A call for balance in our approach to Educational Reform…

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I have some grave concerns with the monumental shifts to our education system here in Alberta. 

I have concerns on two fronts.  Not the least of which is, we are one of the highest performing education systems in the world, ranked 2-3 in the English speaking world and 11th overall.  This is with the current ways of doing things.  Why do we need to have such a monumental shift?  What kind of improvements do you think we will make from 2 or 3?  Will we really improve all that much from a major overhaul and how long will it take to see that growth?  I am also concerned about the idea of “cherry picking” for school improvement.  We are going to pay a high price for this enormous refurbishing of a system that is performing very well already, and it is unlikely that without utilizing the sustainable aspects of school improvement, those gains would be long term.  Let us not forget that the ‘high price’ I am talking about are students, and how they are going to fare during all of this and beyond.  If students are left behind how long will it take for them to get caught up?  Is there a plan for filling in the gap?   

My second chief concern is the experience that I have had working with special needs students and working in the inner city.  When research is done, often they leave out these populations so as not to skew the results.  The problem is that reports are often published with the efficacy reports high, and without inclusion of these two groups.  Often they lack the ability or background knowledge/experience to do the kind of learning that “discovery learning” entails.  Does that mean we quit or give up? NO.  But it does mean that these two groups will be significantly more disadvantaged in this new system of teaching and learning.   Let us not forget the ‘whole language learning’ debacle.  When the Alberta government shifted from phonics based instruction for reading, to the highly talked about and championed whole language approach.  It took them seven years to realize that significantly more students were failing to learn to read than had been when we used phonics.  Millions of dollars spent, much time, energy and resources wasted.  And for what?  Think about all those students who failed to learn, or took significantly longer to learn to read, while we figured out that we shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken.  Was it perfect? No.  But broken?  Not so much.  What ultimately happened was that they took the best parts of each practice (phonics and whole language) and blended them for a balanced approach.  Couldn’t there be room for that in our educational system?  We could improve on our existing practices without ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/opinion/Opinion+Research+respect+relationships+Draw+established+international+three+lessons/9843579/story.html

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week: Fasting with Fast Food

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As a teacher, it is easy to get frustrated when your class cannot seem to get their work done, when they are unfocused and underperforming. One day I bought these protein bars from a bulk food store, and they were terrible…I mean really terrible. Because I was silly and bought them in bulk, I had A LOT left over, A LOT that were going to go uneaten…at least by me. I brought them to work with me because schools have hundreds of people, and even my small school had a hundred people. There was bound to be someone who would like them. While teaching an English class a student was complaining of being hungry, so I busted out my horrible protein bars. To my surprise she took three, look at me with sad eyes and asked if she could have three more. I suggested she try one before she gets too carried away. She opened one package and took a bite. She agreed that they were not good but add, “I am just so hungry I could eat anything.” It was the way that she ate the protein bar that made me believe her, so I handed over three more. She immediately sat down and pounded down two of them, then asked for a drink from the water fountain. To the rest of the class I asked if they wanted any protein bars, and their hands shot up. I put the box on the table and told them, “If anyone wants one, come and get it.” To my surprise they wolf packed the box, grabbing the bars. I learned one VERY important lesson. Kids can’t learn if they are hungry…so I brought granola bars to work with me most days after that. Poverty, and hunger are NOT just third world problems, and until we can meet those needs, learning needs cannot not be adequately addressed.

The Past is Unwritten

I like eating.

Anyone who knows me, knows how true this statement is. Whether they’ve made the mistake of looking away from their dinner for more than two seconds, or accidentally tell me they’ve ordered pizza, one of my best skills is making food disappear.

See what I mean?

So, when the Mustard Seed put out a challenge for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, I thought the most difficult of all the Awareness Adventures would be to cut down on how much I eat everyday. By a lot. So for the last week:

1– I haven’t eaten breakfast.
2– I haven’t snacked.
3– I have eaten lunch and dinner at specific times. No eating outside those two meal windows.
4- Meals I do eat are smaller portions than normal. No food comas allowed. 
5
– All the meals have been inexpensive, high calorie, and accessible to the…

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It’s All About Audience

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To all my language arts friends out there, this is candid advice from an experienced author. I have taken articles like this before a writing assignment and read them to class, followed by a discussion. I would also refer back to this article when doing writing conferences, where students answer for themselves how they think they achieved the three pieces of advice in their writing.

