Should Teachers Embrace Every Educational Change?

ImageChange is a constant in our world, and that includes the world of educators. Justin Tarte recently published this post on changes teachers are challenged to make. He makes the case that teachers shouldn’t resist change just because it makes them uncomfortable. He states that doing what’s best for the students often stretches teachers into uncomfortable zones. His epiphany was

“the level of comfort educators experience is directly linked to the learning experiences and learning opportunities that become available for students.”

I think teachers need to carefully analyze why they are uncomfortable with the changes they feel themselves resisting. Not everything new is better than what has been done before. Teachers were uncomfortable with the New Math that was forced on them in the 1960’s. It eventually was discarded. It wasn’t good for the students or teachers. Sometimes the motivation isn’t the good of the students, but whether a school or district gets grant money for making the change. This makes guinea pigs of the children. 

Sometimes curriculum changes are designed to follow a political agenda that is twisting history or data in a way that may upset a teacher who can discern what’s happening and doesn’t want to be part of it. On the other hand, changes in methods and tools are often content neutral and the results depend on how they are utilized.

Computers, for example, are just tools. Their value depends upon how they are used. Some older teachers may resist using them because of the uncomfortable learning curve for themselves. If that is the point Tarte is making, then I agree. Good teachers must first be students who continue to keep learning and stretching themselves as new discoveries are made. But teachers should still think critically about proposed changes. Not every new theory deserves to be tried in the classroom.

One thing thing that is often not considered when change is proposed is how it will affect the relationship between students and teachers and whether or not  a certain teacher has always been an effective teacher. I well remember a master teacher I had when I was student teaching 48 years ago. His gift was humor, and he really knew how and when to use it. It was an effective tool and an important component in the dynamics of his classroom because it made the students listen to everything else he said. The relationship it helped him maintain with his students enhanced their ability to learn.

I’m quite sure this man would have been eager to implement changes in methods if he thought they would make learning easier for his students. He was not one to resist change. But neither would he have adopted any method in which he could not see real value just because it was new or part of the latest trend. It was important for him maintain his teaching style and only use those tools that would  enhance it rather than diminish it.

I’m afraid that many of the changes teachers are being forced to implement today make them less effective because these changes suddenly take them out of an element they have mastered and throw them suddenly into one they have not. It takes time for a teaching style to evolve. Once it does, that teacher shouldn’t be forced to make sudden changes in teaching methods that impact his teaching style and possibly even his relationship to his students. That’s like throwing a fish on land and telling it to keep swimming.

Teachers should see demonstrations of new methods (social media, software) and equipment the school has available (computers, interactive whiteboards,  etc) and have a chance to play with them over a period of time before being asked to add them to their toolbox. Maybe that would encourage more teachers to embrace proposed changes. 

I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a classroom as student or teacher. I’m wondering if the professors in schools of education still use the lecture method almost exclusively, or if they demonstrate the new methods they want teachers to use as they teach them about those methods. Do college professors use interactive whiteboards to teach teachers about how to use them? Do they give the kind of assessments they teach their students are most effective? I remember my Tests and Measurements professor told us that true/false tests were the least effective tests. Yet all the tests he gave us were true-false test.

My own experience has been that those who teach teachers are resistant to changes in their own teaching methods. If they do not stretch themselves out of their comfort zones, why should they expect the teachers to do so? If the methods they want teachers to use are more effective, maybe they should demonstrate them. That would help teachers (and future teachers) see first hand how effective they really are while helping them understand how to use them. 

 

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No Wonder Some People Oppose Common Core!

Assignments related to holocaust denial have been justified by the need to teach critical thinking skills to satisfy new Common Core standards. It seems to me school districts should think critically about the consequences of giving such assignments before they are given instead of waiting until there is an outcry from parents.

Memorial Plaque Persecution of Jews
Memorial Plaque Persecution of Jews

After my husband directed my attention today to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by Reuven H. Taff entitled “Turning Holocaust Denial into Homework,” I decided to see what else I could find out about this online. I wanted to find a more accessible site that did not require a paid subscription. I found it in another form on the Yahoo site:” California School District Under Fire for Holocaust-Denial Assignment” by Beth Greenfield.

