Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reflection: Are we holding on too tight? or for dear life?

Want to get a teacher all riled uP? 
I don't recommend it....but here's how...


At my school, we are just so embedded with NEASC preparation...along with this comes our new school-wide rubrics that score on 21st Century Learner Skills . Needless to say, a lot of reading, a lot of professional development, brains full, maxed capacity. When the info settles in, small shards of clarity, and questions emerge.

PROFESSIONALLY: is undergoing a large scale transformation and we find that we are all at different points along this continuum. Of course. 

The 21st Century Learning Skills, are based on the 21st Century Learning Objectives, which are based on the needs of the 21st Century Job Skills needed. Got it, the job skills are changing, as educators, we need to shift in order to focus on teaching our students the skills they need to be successful in their job market, which is very different from previous ones. that is why this is such a pervasive change in thought.

What do we know about change? It creates uncertainty. Uncertainty can create instability, fear, insecurity, and backlash.
We see it recently in politics, religion, social issues....change, change, change. 
We are becoming a global economy, but Greece, and others are failing and  now we could be connected. No longer safe, and insulated.
Since we have had a black president, I have heard the word 'nigger' used more
 than in the 40 years before that.
Gay marriage equality is making unprecedented gains, and hate crimes are on the rise, not one single male in 12 years has felt it safe enough in our school to come out openly as gay.


Why would education be any different. We are already a somewhat vulnerable profession. How does it feel when an administrator or peer, comes and audits our classroom? The content is our safety net, we know our stuff. But so much of what we do is personal, style, management, thresholds, relationships.

Now, as the fog clears on all the debate, the research seems pretty clear. 
Hard pills to swallow:

1. We can not hold tight to our content. We no longer hold that, it is everywhere. Our students can access it from a variety of sources. We still care they get it right but now we have to focus on teaching them to critically analyze their sources.

2. Without our content, without being, what is now the 'limiting factor in the front of the room', we must step into the fray, and facilitate what our kids DO with the content. Teach them  to apply the information they get, to think with it.

3. The school building can also be a limiting factor, just like time. We must find a way to 'simulate' real world applications, modeling, bringing in the community resources, getting kids out into the community, and utilizing ways to access technology that can broaden their sense of community and connect in a hundred different ways. Teach them to be responsible digital citizens using technology, to create original products and hopefully to do real world application, and problem solving.

Most of us were never taught this in our student teaching, or teacher prep courses.
So how do we keep up?
How do we still feel integral, even secure, in the education process.


THEN it happens, someone asks:
Why are 3rd graders spending the better part of a year on cursive writing that is not listed in the Common Core Standards? Elementary teachers and secondary English teachers have reasons, but they all sound like ...well, holding on too tight to something and being afraid to let go. After all, maybe it's not that it is dropped completely, though there may be a case for that, the suggestion is that scale that back to make room in the schedule for tech education, for advanced keyboarding, for tech integration projects, for skyping with a class in another country....

Another question:
How important is terms of 21st Century Learning, and 21st Century Job Skills? is anything going to be written without some kind of tech device, with a handy
dandy spelling checker? Another teacher says, well, they can't get to an internet site they want if they are off by just one letter. True...and that was an argument at one time but...they can search it out, and sometimes they even find a better one. There is a glut of information and it is always evolving. If it was a crucial link, diigo it, bookmark it, never have to spell it again.
So much time is spent on spelling? Could it be used to develop other necessary skills? YIKES.

And of course:
Why shouldn't we let students use calculators to do math? Well, what about when they have to calculate something and they don't have one? Really? When will they ever be without their cell phone with it's handy calculator app. Heck, by the time they are in high school, we REQUIRE them to be dependent on the graphing calculators or their equivalents. But, they need to understand the concepts, KNOW what the results mean, don't they? Is there more than one way to learn that? I recently learned about The Jasper Project from another student in my grad class. More importantly, how it can be used in the classroom to ask kids to go out in the world and find a real life situation where math is the solution. Through video, they can assess the problem or question, and determine how to resolve it and show their work. So, what's more important, what tools they use, or the application of their thinking and their results?


