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Redefining ‘rigor’

Tedd Wakeman said:

We’ve always defined, as an educational community, rigor as being a lot of hard drudgery, what we consider really hard work, taking engagement and interests completely out of the equation and saying, ‘If we see kids who are sitting at their desks and they’re just writing a ton or they’re doing a bunch of research, if they just look kind of upset, if they look like they are not enjoying themselves, then there is rigorous things going on in that classroom.’ That’s a real problem.

We need to stop defining rigor as busywork, as kids knuckling down to the pressure and the drudgery of school. At the end of the year, there is this huge binder of notes and diagrams from PowerPoint exhibits, stuff that kids worked all year on. I’ve talked to kids here who have produced an artifact like that. To the outside community, even in many ways to the inside community, that looks rigorous because, look at what you produced.

But when we talk to those kids, when we ask, ‘What are your retaining from this? What do you feel, what are some of the big concepts that you came away with, and how are you applying those in your life in your lives every day,’ they can’t tell you. They know that they did this thing and they got a good grade on it but they can’t tell you what they are going to do with that. And yet to the more traditional educational community, that’s viewed as rigor.

We would much rather define rigor as the pursuit of solving a really difficult task that you care about solving. And that persistence can be taught in that way as opposed to, ‘Yeah, let’s teach kids persistence by having them do this thing that they couldn’t care less about, but it’s really hard and just if you can survive it, that’s persistence.’


Computers can help you get schooled for minimum wage jobs

Justin Reich said:

In the [past] forty years … educational technologists have made progress in teaching parts of the curriculum that can be most easily reduced to routines, but we have made very little progress in expanding the range of what these programs can do. During those same forty years, in nearly every other sector of society, computers have reduced the necessity of performing tasks that can be reduced to a routine. Computers, therefore, are best at assessing human performance in the sorts of tasks in which humans have already been replaced by computers.

Perhaps the most concerning part of these developments is that our technology for high-stakes testing mirrors our technology for intelligent tutors. We use machine learning in a limited way for grading essays on tests, but for the most part those tests are dominated by assessment methods – multiple choice and quantitative input – in which computers can quickly compare student responses to an answer bank. We’re pretty good at testing the kinds of things that intelligent tutors can teach, but we’re not nearly as good at testing the kinds of things that the labor market increasingly rewards. In ‘Dancing with Robots,’ an excellent paper on contemporary education, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argue that the pressing challenge of the educational system is to ‘educate many more young people for the jobs computers cannot do.’ Schooling that trains students to efficiently conduct routine tasks is training students for jobs that pay minimum wage – or jobs that simply no longer exist.


Should our first goal really be to preserve the structure?

Justin Schwamm said:

Two decades ago, before the great push for higher standards and more accountability, there was a tacit agreement in most factory-model schools: “Just close my door,” said Ms. X, “and let me teach, and don’t bother me because I’m busy.” “Just keep them busy and quiet,” responded her Powers That Be, “and show up for the Special Training and the Scheduled Meeting, and make sure the Relevant Paperwork is in the file.” Within that tacit agreement lay a great deal of freedom and opportunity … for innovation or for more of the Same Old Same Old. As the Relevant Paperwork was complete and the busy, quiet students weren’t roaming the hallways, teachers and students could be as innovative and creative as they wanted.

But then came higher standards and more accountability … and in themselves, those aren’t bad things. But if you operate from a hierarchical individual point of view about leadership and learning, the only logical pathway to higher standards is to command and control them into existence … and the only way to achieve accountability is to ramp up the inspection and testing. I was intrigued to see an article from EdSurge about how and why Rocketship Education moved away from an experiment they’d tried this year … an experiment that seemed to produce positive results of various kinds. The problem? “The lack of a formal structure made it difficult for Rocketship to replicate and control quality,” especially with younger teachers who “rely on pre-determined schedules and procedures, with clearly defined expectations about their work, in order to focus on building basic teaching skills.”

In other words, the promising innovation didn’t fit the existing institutional structure. If you’ve ever worked in a hierarchical structure, you know how important it is to preserve the structure. It takes a great deal of work by Relevant Powers to make anything else as important as preserving the structure.


Filtering social media in schools because it’s a ‘distraction’

Annie Murphy Paul

Annie Murphy Paul said:

according to the [American Association of School Librarians], schools’ top three filtered content areas are social networking sites, instant messaging and online chatting, and games. Such activities aren’t (necessarily) inappropriate or illegal, but they are big honking distractions, and if we want our young people to learn anything during the school day, they must be kept away from these sites.

A growing body of evidence from cognitive science and psychology shows that the divided attention typical of people engaging in “media multitasking” – the attempt to pay attention to two or more streams of information at once – produces shallower, less permanent learning. And let’s not kid ourselves: when students are free to roam the Internet in class or in study periods, divided attention is the result.

Is it possible to use Facebook and Twitter in educationally appropriate ways? Sure – but as technology and education specialist Michael Trucano points out, tech enthusiasts often focus on what’s possible to the exclusion of what’s predictable and what’s practical. What is predictable is that young people, given the chance, will use the web for social and entertainment purposes; what’s practical is to remove that temptation during the school day.


This article misses the point. It’s fearmongering and control-driven and feeds the misbegotten ‘kids these days are bad’ narratives that are so prevalent in older generations. It’s yet another example of ‘we’re not knowledgeable enough to think of any useful ways to utilize these tools so let’s just block them.’

