classroom. Such elements often include instituting a Student Code of Conduct, identifying one positive behaviors or mega-cognitive skill per month to highlight across the school, drafting guidelines on issuing rewards and consequences for student behavior and establishing school routines (e.g. arrival, dismissal, hallway transitions) and rituals (weekly celebrations, achievement-oriented field trips, class cheers).

Building & Reinforcing Expectations

The work does not end with establishing standards. School leaders building an intentional culture not only introduce expectations, but also reinforce them when individuals act inappropriately. First and foremost, the saying “actions speak louder than words” rings true – school leaders and staff who model the behaviors they seek in their students help to create a stronger culture. Students are more likely to show school pride if teachers join in on the excitement, as well as listen and show respect if teachers return the favor.
When it comes down to it, school culture is built in small, easy-to-ignore moments.

When someone acts in a way that is at odds with a school’s values, expectations and norms, school leaders and staff are faced with the decision of letting it go, or intervening to make it clear that “we don’t do that here.” What could be viewed by some as an easily excused moment is actually an opportunity to remind everyone involved that the school’s culture needs to be front-and-center.

“We Don’t Do That Here.”

The phrase, “we don’t do that here,” involves a deliberate choice of words. The messaging is key. “Here” withholds judgment about whether the behavior would be appropriate elsewhere; “we” enforces the idea that the school is a community, rather than shaming or excluding the individual from that community; and the overall message is straight to the point, reinforcing that school is a place where certain behaviors are expected.

It is important to note that these conversations will always be uncomfortable. During the NSI workshop, attendees participated in a role-play activity to practice initiating difficult conversations. The goal was to get comfortable “being uncomfortable”. Without constant reinforcement through these difficult conversations, a school’s cultural values won’t stick.

It Takes Work (And Professional Development)

Intention requires deliberate and consistent professional development. Just as students will not embrace a school’s cultural elements overnight, neither will staff. A common strategy among effective school leaders is to create a year-long “Culture Calendar” that includes recurring planning meetings, reflective discussions and practice sessions to allocate time for collaboration with staff.

These tactics are just one element of establishing a performance-based culture. Using platforms like Kickboard, collecting and analyzing student data and other factors all play a role here. But it all comes back to intention. A strong school culture does not form on its own; it is built.
Jennifer Medbery is a former math teacher and founder and CEO of Kickboard, a web-based school analytics platform that allows educators and school leaders to capture, analyze and securely share critical student performance data. For more information about Kickboard’s school-wide solution or its free starter accounts for individual educators,

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Runde's Room

Nya:weh to Candy Browatzke for sharing this website/blog called Runde's Room.  Though it is much more than math, I have linked to the math posts specifically if you click here.  You may recognize the name from her Interactive Math Journals that are popular with many of our teachers in the district.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

27 Ways to be a 21st Century (connected? modern?) Teacher

27 Ways To Be A 21st Century Teacher

Posted by Ian Jukes on 
“Mia MacMeekin has created a wonderful infographic featured below in this Edudemic article by Jeff Dunn. Here are 27 different ways a teacher can develop 21st-century educator skills. Simple but effective is what defines these approaches. Which of these do you use in your classrooms right now, and which ones would you like to try?”

You can’t swing an iPad in the hallway without hitting someone talking about becoming a 21st century teacher, 21st century student, or something involving the 21st century. While I personally am quite over that term, it fits and makes sense. I guess. (Personally, I think a better term is ‘modern’ teacher or ‘connected’ teacher rather than just stating that someone exists within this century. Kinda vague, no?)
So what does it take to become a 21st century teacher? Quite simply, it’s a little more than integrating the computer lab into the classroom. In fact, classrooms should look nothing like a computer lab that we’ve come to know and instead should resemble a set of grouped students collaborating, learning with each other, and having a ‘guide on the side’ teacher who helps steer the proverbial ship.
Think you got the chops to become a 21st century teacher, a modern teacher, or at least an educator who has a classroom of engaged students? Use this handy chart to find more than two dozen ways to become the teacher you’ve always known you could be. Most of the ways are briefly explained but that’s kinda the beauty of the whole chart. You can take the sentence or two and turn it into a new teaching process that others may not already use. For example, the term ‘collaborate’ (see below) could mean just about anything to a modern teacher. Collaborate via Skype? Collaborate to try out Project-Based Learning? Collaborate to grow your PLN? The sky is the limit! In fact, these days we talk about space so much that the sky is not the limit.
Have I gotten you excited enough to start taking your own great leap into the world of modern education? I hope so. Shoot for the moon, you might hit a star. If not, use this infographic-y visual as a guide to becoming a modern teacher. If you are already one, pass this along to your friends and colleagues to make sure they’re becoming one too.
What ways would you add to this visual? Want a print-friendly PDF? Click here. Also, check out the great blog by Mia MacMeekin who made this chart!