Live to Write - Write to Live

audience A reader recently emailed me asking for writing advice. I complied.

“You don’t need a literary background to write. You do need something to say and a desire to learn how to control language so that you can say it as you mean it, to reach the audience you intend to inform, persuade, and/or entertain. In the end, writing is about the audience, not about the self.”

Here are some tips for writing to your audience:

Tell your readers something they want to know. People love to learn, so teach them. For non-fiction, this means submitting stories to publications geared toward your content. There are many ways to slice a story: Traveling with young children could be slanted toward a parenting magazine, toward a tourism site, or even toward a publication about cars. Each publication has a different audience, and should be written to the probable readers.

Use…

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What is most important??

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As I plan my return to work, it is hard not to think about what I want to do, who I want to be as a professional.  I am reading all of this professional chatter.  Everyone is so passionate and convinced that they are right.  We need to focus on learning and not on assessment; we need to teach students to learn and not just to ‘take tests.’  We need to focus on assessment; assessment of learning, assessment for learning, learning through assessment.  We need to focus on ‘professional judgment’ and move away from standardization.  We need to be more standardized; teacher’s should be giving the same lessons on the same day, using the exact same hand outs.  We need to move away from our reliance on technology and return the basics.  We need to utilize more technology to engage learners and prepare them for a world that is reliant on technology to manage every aspect of our lives.  Wow!

What an incredible, and incredibly confusing, time to be involved in education.  There is so much passion in our profession, so much noise.  But, it is an exciting time to be in education too.  The only thing worse than too much passion, too much noise, is apathy.  As educators, we need to be passionate and passionately searching for where our profession needs to go.  We are preparing our students for a world that does not yet exist, we are preparing them for a reality that only lives in the mind of the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and/or Charles Branson.  As technology and social media networking speed up the rate of change, the reality of the world we are living in, and the one that we are preparing our children and students for, will be different from the one we live in today. 

How do you prepare for that?

The truth is…we don’t really know.  We act like we do.  We argue like we do.  We move forward with the grace and confidence of people who know exactly what we are charging ahead toward…but in reality we’re just hoping. Hoping we are right. Hoping we make a difference. Hoping that we can be a part of shaping the change makers, and in that, be change makers ourselves.

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Another book has fallen in the Mighty Smackdown

There is a place where teachers gather…well cyber-gather.  They read two novels and vote on which will move on to the next round.  This is the quarter finals, and another novel has fallen and one will rise again.  To follow the exciting literary adventures visit the Mighty Smackdown.  🙂

Sometimes change is hard…

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I find myself invigorated by the idea of teaching using practices that are new and innovative.  I am intrigued by the use of technology I see my colleagues using…”tell me more,” “show me how” I want to say.  I am fascinated by the research on best teaching practices, and I find myself feeling like I need to look at what I do in a different way or add to what I am doing with a different technique or a different process. 

I remember feeling frustrated and a bit disappointed in teachers who didn’t want things to change or felt that change was too much work.  It wasn’t that I meant to be judgmental, it was just the disillusioning of a young idealist who believed that everyone would want to be at the top of their game.  I believed that there would be so many people clamouring to be on the cutting edge, there may be risk of getting knocked over or left behind. 

Now that I have a bit more age and experience, I realize that there will always be a new idea, a new fad, a new way of doing things.  Some will be research based, and some will be put forth by charismatic, persuasive, creative thinkers, where there is little or no evidence of empirical support.  These movements toward change often involve large amounts of work, and time, and resources. 

When you see these fads come and go, and you know the work that is involved in implementation, it can be difficult to rush to jump on the bandwagon.  Often times, change is expected to come completely at the expense of teachers.  What I mean by that is that little or no time or other resources provided.  Administration comes up with a ‘great idea’ and teachers are left to add the work to their long list of to-dos. This means that in addition to all of the regular planning, teaching, assessing, meeting, documenting, etc. teachers would need to find the time to implement whatever changes are needed to make this ‘great idea’ a reality. 

It is easy to understand why some teachers are not always willing to spring forth with enthusiasm on the winds of change. What would make it easier to engage teachers in change making processes is to have changes thought out, research supported, and to give appropriate timelines and resource support to teachers to make those changes. Also, allowing teachers to be part of the deciding what changes are going to be made, and to help determine the time line for change would go a long way to breaking down resistance.