I don't know the answers to these or others. I agree that the questions have to be asked, that's why I did ask them and became enemy number one in a small group of teachers while we explored the direction and realignment that the 21st Century Learning Objectives demand. I THINK THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS MOVEMENT, AND OF NEASC, TO QUESTION WHAT YOU ARE DOING, HARD REFLECTION, AND RE-ALIGNMENT. I feel pretty psyched that, although there are a lot of upheavals coming my way, my content area, Health Education, is ALREADY skills-based, and real-world based. 
I believe all the content areas are, pretty much, we just have to see our role 
differently, and we have some work to do, 
and a lot of sifting, and tossing out to do, to get to where we need to be.


After reviewing a number of peer reviewed journals, and also checking out the blogging and news communities, these are some nuggets, insights, and ah-ha's I found.

Arguments for cursive usually revolve around being connected to our history and being able to read old documents but I haven't found any research that says, because we do not practice cursive, we cannot read it?   I love good handwriting and always compliment kids who possess it, and offer them the option to use it if they prefer. 
Arguments against cursive usually bring up calligraphy, a lost art. Truly now considered an art, but certainly not intensely taught and practiced in public school. Why? Because it is not a skill needed by our students in order to be productive members of society. When would our students use cursive? Letters? I love getting a hand written letter but that is not enough. Signing checks? It's been two years since I used checks, I don't imagine this new generation using them much, we don't even sign credit cards for fear of theft, relying instead on picture ID. I just can't find the argument for intense cursive writing instruction. Writing is meant to last and we live in a time when things change constantly. 

Here is a look at both sides from the California Teachers Association

and a Ted Talk about it

For spelling, I believe there is a stronger case, but then again...I keep thinking of that experiment that has the words all misspelled but it is still totally readable? So what is our  purpose, is it transient communication, in the midst of a bigger scheme and we just need to get the basics? or is it a finished product? if so, wouldn't we spell and grammar check it? It is interesting to note that at least one study found a positive correlation between texting and spelling...hmmm. This is probably not too relevant BUT, I used to get really annoyed when I found a typo in a book. I dreamed of being an author, and these books were edited, proofed, printed, and copyrighted...with a typo??? But now, when i find one, or more in a blog, or an online newspaper, etc...I don't mind. I guess I feel it is the price of instant information...and I am a bit relieved I guess. Yet another study said that any negative effect on spelling was only observed in adults, none were seen in children. We know this, this generation is wired, they know the difference between digital formats and others. Again, if spelling is a necessary skill then by all means, let's continue to devote much time and effort into it but let's be sure it is a necessary skill, not assume. we have a tendency to just believe some dogma is timeless, and really, is anything? Maybe the question isn't whether or not spelling is important but, why can't we accept that there are now two standards of written communication, and that our students can manage it? 

" These results show that text messaging does not adversely affect the development of literacy skills within this age group, and that the children's use of textisms when text messaging is positively related to improvement in literacy skills, especially spelling"

Wood, C. C., Jackson, E. E., Hart, L. L., Plester, B. B., & L.Wilde. (2011). The effect of text messaging on 9- and 10-year-old children's reading, spelling and phonological processing skills. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning,27(1), 28-36. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00398.x

Here's a chat from a University Blog

Plester B, Wood C, Bell V. Txt msg n school literacy: does texting and knowledge of text abbreviations adversely affect children's literacy attainment?. Literacy [serial online]. November 2008;42(3):137-144. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed February 3, 2013.

Powell, D. D., & Dixon, M. M. (2011). Does SMS text messaging help or harm adults' knowledge of standard spelling?. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning27(1), 58-66. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00403.x

The calculator topic seems to have less research. It is clear that there are two camps. There are the people who fear them, believing that they will somehow degrade the ability of the student if depended on. The other camp holds to the fact that they exist, are not going anywhere, will become more depended on, and therefore we must find ways to positively promote this. One interesting point made often was that, when calculators, or any technology are used, the students focus shifts from computation to problem solving. This seems like a more real-world application.

Kiehl, C. F., & Harper, B. (1979). MY CHILD THE MATH WIZ???? OR BUY YOUR CHILD A CALCULATOR. Education,100(1), 18.