Friday, June 14, 2013

How Your School Leader Can Truly Be A School Leader

Eight Ways to Model Technology Use

Posted by Ryan Schaaf on 
“Educational leaders must 'practice what they preach' in regards to using technology effectively to communicate and collaborate with staff, students, parents, and community leaders. Matthew Ulyesses Blankenship highlights 8 ways administrators can model effective technology use in their professional practices. ”

One way school leaders can ensure technology gets into classrooms is to show how they use it themselves.
A well-kept secret in the main office is that principals can (and should) teach, too. In a well-led school, all members of the school community will see the principal in teaching action. This should include teaching with technology, because setting an example as a principal is important when it comes to preparing students to be tech-savvy citizens. Afshari and colleagues claim that “the leadership role of the principal is the single most important factor affecting the successful integration of technology.”1
School leaders should take every opportunity they can to show publicly that they value technology. Principals should incorporate technology into such everyday tasks as completing observations or giving presentations. Classroom modeling—delivering demonstration lessons in which students effectively learn through using technology—is an even more direct approach.
Here are eight ways school leaders can meaningfully show that they value technology in schools.

1. Use e-mails and social media creatively.

By exploiting the multimedia capabilities some e-mail programs offer, principals can increase the effect of staffwide e-mails and demonstrate how teachers might use this common tool creatively to increase students’ motivation. Try embedding images or videos that represent the message’s content within some e-mails you send your staff. If you’re sending a message to praise one staff member on a job well done, insert a graphic saying “Thanks!” in fancy type or link to a video showing a sea of applauding hands. Other options include embedding PowerPoint-type presentations directly into an e-mail through the free website Slide Share or embedding a poll in an e-mail to gather teachers’ views or votes on a key issue.
By using these options to distribute information to your staff, you’ll both demonstrate a commitment to technology and—by eliminating another faculty meeting—make better use of teachers’ time. In addition, social media play an important role in school communication. By sharing positive messages, updates on things like testing, and meaningful links for parents and students on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, you’ll be a model for the entire school community. Auburndale Senior High School uses Facebook to publicize upcoming deadlines for taking the ACT and SAT, to give up-to-date information on scholarships, and to spread the word about parent nights or football games.

2. Deliver dynamic presentations.

Presentations are ubiquitous in schools. Teachers use them to give lectures or assign student projects; principals show them at faculty meetings and parent nights. PowerPoint-type presentations can become more dynamic and offer opportunities for audience engagement with a few tricks involving easy-to-learn technology.
Embed video and pictures within your slides or screens to give a presentation more impact. Or use slate software (available from Smart Technologies), which enables you to circle, highlight, or point to important information right on the screen as you deliver your presentation.2
Record important media presentations and make them available as podcasts or as streaming media so teachers and community members can watch and listen later. Featuring these technologies at faculty meetings and parent nights will show teachers how effective digital and multimedia techniques can be in gaining audience attention.

3. Use mobile technology in walk-throughs.

Teachers now expect principals to go in and out of their classrooms observing their teaching and students’ learning. However, many principals still use paper and pen to deliver feedback. Consider using an iPad or other form of tablet computer to electronically complete your observation forms and immediately send feedback to teachers. Instead of waiting for a form to come to their school mailbox, teachers can quickly log on to their e-mail and see comments about the observed lesson. You and the teacher can start an e-mail conversation about successes you saw in the classroom and improvements you’d like to see.
Classroom modeling—delivering demonstration lessons in which students effectively learn through using technology—is an even more direct approach.
This type of modeling may seem unrelated to actual instruction, but just using an iPad to make walk-throughs more effective and efficient demonstrates a leader’s belief that technology can have a positive impact and may reduce fear among technology-phobic faculty.

4. Skype in speakers.

With video conferencing now freely available through Skype, principals can invite informed, compelling speakers to share what they know at faculty meetings without the expense of travel accommodations. Consider inviting curriculum researchers to discuss how a new instructional practice can increase student achievement or having book authors speak on teaching practice (why not select books about increasing technology in the classroom?). Teachers may realize how applications like Skype could open the world to students.
Inviting the superintendent of schools to attend virtually will demonstrate to your school and district your commitment to technology.