The assignment in question was justified as an attempt to satisfy the Common Core standards on critical thinking by helping students to understand and communicate persuasive arguments. This particular assignment to eighth graders in a Rialto middle school required students to complete an essay on whether or not the Holocaust was an actual historical event or just a political scheme. Among the websites listed as legitimate resources for the assignment was one which denied the holocaust happened.

It seems to me that the people responsible for giving this assignment should have demonstrated more critical thinking skills themselves. The Wall Street Journal suggested a number of other topics that legitimately had two sides about which students could write. Among these were climate change, capital punishment, health care, immigration reform, tax policy, energy sources, and many more. You could probably think of many yourself. So why suggest to students with little background in world history that the holocaust might not have been real?

Rialto district officials, including interim Superintendent Mohammed Islam who issued a press release on the subject, said they were aware of the controversy caused by the assignment. Islam stated, ‘The intent of the writing prompt was to exercise the use of critical thinking skills. There was no offensive intent in the crafting of this assignment. We regret that the prompt was misinterpreted.’

It should be noted that Common Core standards were used as an excuse for giving this assignment. I would like to think teachers and curriculum writers would think critically about possible consequences of assignments, and which topics are most likely to be most important to the daily lives of American citizens as they become part of the voting public. Or maybe school officials would rather students didn’t think critically about such issues, since they might come to different conclusions than their teachers.

Barb’s People Builders recommends many materials that help teach critical thinking skills to elementary and middle school students.  Television ads, news opinion pieces, and political speeches also offer older students material to analyze critically. Teachers should equip students with critical thinking skills so they can methodically examine what they hear and read to differentiate facts from spin and propaganda. They should also help students acquire the research skills to find the truth mixed with all the falsehoods they hear and see every day.

Your take on this?

I Guess I’m Just Not With the Times

Do you like the way the word “like” is now being used? Do you, like, see no reason to, like, be concerned about this? Are you like “The language is just evolving?” Or do you not like this contemporary usage any more than I do?

I have watched as today’s’ publishers of children’s and young adult books have been letting their characters model what I consider atrocious English usage.  Two of the most prevalent examples of this were using the word “goes” instead of “said.” Example: “So he goes “You’ve got to be kidding.” And so on.

like-1804599_1200-feature

The other example was the use of the word “like” as a  placeholder while thinking of something to say, or in the phrase “was like” instead of “said.” An example of the first would be “So he, like, wanted to take me out, but I, like, couldn’t, like, stand him.”  An example of the second would be “So he’s like “I don’t believe it! and I’m like “It’s true.”

As I read sentences like this in the new books being published a few years back I cringed, because I knew that reading this kind of dialogue would validate less than standard English among those who most needed to learn standard English. Today I saw “How to Use the Word Like in English.” I guess I’m now officially a dinosaur.

It’s also true that books that use this slang will soon be obsolete. Language fads don’t last long. I’m hoping these like-laden books will, like, disappear like very soon.

I believe this was written for people learning English as a Second Language. I rather wish it had been written to help ESL students understand this usage when they heard it, not to teach them that this is how to use the word. This usage not only wrecks the sound of the English language and supports fuzzy thinking, but it also tangles up the rules of punctuation.

Is this the kind of English usage now being taught in American public schools?

Is Penmanship Obsolete?

Is it still worth the time for children to learn cursive handwriting in this day of computers? What do you think?

Remember learning to print when you were very young, and later switching to cursive writing, which also had to be learned? Many of us were raised before children had access to keyboards and we learned to use typewriters when we got to high school unless we didn’t want to. So our entire elementary school success depended on our ability to write with pen or pencil on paper. Even in college, we used composition books for tests. 

Today things have really changed. Some schools believe cursive writing is obsolete and no longer worth teaching in the schools.  Has Handwriting Become Extinct? explains some of the reasons that it’s still worthwhile to learn this skill.  Handwriting seems to be especially valuable in helping us organize our thinking and in helping those who are beginning to suffer from memory loss. Seemingly writing our lists and notes by hand imprints them more firmly in our minds.

What do you think? Is handwriting obsolete or not?

 

 

How to Take the Joy from Literature

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences.