The myth of ‘digital natives’ has been busted time and time again. Research is very clear that while our students are increasingly savvy at using technology for gaming and social purposes, they’re much less proficient at using technology for academic and other productive work purposes. Of course they will not get good at using technology in these ways if we simply block the technologies instead of using them more productively.

Unlike what is stated elsewhere in this article, the ‘real world’ is digital. The real world is technology-suffused. People everywhere use social media and other online tools all the time to accomplish their work. How are educators supposed to prepare students for our new technology-infused information, economic, and learning landscapes in analog school environments?

As my supervising principal said every day of my administrative internship, ‘Classroom management stems from good instruction.’ The issue here is not the technology but rather our unwillingness as educators and citizens (and pundits) to rethink learning, teaching, and schooling.


Here are some tweets that Annie Murphy Paul and I exchanged today. As I read these (and her article), she believes that students simply can’t be trusted or empowered to use social media in class without being distracted. Although she nominally concedes that schools might be able to use social media in productive ways with students, she quickly reiterates that is only ‘possible’ and that it is much more ‘practical’ to simply block these powerful tools for connecting and learning. I disagree with both (and, of course, many of us can point to countless examples all around the world where these are low-level or nonexistent concerns, thus disproving her broad generalizations about students and classrooms). However, when I stated her ideas back to her, she denied them. I don’t know how to otherwise interpret what she said and she won’t clarify. I did invite her to please continue the dialogue in the comment area of either her post or mine. Your thoughts?







Why meaningful math problems are defined out of online assessments

Dan Meyer said:

at this moment in history, computers are not a natural working medium for mathematics.

For instance: think of a fraction in your head.

Say it out loud. That’s simple.

Write it on paper. Still simple.

Now communicate that fraction so a computer can understand and grade it. Click open the tools palette. Click the fraction button. Click in the numerator. Press the “4″ key. Click in the denominator. Press the “9″ key.

That’s bad, but if you aren’t convinced the difference is important, try to communicate the square root of that fraction. If it were this hard to post a tweet or update your status, Twitter and Facebook would be empty office space on Folsom Street and Page Mill Road.

It gets worse when you ask students to do anything meaningful with fractions. Like: “Explain whether 4/3 or 3/4 is closer to 1, and how you know.”

It’s simple enough to write down an explanation. It’s also simple to speak that explanation out loud so that somebody can assess its meaning. In 2012, it is impossible for a computer to assess that argument at anywhere near the same level of meaning. Those meaningful problems are then defined out of “mathematics.”


So much for separate is unequal

“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” – Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Well, so much for that…

kindergarten poverty


See also the resegregation research from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

In many cases your student peers aren’t burdensome, they’re essential

Dan Meyer said:

most software for individualized instruction fails to connect learners in the kinds of productive debates Brendan describes. And that’s by design. Individualization is the watchword. Don’t let yourself become burdened by your classmates! But in many cases your peers aren’t burdensome. They’re essential. And the software fails to distinguish one case from the other.


What would my own kids think?

Kirk Vandersall said:

My two measures when observing classrooms: Would I put my kids in this classroom? And how fast would my kid run from the bus to join this class in progress?


‘Managing students’ technology’ equals ‘forcing them to sit and listen’

Calvin Hennick wrote:

NetSupport’s Kingsley is more skeptical. He laughs at the notion that students will studiously ignore text messages and social media updates from their friends and simply put their devices down when the ­teacher is talking. “Have you been in a classroom?” he asks. “If only the kids would do that.”

“The level of temptation, whether it’s Facebook status updates or chatting with other students, there will always be students doing that,” Kingsley adds. “If you tell them to go to a particular website, how do you know all 30 kids are on that website? You don’t, unless you get up and walk around and check, and then you’ve just wasted 10 minutes of class time. The whole point of this [screen monitoring/blocking] software is to free up time for teachers to do what they do best, which is to teach.”


In other words, teaching = teacher talking while kids are forced to sit and listen.

You could view walking around and seeing what is on kids’ screens as wasting 10 minutes of class time (10 minutes? really?). Or you could view it as what teachers already should be doing.

Another technological ‘solution’ to what ultimately is a learning-teaching issue…

One of the most destructive ways to raise a child is with ‘conditional regard’

Alfie Kohn said:

Fury over the possibility that kids will get off too easy or feel too good about themselves seems to rest on three underlying values.

The first is deprivation: Kids shouldn’t be spared struggle and sacrifice, regardless of the effects. The second value is scarcity: the belief that excellence, by definition, is something that not everyone can attain. No matter how well a group of students performs, only a few should get A’s. Otherwise we’re sanctioning “grade inflation” and mediocrity. To have high standards, there must always be losers.

But it’s the third conviction that really ties everything together: an endorsement of conditionality. Children ought never to receive something desirable – a sum of money, a trophy, a commendation – unless they’ve done enough to merit it. They shouldn’t even be allowed to feel good about themselves without being able to point to tangible accomplishments. In this view, we have a moral obligation to reward the deserving and, equally important, make sure the undeserving go conspicuously unrewarded. Hence the anger over participation trophies. The losers mustn’t receive something that even looks like a reward.

A commitment to conditionality lives at the intersection of economics and theology. It’s where lectures about the law of the marketplace meet sermons about what we must do to earn our way into heaven. Here, almost every human interaction, even among family members, is regarded as a kind of transaction.

Interestingly, no research that I know of has ever shown that unconditionality is harmful in terms of future achievement, psychological health or anything else. In fact, studies generally show exactly the opposite. One of the most destructive ways to raise a child is with “conditional regard.”


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