February 25, 2012

President Obama: you just lost my vote

Photo credit: Care2 Make a Difference
"You lost a lot more than me," Mr. President. "You just lost my vote."

Annette Bening's perfectly-delivered line during a climactic moment in the movie, The American President, is one that should resonate with President Obama, as tens of thousands of angry teachers in New York are likely saying the same thing today.

One day after New York teacher rankings were published, those educators and hundreds of thousands more nationwide are outraged, and we're not just mad at the idiots in New York who allowed this useless data to go public.

I'm certain that I speak for many of my colleagues when I say that the blame for this must fall squarely at the feet of President Barack Obama. After all, a monstrous $5 billion of Obama's education budget is intended to "tie teacher pay to performance." Don't assume for a second that "performance" means how well teachers actually teach. This is all about standardized testing -- something Obama suggested he'd fix, while campaigning four years ago.

Being kind, I'd say Obama has fallen short of his goal of fixing No Child Left Behind. Being accusatory, I'd say that Obama has flat-out lied.

If anything, during Obama's presidency, American education has gotten much worse than it was when he arrived. Not only are we still stuck with the monster that is high stakes testing, now teachers are being judged by this insidious data, which even most people outside of the profession realize is nothing short of illogical.

I proudly supported Barack Obama four years ago. I even campaigned form him. When things were going poorly his first couple of years in office, I defended him. Enough is finally enough. I can no longer support a president who has turned his back on education. I can't defend a purportedly-intelligent man, who wasn't smart enough to hire an educator to run his education department. I can't stand by a leader who values numbers over people.

President Obama has lost me as a supporter. He's lost more than me, though. He's just lost my vote.

February 23, 2012

Top 5 reasons I don't give grades

One of the focuses of the ROLE Reversal blog is the elimination of grades. Like homework, there are many reasons that grading is detrimental to learning. Here are the top 5 reasons I don't give grades.

5 -- Grades are always subjective. Since the teacher decides how material is taught and assessed, it's subjective. You can argue that many activities and test questions are either right or wrong, but if you don't give students a variety of ways to show what they know, as well as chances to relearn lessons, then objectivity is compromised.

4 -- A points and percentages system discriminates. Students who are motivated by grades complete assignments. They always turn them in, earn their points and, consequently, get high grades. Students who don't see any value in the activities that garner points don't complete them. They, in turn, receive zeroes and failing grades. Hence, the grades create a culture of "good" and "bad" students. The high achievers are promoted to advanced classes, while the low achievers are placed in remediation. This sort of academic discrimination can scar a child for life.

3 -- Poor weighting of activities punishes some students while rewarding others. Most teachers struggle with weighting activities (another practice that should be banned). I've seen teachers whose tests are 75 percent of a marking period's grade, while others value homework at 50 percent or higher. Consider the student who does all of his homework but is scared out of his wits on test day. In Mr. 75 Percent's class, this kid fails. Conversely, an intelligent student, who wants to manipulate a bad system, will ignore all of the activities and projects, ace the tests, and easily pass.

2 -- Grades turn even honest kids into cheaters. In the study hall that I supervise daily, I see a shocking amount of cheating. I've often asked students copying a peer's work why they do it. The answer is always some version of the same thing: "It's due next period, and I'll get a zero, if I don't hand it in." In a class with no grades, students never have a reason to cheat. There's no punishment awaiting them, if something isn't done.

1 -- When students perform for points or letters, they lose any interest in real learning. Grades are nothing more than the carrots and sticks of education. They reward the "good" kids, whose parents browbeat them nightly to complete all activities, study hard and get those A's. Promises of Honor Roll, Merit Scholar and other elite badges await those cunning enough to maneuver the flawed system of grading. They may even get to the Ivy League, having learned very little about learning. Meanwhile, their counterparts, many of them likely impoverished, hungry and struggling to comprehend the value in the assignments and tests they see daily, face a life of remediation, retention and ridicule.

Sadly, some of these kids are the brightest of them all, but they are doomed by letters, the numbers and the grades.

February 20, 2012

Top 5 reasons I don't assign homework

The homework debate is one that may plague educators for decades -- even centuries -- to come. It perplexes me, because the research is so overwhelmingly against homework's effectiveness.

After much consideration and exhaustive research, I stopped assigning homework a few years ago. Homework simply doesn't fit into a Results Only Learning Environment.

Although I could write endlessly about the deleterious effects of homework, I'll get right to the top five reasons I don't assign homework.

5 -- Virtually all homework involves rote memory practice, which is always a waste of time. In the age of the Smartphone, who needs to remember by rote?

4 -- Homework has nothing to do with teaching responsibility (HW advocates love this claim). Not only is there not one reliable study to prove that homework builds responsible children, based on what we know about responsibility, the assertion is illogical. Responsibility implies autonomy, and homework offers none of this. Students are told what to do, when to do it, and when it must be returned. Where does responsibility come into play?

3 -- Homework impinges upon a student's time with family and on other, more valuable, activities -- like play. As Alfie Kohn states in The Homework Myth, why should children be asked to work a second shift? It's unconscionable to send children to work for nearly eight hours a day, then have them go home and work for 2-5 more hours; we don't live in 19th century London.

2 -- I can teach the material in the time I'm with my students in the classroom. The endless cry of "I can't teach all of the standards without assigning homework" is a tired excuse used to hide ineffective methods. Creating engaging activities in place of lecture and worksheets, along with less testing will eliminate the need for homework.

1 -- Students hate homework. I want to help  my students develop a thirst for learning. I want them to read for enjoyment and exploration. I want them to extend their learning when they choose, because they are interested in what we do in class. If I force them to do activities that they don't choose, they will hate them. If I penalize them for not completing something they see as valueless, they not only don't learn, they get a bad grade and hate learning even more.