Snowy Woods

This afternoon I’m weeding through some of my books and came across one by a favorite children’s author, Jean Little — Hey World, Here I Am! On page 28 I came across a poem, “After English Class.” It’s written in the first person in the voice of Kate Bloomfield, who describes how she used to like the Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” She liked the sound of the words and their rhythm, and the imagery. She could see the snow and hear the jingling bells. I think that’s what Robert Frost would have wanted.

The next lines explain how the teacher ruined the poem for her:

But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep—
They all have ‘hidden meanings.’
It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.

Sometimes as teachers, our attempts to help students find deeper meanings in literature may have unintended consequences. Just as a student of biology may prefer a living whole frog to the dead one they have just dissected, the students who read a poem may just want to enjoy it and respond to it with  their own imaginations. Does the dissection the teacher provides keep students from gleaning meanings they might have discovered on their own?

Photo courtesy of http://pixabay.com/en/users/PublicDomainPictures/

It’s the Law in California: Transgender Students Rights to Trump the Privacy Rights of other Students in 2014

Ventura High School
Mixed Sex Restrooms OK?

It’s the Law in California: Transgender Students Rights to Trump the Privacy Rights of other Students in 2014

Those living in California are about to experience what public school students in parts of Colorado are already facing — biological boys who think they are girls using the girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers (and vice versa.) California AB 1266 is even less well-defined than the Colorado law. If you are a parent of a K-12 student in a California public school, how do you feel about having students in restrooms whose biology does not match their current gender identity? To learn more about this law and to get a petition to stall its implementation until the citizens can vote on it, go to Privacy for All Students. All petitions must be mailed in time to be in Sacramento by November 12, 2013, and 505,000 valid California voter signatures are needed to qualify this for the ballot.

If this matters to you, please go to the site, get a petition, sign it and mail it. Or get a long petition and get some other registered voters to sign it, too. Be sure and follow the instructions to the letter. Time is short. It would be prudent to get these mailed by November 1.

Enjoying my Community of North San Luis Obispo County

Scene from the Walk on Oakview Lane in Templeton
A scene along Oakview Lane in Templeton, where I often walk

I haven’t added much to this blog lately because I’ve been exploring my community and writing about it at both Squidoo and HubPages, where I won a contest last month with this article: Great Short Hikes in North San Luis Obispo County: Paso Robles, Templeton, and Atascadero.

"Where the Heck is 93446?" a photograph by Nancy Vest
"Where the Heck is 93446?" by Nancy Vest, used by permission.

With my Flip camcorder and camera in a fanny pack,  I find the most interesting walks, explore the vineyards and wineries who are my neighbors, and try to keep up with local festivals and traditions. Just this year I discovered Studios on the Park, where many of the local artists interact with the public, and I try to introduce them to others.  The picture above was from the “Speed” exhibit I have referred to below. I love Nancy’s sense of humor that I see in a lot of her imaginative photographs.

What does all this have to do with bookselling and education? It makes me a more balanced person. One can’t sit at a computer all day and still remain part of one’s community. The most important education is that we seek out after we are through with schooling.  My community has an abundance of learning experiences — so many that it’s hard to choose between them.  So far I’ve not paid a penny for any of them, unless I make purchases while attending events, which I often do.

Laure Carlisle's Self-Portrait at Studios on the Park, Paso Robles
Laure Carlisle's Self-Portrait at Studios on the Park, Paso Robles

I can choose between music, history art, and nature. On  October 7,  I stumbled into the opening of “Speed” — a juried exhibit of the Paso Robles Art Association and had some delightful and educational conversations with some of the artists. What I had come for was the opportunity to finish trying to match artists with their self-portraits in a contest related to an ongoing exhibit. The next night I was able to attend a concert and a historical walking tour as part of the Central Coast Railroad Festival. And the very next day, our community of Paso Robles celebrated its history with a morning parade followed by a free bean feed at the City Park. I was too tired to move to the Pioneer Museum after lunch for some demonstrations of threshing and baling. Instead I went home and edited all the pictures and video I had taken so I could write them up and share them with the community. It’s my way of giving back.

It’s true that while I’m out doing these things I’m not listing books and blogging, but I’m continuing to learn. The desire to keep learning is, in my opinion, the test of one’s education, which should create a thirst for more learning.