All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Home and School Collaboration Needed to Maximize Student Responsibility and Achievement

The results of a study conducted by three universities that looked at the influence of parents versus schools on academic success were recently released by Education Week.   The salient point that should be shared is that the study revealed how parental influence reigns supreme when it comes to academic achievement.  It arrived at this conclusion by comparing measures of "family social capital" and "school social capital."

As educators and parents, this study may be useful in a few ways.  By looking at the indicators used in the study and turning them into concrete objectives, all stakeholders may see a list of methods by which they are able to improve how they help students.

For example, parents may help students increase their achievement by:

·   checking their homework;
·   attending school meetings and events;
·   displaying trust in their student; and
·   discussing school programs, activities, and classes with their student.

Schools may create a more positive environment for learning by increasing:
·   student participation in extracurricular activities;
·   parental contact;
·   teacher morale; and
·   teacher response to individual student needs.

The level of conflict between teachers and administrators as well as an overall measure of school environment that measured delinquency, absenteeism, and violence was used as well.

While these areas are easy to discuss, the actual work behind them must be thoughtful, collaborative, and focused.  What is not addressed in the study is the underlying message in supportive households that education is good and a necessity, but something you do rather than something done to you.  In short,   Clearly what we do as schools and parents can always improve, but no matter our effort, students ultimately bear responsibility for their education.  Without it, students will not reach their full potential.

The bottom line:
·   Both the parents/guardians and schools need to be more involved and communicate.
·   Schools and parents/guardians must work together as a team rather than competing entities for education to have the greatest effect.
·   Students will achieve greater academic gains if both sides make an effort to support students while expecting them to take responsibility for their learning.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Evaluation, Common Core, and Responsibility

A few thoughts concerning student improvement and performance came to me as I was listening to a presentation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) concerning the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system.  Knowing that this new system measures teacher performance based on student progress is coupled with the issue of just how to measure that progress, I became curious as to what is both “in it for” and required of students throughout this process?  I found it difficult to juxtapose with the fact that it is being implemented concurrently with the Massachusetts State Common Core (MCSS). Surely, as schools are focusing on literacy and higher order thinking skills as they implement the Common Core, we all need to lay out a plan delineating not just how to measure what, but the supports needed by students to reach these expectations as they transition from the old to new curriculum

To fully disclose my position, I am currently writing my dissertation on the teaching and acquisition of thinking skills; specifically those required for the discipline of History.  Therefore, my main concern was how we support instructors in the teaching of essential, often discreet thinking skills when they are concerned about covering standards and being evaluated upon their progress in doing so.  Clearly there is plenty of responsibility to be shared.  Districts must support administrators, administrators must support teachers, parents must support students, and students must take responsibility.

The Foundation of Critical Thinking (2011) asserts that the most effective way to study and learn any subject is to practice what Gardner (2007) terms “disciplinary thinking.”  Furthermore they state that if students are to become “master students,” they need to practice the following list of behaviors:

·   “raise vital questions and problems within it…
·   gather and assess information…
·   come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions…
·   adopt the point of view of the discipline…
·   communicate effectively with others using the language of the discipline and that of educated public discourse
·   relate what one is learning in the subject to other subjects and to what is significant in human life” (Critical Thinking 2011, p. 1)

These behaviors are then supported by a comprehensive list of 18 ideas for students to internalize. This coupled with an understanding that all disciplines in school possess common intellectual structures (Paul and Elder 2001) will improve students’ ability to think.  In fact, the following statement made in Paul & Elder’s (2001) guide should be examined as we move forward in the consideration of new teacher evaluations and learning requirements.  “It’s [the guide] goal is to foster lifelong learning and the traditional ideal of a liberally educated mind: a mind that questions, probes, and masters a variety of forms of knowledge, through command of itself, intellectual perseverance, and the tools of learning.” (p. 1)

While I personally wholeheartedly support the ideas put forth by Dr. Paul and Dr. Elder (they are part of my dissertation), I cannot help but read that sentence and wonder how we, as educators, are supporting its realization.  By way of example, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is now revamping the tool for teacher evaluation.  Teachers will now be evaluated based on the amount of progress as student achieves and what they are personally doing to affect its increase.  This is occurring at the same time schools across the state are scrambling to implement the Common Core that focuses on literacy and specific College and Career Readiness skills.  The problem you ask?

·   The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has given no clear direction as to how the progress teachers must produce is measured.
·   The Common Core Standards instruct teachers to focus on literacy and college and career readiness standards.
·   Teachers are still held to the expectations of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).
·   While teachers struggle to improve their practice, less is being expected from students in the way of taking responsibility for their education.
·   There is a growing attempt to measure everything quantitatively, when most of the important growth is qualitative.

Does anyone else see a problem with not only holding all but the most important group responsible for students’ education, but also giving unclear dictates as to on what that education should be focused?

Yes, students should be taught and yes, there should be high expectations.

Yes, teachers must continue to improve and support students in their education. ..however, we all need to remember that for this all to be successful (however “this” is measured) students must be responsible for their own learning.

The quandary is this:
Teachers are being told they will be measured on the growth of students in areas that the Common Core is de-emphasizing.  Therefore they are expected to teach material that does not prepare students to produce the data that is being quantitatively measured to determine effectiveness.  So much of what students should be and are learning may only be assessed qualitatively through detailed narratives that explain the progression of students ability to think, problem solve, be creative, and act as productive citizens.