5. Participate in a technology team.

Specialized educators who have technical knowledge that principals lack—network managers, media specialists, and technology coaches—serve at many schools. A savvy school leader will participate in a team with such experts—and add teacher leaders who use technology often. Use this team to find and evaluate digital resources before presenting new ideas to the faculty at large; this will both show your commitment and create buy-in.
This team should be willing and able to provide professional development to the faculty, either as a formal process or more fluidly, with team members making themselves available for one-on-one training and support in classrooms.

6. Emphasize technology in the budget.

Teachers and community members alike view the school budget process as a public statement of priorities. Send the right message.
Although budgets are often set by districts, many principals receive flexible accounts they can draw on for classroom necessities. Consider setting aside a specific dollar amount for increasing the technology available on campus. Be sure to allocate resources and time for tech-related professional development.

7. Set up observation opportunities.

Principals should promote modeling of technology use throughout the school community. Ask teachers who use technology creatively to open their classrooms occasionally so colleagues can drop in and watch a peer employ technology skillfully. To ensure this happens, deliberately recognize individuals who use technology well in the classroom during walk-throughs and schedule these teachers to have an open classroom for a day.
As a practical measure, set up a rotating schedule of open classrooms and provide incentives for teachers to open their room to observers. This will encourage strong teacher leaders to step into more prominent roles and showcase sound technology use in the classroom. In addition, encourage other leaders across campus—assistant principals, deans, and resource specialists—to use technology in public spaces as appropriate.

8. Troubleshoot publicly.

One of the hardest challenges principals face is feeling comfortable making a mistake in public. However, from time to time, technology won’t work the way we want it to. When this occurs in public, troubleshoot problems in front of teachers. By taking a moment or two to try to correct a glitch, you’ll demonstrate your faith that technology helps teaching enough to be worth some hassles. Teachers will see that you’re OK with a few seconds of downtime when a device or application balks. Make sure to smoothly transition to a backup plan if necessary so you don’t waste staff members’ time. This also shows staff that you expect them to create contingency plans.
To be effective, school leaders must lead technology infusion. It’s the principal’s responsibility to—as technology advocate Scott McLeod3  says—”prepare future-ready citizens who are technologically savvy, globally competent, and prepared to engage in a 21st-century knowledge-based economy.”

The original source of this post can be found here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Miss Nelson is Missing

In honour of the Kindergarten orientations today, please enjoy this performance of Miss Nelson is Missing by Mr. Avina's class.  Click here to see it from the original source.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why I Hate School But Love Education

Another spoken word video from Sulibreezy.  Truthful words spoken softly speak powerfully.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Join the Grading Moratorium

for the love of learning: Grading Moratorium: Here is a list of teachers dedicated to abolishing grading. Check out each one of their stories and feel free to contact them.Want to join?...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Are Grades Utterly Useless?

Are Grades Utterly Useless?  (to view the original source click here)

One of my all-time favorite assertions about grading in schools comes from Grant Wiggins.  He writes:
"The most ubiquitous form of evaluation, grading, is so much a part of the school landscape that we easily overlook its utter uselessness as actionable feedback. Grades are here to stay, no doubt—but that doesn't mean we should rely on them as a major source of feedback."

I'm starting to think that Wiggins is right, y'all:  Maybe grades ARE utterly useless as a form of feedback.

Here's why:

 In the minds of many students, learning stops as soon as a grade is given. 

For too many students, grades are end points in the never-ending rhythm of traditional schooling.  Instead of encouraging continued study, they signal that it's time to move on to a new idea -- and that old ideas can be neatly boxed up and filed away and forgotten.  Learning in a graded classroom becomes an isolated act delivered in units that have clear starting and ending points instead of a fluid process of continual exploration and connection and growth and discovery.

Grades have created a world where students have forgotten that THEY can assess their OWN growth towards important academic goals.

Caught in learning spaces where the only feedback that anyone seems to value are scores given by adults, too many of today's students sit passively waiting for the judgment of others, stripped of the self-reflective and evaluative skills that literally define the most successful people.
The crazy part is that BEYOND schools, students assess their own progress all the time.  Need proof?  Then check out the self-reflection and evaluation being done by this boy -- who is determined to learn how to start a fire without using a match.

His behaviors look familiar, don't they?

