Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grades, Scales, and Percentages, oh my!

Well, North Carolina has finally decided to go the 10-point grading scale for high school students. I'm of two minds here...(if not 10). Since most of the world is on the 10-point scale, I think it helps to coordinate our efforts with students but, I worry that it's also "dumb-ing it down". After all, in our last round of "new" tests the state lowered the "pass/fail" to allow for more students to pass, and still only 56.3% (from the Raleigh News & Observer) passed the test. Celebrations are being held everywhere but what about the other 43.7%? Are we truly happy that we've lowered the standard and now a little over half our students can perform on the tests?

I guess if students are just numbers, then we've got 1/2 of our numbers in order. I've been concerned for a while now about the over emphasis of standardized testing and the pressure that it puts on the student, the parent, and the teacher. I know how to fill in a bubble, how to locate an answer to something that's in the "Knowledge" or "Comprehension" parts of Blooms Taxonomy, I can eliminate answers, and yes, even guess. Now, I have the test taking skills that I lacked as a student of the NC public school system and somehow, I survived, was nurtured, and flourished as a student. I learned from my teachers and from my mistakes (sometimes, that I was allowed to make).

Tom Campbell, a former NC State Treasurer and host of NCSpin, on Time Warner Cable (www.NCSpin.com) said all that I have been thinking for a number of years. We, as educators, will jump on any new bandwagon that we think may have merit for educating youngsters. But, the policy makers too often "drop the ball" on the program or continually change it so often that we can't ever get a "baseline" of just what our students have learned or know. His article**, which appeared on September 15 in the Gaston Gazette made me realize that I was not alone in my thoughts. I think of education as a pendulum that swings from side to side; every so often something will fly off the end (like Senate Bill 2 or ABCs, etc.) only to come back in the pendulum swing some years later as something else, with slight changes - then that gets dumped and the cycle renews.

According to Mr. Campbell, and I have little reason to doubt his findings, one of the End of Course tests required that students answer only 25% of the questions correctly to "pass". My father, an educator and administrator for over 30 years said to me: "Then next year, why don't we just ask those questions that the students got right, then we can have phenomenal growth!" I think he may have something here...

As teachers under attack and in a profession that is seeing less and less but is expected to produce more and more, I think we have performed exceptionally well. We're asked to do the impossible with nothing and no support and we've mostly met the challenge. At 54%, we're well over half.

But what does it all mean? Would you want a doctor who had only passed 25% of his classes and tests? Would you want a lawyer who had done the same? Probably not, so how can we be happy and celebrate success where there is no reason to celebrate.

It's time to come up with some real evaluation techniques for students, teachers, and parents (a child can not truly be educated without the parents and teachers). With the Common Core and Essential Standards, teachers are encouraged to use exploratory learning and allow students to construct their own knowledge. You can not "test" knowledge construction. There are certainly ways to test students abilities and know-how but teaching this way is not going to have a tremendous effect on the current years scores. Over several years, as students are encouraged and helped to learn to see things through critical thinking, a test is a natural outcome.

Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams, was advised, "Build it and they will come." I think
education is in the same situation. We have to build it before we can measure it; we have to support it before we can test it; we have to have educators making decisions with parents and policy makers and students. We can build it, and they will come but, critical thinking and knowledge construction is not an overnight learned skill.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Started again, already

As usual, we've started the school year off with a bang. I'd love to say that everyone was enthusiastic about the beginning but I know that I would be mistaken. Even as bleak as the situation seems right now, I remain an ardent supporter of public education and believe that it is the worlds greatest equalizer. Each year, I look back at what I have accomplished, or not accomplished, over the preceding 12 months. I find, usually, that I have not met my own expectations, even if I have met the expectations of others for me.

I have to wonder, if just sometimes, I'm a little hard on myself. In my accomplishments, I achieved a great deal; in my mind, however, not so much. As teachers we are taught to reflect and to redirect and be flexible in our thinking and teaching. I believe that flexibility is only way to remain positive. If you are willing to try, willing to take the chance, you may find wonderful!

When you need it most, someone or something makes you remember why you work so hard, why you care so much, why, in the end, it's all worth it. To the many people who have made my day and reminded me why I DO love my job, I DO want to help students learn, I AM committed to public education, and why I sometimes cry, tears of joy, sorrow, frustration, elation I want to thank you, and I mean REALLY THANK YOU! You never know how soon, it will be too late to do something nice for someone. It's so true.

Now, I challenge all of you who read my blog (yeah, I know, all two of you) to Pay it Forward. And, I don't mean this in a cliched way, do something nice, something small for someone else tomorrow. Not only will they feel better, but so will you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More Professional Development That Counts

I really like the Pinnacle sessions that have been offered this summer. I like the smaller group dynamic and the more "personal" feel of the training. Unfortunately, I missed some of the training and I know that I missed a lot.

This morning, I learned about app smashing, a new term that I didn't know until today. I knew about apps, I knew about the different uses and how to take "this" from "that" to make "this other thing", I just didn't know what it was called. I learned about SAMR (add to TPACK to enhance education) and how to use apps to create lessons that take the student above and beyond the simple steps of Bloom's Taxonomy and SAMR. I feel overwhelmed by the amount of information that out there and the app possibilities (there are SO many that are free, especially for Education). It's time, to turn a phrase, to find a few good apps that work well together to help students get to the level of learning that must be experienced.