My opinion is this:
We (educators and parents alike) need to help our students learn to think by supporting their efforts and showing them the way.  We (educators and government) need to underscore the importance of qualitative data and its analysis when determining the effectiveness of teachers, programs and schools.  For years we have been measuring ourselves against other nations on assessments that compare apples to oranges.  This makes perfect political sense, but loses its luster when examining the ways in which it compromises student growth.  Yes we need to stay globally competitive to ensure a bright future for our students.  The irony is that in an effort to take the lead, we are eliminating the very aspects that put us there for so many years; the fostering of creativity, innovation, the ability to solve problems, and acting as respectful, responsible citizens.

Sources consulted for this post:

Gardner, H. (2007). Five minds for the future. Boston, Mass., Harvard Business School Press.
Paul , R., & Elder, L. (n.d.). How to study and learn (part one). Retrieved from http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/how-to-study-and-learn-part-one/513
Paul, R. & Elder, L. 2001, The Thinkers Guide to How to Study and Learn, Dillon Beach, CA

Studying and Learning with The Critical Thinking Community

While many of us in education continuously speak about critical thinking and 21st Century Skills, we often forget to explain what we are talking about.  Normally the first step in achieving a goal is making sure all the stakeholders both understand and agree with it.  In an effort to help students perform better, I thought I would share below some of the major points in what The Critical Thinking Community calls “18 Ideas for Becoming a Master Student.”  The full list may be found in an article at: http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/how-to-study-and-learn-part-one/513.

1.      Make sure you thoroughly understand the requirements of each class, how it will be taught and what will be expected of you.
a.      Seek to find the key concept of the course during the first couple of class meetings
2.      Become an active learner by:
a.      Asking questions to fill in the missing pieces of your learning
b.      Making connections to previous learning
c.       Relating content to issues, problems, and practical situations in your life
3.      Continually improve by:
a.      Frequently evaluating your listening, reading, writing, and thinking skills
b.      Practicing those studying and learning skills at which you are not good
c.       Trying to summarize, orally or in writing, the main points of the previous class meeting
d.      Frequently asking yourself: “Can I explain this to someone not in class?”
4.      Use writing as a way to learn by writing summaries in your own words of important points from the textbook or other reading material.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Opportunity for Teachers in Common Core

                                                                                                                                                                             Image Source: http://www.colve.org/

I came to a realization while having a conversation with a teacher concerning the future direction of teacher's roles in the classroom.  I found myself explaining that the Common Core was a positive step towards ensuring the value of history teachers.  I have come to this opinion as I mine through both past and present research concerning the teaching and learning of history.  Given what this research has to say concerning the study of history, I believe that history teachers now have the opportunity to step forward as leaders in the realm of literacy and preparing students for the recurring theme of active, responsible citizenship that is contained in the Common Core.

This opportunity lies in the new leeway given to the skill of the history teacher. While the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System largely ignored history as an important (worthy of being measured) discipline, the Common Core Standards shed light on its ability to submerge students in acts of analysis, synthesis, significance, and meaning making with complex readings that span cultures and centuries.  Munson (2011) emphasizes this by explaining that the requirement to teach research, writing, and communication skills “opens the door for extensive use of historical documents, speeches, biographies, and other works that are excellent vehicles for providing students with a deep and meaningful understanding of history and civics” (p. 1).  Simply put, the Common Core Standards do not illustrate how to teach, but rather the goal of that instruction (Martin, 2011).

Therefore, the Common Core opens the door for a possible increased amount of collaboration between historians and history teachers by advancing the subject beyond what many in the public view as a set of indisputable facts (Drake Brown, 2011) to one that requires true understanding.  This is attained through extensive reading and writing that focuses on the disciplines’ “habits of mind” (Drake Brown, 2011 p. 2) that are employed by practitioners and instructors alike.  This possible partnership holds the promise of what history teachers have wanted; the opportunity to prove the importance of their discipline through what Munson (2011) calls a revitalization of the most important history and civics content.

If taken as an opportunity, the Common Core Standards will assist history teachers by not just allowing, but encouraging a deeper investigation and creation of historical narratives.  Students would have the opportunity to corroborate sources, evaluate evidence, and assess texts (Drake Brown, 2011) through discussion and debate.  Because the Common Core Standards emphasize disciplinary reading and writing, knowledge about teaching history to diverse student populations is critical (Martin, 2011).  Because historical knowledge coupled with disciplinary thinking is crucial to increase historical understanding, content knowledge is needed. It comes down to the fact that the Common Core State Standards are now highlighting the basis of historical understanding; literacy.

This, if embraced and approached creatively, showcases the importance of not only history as a subject, but the skill of those who teach its understanding. History teachers, with proper preparation may stand poised to bring a once pushed aside discipline to the forefront once again.

Sources Cited

Drake Brown, S. (2011). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://teachinghistory.org/issues-and-research/roundtable-response/25351
Martin, D. (2011, November 18). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://teachinghistory.org/nhec-blog/25306
Munson, L. (2011). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://teachinghistory.org/issues-and-research/roundtable-response/25353