Every day, the kids in our classrooms are polishing skills and measuring their progress without being graded. Our gymnasts are fighting through bruises to master new tumbling routines.  Our fishermen are learning which baits work in which waters.  Our gamers are experimenting with a dozen new strategies for taking on new levels in their favorite games.

But that kind of self-reflection and evaluation happens almost exclusively BEYOND school.  Once the bell rings, progress-monitoring becomes someone else's responsibility.

Grades mask the real and tangible progress that students -- particularly those who struggle -- ARE making.

Instead of highlighting areas of individual strength and weakness, traditional grades bundle the sum total of a student's academic self-worth into a tidy letter that fits neatly on a report card.  Imagine how hard it is for kids buried in Cs and Ds to maintain any kind of momentum in our schools.

Wouldn't YOU give up if the most important feedback that you ever received told you that you were below average in everything all the time?

Assessment experts Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappius go as far as to argue that teachers have a moral imperative to rethink the role that assessment plays in either encouraging our students from moving forward.  They write:
"Thus, the essential school improvement question from an assessment point of view is this: Are we skilled enough to use classroom assessment to either (1) keep all learners from losing hope to begin with, or (2) rebuild that hope once it has been destroyed?"

For Stiggins and Chappius, regular opportunities for student-involved assessment -- instead of grades given exclusively by adults -- can help students to see that they ARE making progress and growing as learners.  They can  begin to understand that they ARE capable and successful – a message that they may never have heard before from anyone in positions of power in traditional schools.

There's a lot to think about, right?  What role SHOULD grades play in our schools?  CAN they be something more than utterly useless forms of feedback for students?

Perhaps more importantly, what are YOU doing to make sure that classroom assessment is helping YOUR students to maintain their own intellectual hope?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Congratulations. EQAO is over.

Sulibreezy on YouTube has a series of Spoken Word videos like this one that speak to the fallacies of education.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Standardized Testing: The Great Deception

The word "testing" gives many people an uneasy feeling. It evokes nervousness and stress. It forces our minds to think in ways that seek to determine what someone else wants us to know and in what manner we must give it. The thought of testing or thoughts during testing make any creative ideas vanish...there is no room for them. The mind must function in a predetermined manner for success. Information memorized must be rehearsed...allowing no other ideas. The mind is fatigued by the many facts or numbers crammed into it.

Many tests are timed, so those people who are stressed by this component, tremble at the signal of time starting and ending. At the end of the test, the mind may actually try to "forget" the mass of information because the process of testing has fatigued it mentally and physically. Facts not relevant for the current moments of life may be shoved into a miscellaneous file in the brain and may never be retrievable again.

Tests point out what learners get wrong and then penalize them for those wrong answers. Tests rarely allow for later clarification of misunderstandings or for the re-teaching of concepts. Teaching continues on its predetermined path, leaving some students farther and farther behind.

Now move from normal testing to an even greater level of stress for the mind...standardized testing. Standardized tests demand that everyone in a certain grade level learn the same skills, within the same time, in the same way...because they will be required to give the very same answers in order to do well. Everyone must fit into the same box, the same cookie cutter, be the same bolt or screw on the assembly line of education. Bits of isolated, disconnected information must be drilled and drilled, day after day, in hopes of covering possible skills and standards that will be tested. Everyone must become a master of bubbling in answers to multiple choice questions. There is little consideration for growth and development variations...little consideration for cultural differences. Teachers must teach for this test. Instructional time is consumed by preparing for the test.

During the week of standardized testing, everyone will be encouraged to get plenty of sleep at home. Administrators may come in and have pep rallies to keep students alert. Teachers may offer ice-cream sundaes in the afternoons. All types of bribery will be used to coerce students to do well. Students will be told to just think of the test...put everything else out of their minds.

The young girl who comes to school distressed because her dog was killed that morning by a car will be told to "get focused" on the test. The boy whose father left their home after a divorce will try to push his hurt feelings aside, but finds he cannot concentrate hour after hour and soon just guesses. A boy who is very bright in the field of mathematics is confused by the way the questions are stated. He wants to ask for clarification, but can't. He gets highly frustrated and becomes unable to continue for a while...yet the time is ticking away. A student gets very confused trying to comprehend one story after the about a railroad, one about a chemical reaction, one about a bread factory, one about a gender differences. They go on and random topic after the other.