Working with some of the free apps, there are limitations but most will do just about anything that's needed, particularly when you use one app to create something for another. Apps that I will see in my lessons next year include Lucid Chart, Pixlr Express, Powtoon, and  BookTrack. There are any numbers of other apps on the iDevices but my school has few of these devices. BookTrack is a great way for students to narrate and sound-track their own writing. I think this will work well with Book Reviews for my Educational Media Students.

In the afternoon, I learned more about the adult learner through andragogy, as opposed to pedagogy. As a Pinnacle Leader (Tech Trainer for the LEA), I expect to teach adults differently. It's an interesting subject to discuss. Even though you may teach students (children and adults) very differently, learning doesn't seem to be so different. The advantage and disadvantage of teaching either group lies in experience or the lack thereof. I don't see that my high school learners are so different from adult learners (at least at the upper classes) but I can see how different younger students would be. The younger the student the less likely there is experiential learning, background knowledge, and other "baggage" to contend with during a learning session.

I believe it's important to consider "training" a learning session rather than "training". If in the first five minutes, (thanks to Lisa Montgomery) you haven't told me what I am doing "here" or why I should "care", I'm lost. Afterall, I do have ADH...oh look, a chicken! The older the student the more difficult it seems to "captivate" them. One important thing to remember is that adult learners come with their own preferences and experiences and they are all valid. I hope to differiate in my learning sessions by providing several "choices" for my learners - and myself.

Thanks to Teresa Thomassen, Debbie Ray, and Lisa Montgomery for real professional development that matters.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Have to thank the ginger librarian for the great shout out from a book repair session that I facilitated. Check out her blog...

http://thegingerlibrarian.blogspot.com/2014/07/book-repair-101.html

Monday, August 5, 2013

Professional Development that counts

I just finished a two week workshop on Digital Literacy being offered by the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, NC. Wow what a wonderful experience. It was a small class and that meant that we had time to converse and get to know each other better. We also had plenty of time to learn A LOT of new technology. There are so many creative people. The CMS network issues aside, we had a great time and it was well worth my time. Anyone can search the Lesson Plan database (you may have to create a user name and be approved) and find the lesson unit that I completed on Copyright, Plagiarism and Ethical Behavior with Intellectual Property. Kudos to our coordinator, Crystal Lail, she was the best!

Now, I'm sitting the PLN session of our Pinnacle Leaders Conference in Gaston County. We've already gotten our monies worth...and there are two sessions left, plus lunch. Gotta move on...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

I am often overwhelmed by the awesomeness that is the School Librarian Media Coordinator PLC in Gaston County, North Carolina. Having spent two days with these wonderful ladies (and our director, Grant  - Media Ladies, and Grant), I am so proud to be a part of this group. Truly we are leaders in the school and our media centers (learning commons) are the hubs of the learning communities in which we teach. What a great use of two days was our Summer Institute!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I am totally amazed by the amount of information that is out in the cloud that proves the worth of school librarians (and any librarian, really). We are uniquely suited to the task of inquiry learning. Think about the reference interview. We are often leading students in the devBelopment of a thesis statement. We are trained to hone topics to be specific without being too specific. We are trained how to train others to be digital consumers and good digital citizens. Wherever the statement "Librarian: the original search engine" came from, it came from someone who understood that sometimes that personal contact is far more important than the information sought.

As I work toward making my physical and online presence more learner and inquiry friendly, I am awash with ways and how-tos. It's difficult to know where to start but perhaps, my friend, Jennifer LaGarde., has the answer. She has blogged her ideas for how to most effectively get our know-how out into the public view. (See her blogpost at http://www.librarygirl.net/2013/04/school-library-marketing-101-its-about.html?utm_source=feedly)

Time...if only there were more of it. I'm sitting now at the gate at my high school for a soccer game. What am I doing work, one might ask. Well, a teacher's job (and that's what all school librarians are first and foremost), can not be done within the confines of the contracted 7 hour day. I know many business people who guffaw at what they call a "do-nothing" job but they haven't been in the trenches. I've been in their trench before, having worked over 10 years in the corporate world. And, while it's no "walk in the park" in the business world either, it doesn't really hold a candle to what happens to teachers everyday. A lot of people give me the "well you get the summer's off" defense. But for the best teachers, even that isn't true. In two days, just this week, I've worked 20 hours and will work at least 9 on Thursday. That's 44 hours for the week, if I work just the contracted time and meetings already in place. This is a slow and short week for me. Add grading, inputting grades, lesson planning and suddenly you have a 50-60 work week (of which, I get paid only for 40 hours). It's not that I'm complaining, it's that I want people to understand, teaching is a calling, it's not a profession, it's something you do because you are passionate about children and the future. It certainly isn't for the money (with my degrees in the corporate world, I would probably be making at least twice as much), it isn't for the great hours, and it certainly isn't for the parents of students who never do anything wrong in the parents eyes. It's because we care, we want to make a better future and understand that our students can only succeed with quality education.

Try this on for size...How about we ask the teachers about teaching and leave the politics to those professionals who desire political power?