At kindergarten level, the young student feels ready to answer questions about animals. He loves animals and thinks he will know the answers. His class has studied forest animals, farm animals, and pets. The class has a goldfish and hamster. He knows a lot about those animals. As the teacher reads the standardized test questions, his heart sinks. Surprisingly, all three questions are about sea otters...How do sea otters sleep? What do sea otters eat? How do sea otters take care of their young? He starts to cry.

A third grader in a community of intense violence and crime reads this standardized test question:
A boy wakes up and hears popping sounds downstairs. The popping sounds probably are:
(a)traffic outside (b)bacon frying (c) an alarm clock.

The correct answer is "bacon frying," but because this child has never awakened to bacon frying, he assumes the popping sounds are gunfire. He looks for an answer with the word "gun," but does not see it. He marks "traffic outside" and of course that is incorrect.

A student tries to concentrate on the math part of the test. Her mind becomes weary and confused by trying to think about so many topics at one time. Questions are about: adding fractions, multiplying fractions, dividing fractions, graphs, volume, perimeter, angles, mode, median, mean, probability, equivalents, decimals, rates, ratios...She can't keep it all straight in her mind.

The educational and political establishments would have you to believe that scores will tell us who is smart and who is not...which teachers are proficient and which are not...the schools that are excellent and the ones that are not...that quantitative data...numbers and more numbers will inform us of success.

Standardized testing should not have the overwhelming influence on education that it does. A good teacher knows when her/his students are doing well. Good teachers can create a curriculum and assessments that meet the needs of their students. Good teachers know effective strategies that give time for growth and development, allow for emotional distresses, and provide a secure environment for teaching and environment that opens the mind...not closes it.

(this article originally appeared on The Huffington Post and can be viewed by clicking here.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

for the love of learning: Provincial Achievement Tests are gone! Now what?

for the love of learning: Provincial Achievement Tests are gone! Now what?: On May 9, 2013, the Alberta Government announced that they are dropping the grade 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests in favor of what...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Good Ol' Noam and Paulo

Subversive education

Chomsky, at HGSE, elaborates on Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’

By Chuck Leddy
Harvard Correspondent
Thursday, May 2, 2013

Noam Chomsky on Wednesday joined Bruno della Chiesa, a visiting lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), in an Askwith Forum covering the legacy of the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997) and his 1968 book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” The conversation was moderated by Professor Howard Gardner.

The book, said Chomsky, linguistics professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sought to overturn the educational status quo that Freire saw as “a banking system” in which teachers deposited knowledge into the passive brains of students. “The scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits,” Freire wrote.

And not much has changed since, said Chomsky: “Teaching to test, that’s our education system.”

According to Chomsky, known for his outspoken politics, Freire viewed learning as a critical dialogue between teacher and students, with a shared goal of raising consciousness about oppression and social justice. Freirean education is meant to respect and include the oppressed, empowering them to seek social justice for themselves and others, Chomsky added.

Freire’s ideas are considered dangerous today, and largely ignored in the United States, because they question authority, Chomsky said. Freire’s book is “an instrument for consciousness-raising, which will lead to change in institutions,” he said, “so by U.S. standards, Freire is a radical revolutionary.”

Della Chiesa agreed. “The structure [of oppression] is still exactly the same, and it’s even become more efficient since” the publication of “Pedagogy,” he said.

The book is still controversial. In 2012, Arizona officials pulled it from the K-12 curriculum because it “repeatedly reference(s) white people as ‘oppressors’” in violation of state law.

Chomsky emphasized Freire’s philosophical connection with the “liberation theology” of the Catholic Church in Latin America, which Chomsky described as “dedicated to bringing the gospels back into Christianity” by helping the poor and oppressed realize social justice on earth. “Pedagogy” told the poor “you don’t have to be passive and oppressed, things can be changed,” Chomsky said.

Forced into exile in the mid-1960s, Freire spent years in Chile, and was at HGSE from 1969-1970. Repressive Latin American governments, including Brazil’s, were backed by the United States in carrying out “a vicious war against liberation theology,” Chomsky said. He also described U.S.-based hostility to Freirean ideals.

“The ‘crisis of democracy’ was that in the 1960s there was too much democracy,” Chomsky said. Groups in the United States seeking “liberation” — such as African-Americans, women, Latinos, and gays — “needed to be subdued,” he said.

A philosopher such as Freire worked in opposition to that attitude, as a driver of independent thought, Chomsky said.

“The sciences would be dead if there weren’t constant challenging” of received authority, he said. Also, learning doesn’t happen just with teachers: “A large part of education is peer interaction,” said Chomsky. “My son went to Harvard and said he learned more from fellow students than from classes.”

Della Chiesa finished by celebrating Freire’s ongoing relevance for educators and social justice advocates. “What Freire is describing is as old as mankind. What Freire tells us today is that we are spoon-fed” an ideology of capitalist consumerism. The author and his book offer an enduring alternative to conformity, della Chiesa said.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Surefire Ways To Improve Your School's EQAO Scores

This blog post originally appeared on the professional blog of Andrew Campbell...

Surefire Ways To Improve Your School’s EQAO Scores

30 Apr

EQAO is coming. Hurray!!!

Late April and early May is a festive time in Ontario’s elementary schools. The whiff of EQAO is in the air (did you get your EQAO tree yet?).

At our recent PD day we had teachers attend workshops to learn how best to administer the test and prepare their students. The rest of us circled the test days in our calendar and were asked to be aware of the serious business afoot. Soon grade 3 & 6 teachers will be stripping classroom walls of student created anchor charts, so that students don’t cheat by looking something up.

Despite the message that no special preparation is needed for EQAO, boards require teachers to administer practice tests and offer after-school ‘booster’ clubs to help students improve their EQAO scores. The official position is that the tests aren’t evaluative, but practice suggests otherwise.
Educators trying to improve EQAO scores might need assistance. Being a helpful sort I scoured the profiles of the top 15 EQAO schools to discover their Score Boosting Secrets!!!

Before sharing, two disclaimers:
  • EQAO doesn’t publish school rankings. They oppose it and claim it is harmful, but still make test data publicly available so that others can rank schools. These are also the tactics of The National Rifle Association, cigarette companies and fast food restaurants. Like EQAO they claim that the harmful effects of their products aren’t their fault, but caused by how people use them. Luckily, the folks at The Fraser Institute produce annual school rankings based on EQAO scores, and it’s their data I used for this analysis.
  • This is not, in any way, a scientific analysis. I am using grade 5 math skills and a little time, not deep data mining. Someone else is welcome to do that.
Here are the surefire ways to improve your school’s EQAO scores from the top 15 EQAO schools:
  • Move To Toronto: Hogtown is home to 60% (9/15) of the top 15 EQAO schools but only 20% of Ontario’s schools. That’s a huge over-achievement. The only non-GTA communities in the top 15 are St Catherines, Sudbury, Guelph and Arnprior. It might be the CN Tower, the excellent public transit, or the fine work of Mayor Rob Ford, but learning in Toronto certainly elevates EQAO scores.
  • Privatize: Independent schools serve just 6% of Ontario students but 20% of the top 15 EQAO schools (3/15) are independent, fee charging schools. Privatizing your school not only improves EQAO scores, but more money means no more teacher griping about having to bring supplies from home. Win-win.
  • Get Rich Quick: Schools teaching students from higher income families score higher on EQAO. The average annual family income of the top 15 EQAO schools is $112, 908.33, almost double the average annual family income in Ontario ($65,500 in 2010). Schools can attract students from high income families with simple strategies such as school uniforms (think grey blazers), a gluten free snack program or changing the school name to something with “Academy” in it. Planting ivy in the front garden won’t hurt.
  • No Specials: Getting rid of special education students boosts EQAO scores. The top 15 EQAO schools average 11.12% special education students, while the provincial average is 19%, almost double. Apply some of the new income from privatization to paying special education students to transfer to neighbouring schools. This will lower your competitors scores, making you look even better.
  • Speak English: The top 15 EQAO schools have only 3% of students that are English Language Learners, less than half of the provincial average of 7%. Surprising given the large number of top 15 schools in the GTA, where the ELL population is reported to be well above the provincial average. Remember this when relocating to Toronto. Location, location, location.
Summary: To transform your school’s EQAO scores become a private school, located in Toronto, with mostly native English speaking students from high income families. Deny admission to special education students.

Related Findings:
  • Faith based instruction doesn’t affect EQAO scores. A third of Ontario schools are faith based and the same proportion are represented in the top 15 EQAO schools.
  • The next 15 schools in the rankings show an even greater GTA bias (13/15). Could it be the sweet waters of Lake Ontario? Further research required.
  • The bottom 15 schools in the Fraser Institute rankings show the following:
    • None are from Toronto and none are private schools
    • About half (7/15) are in First Nations, fly-in communities in Northern Ontario.
    • The seven First Nations schools don’t report family income, but the remaining eight schools in the bottom 15 have an average annual family income of $41,775, almost half the average Ontario annual family income.