My colleagues often attempt to persuade me that homework is an integral part of teaching and learning. I'm simply  not buying. So, what's your take on the debate?

Don't miss ROLE Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom, due in February 2013 by ASCD, the world's top educational leadership organization

February 19, 2012

Five reasons I don't give quizzes

Photo credit: QuotesBuddy.com
In my days as a traditional teacher, I loved the quiz. I informed students and parents that the quiz was a valuable tool, because it held students accountable. The "pop" quiz was an even greater weapon, as it kept students in a constant state of anxiety, always wondering when they'd be caught unprepared and their grade would be doomed.

When I converted my class to a Results Only Learning Environment, I eliminated all testing, including quizzes. Here are five reasons that quizzing doesn't work.
  1. Most quizzes are made up of multiple choice items, which provide inaccurate results, because you never really know when a student guesses.
  2. Many students simply don't test well, so they may know the material but get the quiz questions wrong.
  3. There are many activities that engage students and are conducive to formative assessment, which is far less threatening than a quiz and provides much better feedback.
  4. Quizzes create anxiety and tend to hurt students' grades.
  5. Quizzes are designed to make students accountable for learning. Accountability makes students hate learning.
Do you know any reasons I left out?

February 18, 2012

Do your students know that you know their names?

Photo credit: designscollage.com
I recently listened to a scintillating presentation from Dr. Russ Quaglia, of the Qualia Institute. In his work on student aspirations, Qualia and his people survey students and educators around the world about perceptions of one another, among other important interpersonal items.

During a lecture, Quaglia announced that 50 percent of respondents nationwide say that their teachers don't know their names. Would you ever have guessed this to be true? Even if you see 150 students daily, you certainly know all of their names a couple of weeks into the school year, don't you?

"How often do you call every student by name?" Quaglia inquired, allowing the question's impact to settle for several seconds, before continuing. If a week passes, Quaglia continued, and you don't say a student's name, wouldn't she wonder if you know it?

I try to say every student's name daily, but I'm sure there are days that I fail to do so. Would all of my 112 students answer that question the way I want?

What about yours?

February 15, 2012

I'm throwing out the ROLE

Okay, not really. I am experimenting with some traditional  methods in one class, though, for the sake of comparison. After a couple of particularly bad days of collaboration, I decided to remind one group of students what we have abandoned and why.

So, out came the workbooks, followed by dry instructional reading, 20 fill-in-the-blank workbook questions and a multiple-choice quiz. These activities were tiresome, and the students groaned throughout.

Reinforcing the lesson
The next day, upon reflection, I shared the more ROLE-type activity that we had done in other classes, while working toward the same learning outcome. "Hey, that's not fair," one disgruntled student shouted. "Why didn't we get to do that?" another questioned.

"Based on how you behaved last week during collaborative time," I explained, "I thought you might like the traditional way better."

They didn't. So, the Results Only Learning Environment was reinstated, and all was again right with the world.

This experiment reminded me that not all students adapt as easily as others to a results-only class. Constant reminding about the learning community we're cultivating is necessary. This was a "tough-love" lesson, but I think the message was clear.

February 9, 2012

Testing and homework and grades, Oh my!

One of my favorite bloggers, Joanne Jacobs, has a knack for getting people riled. Jacobs' post about teachers confusing diligence and achievement got her followers ranting to what for some reason made me think of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Only instead of lions, tigers and bears, I kept hearing, "Testing and homework and grades, oh my!"

Photo credit: FantasyBooksandMovies.com
Although I applaud the passion of Jacobs' readers, I often find their opinions misguided. The "diligence" post was about boosting grades for hardworking students to a minus or a plus grade, mainly to encourage them. So a hardworking F student might be given a D-. The writer Jacobs' references suggests, however, that giving away A's and B's to students who lack skills is wrong -- even "fraudulent."

This ignited numerous comments about children who were being cheated by underachievers and students with disabilities, who are passed along by a broken system. Most of these parents favor the instruments they vilify in their comments, as long as the testing and homework and grades (oh my) benefit their children and don't help the so-called underachievers.

As you may have guessed, my solution, as utopian as it may seem, is to simply eliminate all of the instruments causing the problems -- the tests, the homework and, especially, the grades.

February 8, 2012

Shelly Terrell challenges you to "reveal their strengths"

In her 30 Goal Challenge, educator/presenter/blogger, Shelly Terrell, encourages teachers to improve their interactions with students and colleagues in 30 specific ways.

In Goal #4, she challenges us to "Reveal their strengths."

Are you ready to take the challenge?

February 7, 2012

ASCD 2012 TweetUp

Even if you are not attending ASCD's Annual Conference in March, don't miss what's happening. Stay tuned in with the TweetUp. Learn more in the brief video below.

February 5, 2012

Anti-homework movement is growing

In a recent post to his brilliant blog, Education Rethink, John Spencer grabs the reader with this opening line: "I hate my son's homework." One sentence in, and I knew I would love Spencer's post.

Unlike some of my own posts, which may come off as venting against the practice of assigning homework, Spencer's blog offers some useful advice for teachers who are interested in changing their approach. For example, he says:
"Write out a rationale regarding why you don't assign homework. One of the biggest selling points for me was the explanation that I would not waste any class time. I had seen the way teachers would waste time and say, "I'll just assign that as homework."  The other big selling point was the notion of instant feedback and the potential lack of feedback at home."
A few hours after Spencer's post went live, comments poured in from supporters. One commenter links bad homework to bad teaching:
"I think teachers who want to do away with homework must also be prepared to fully engage kids in learning and guided practice for the entire class period. Sloppy homework follows sloppy teaching."
Another reader, seemingly joining the anti-homework movement, suggests some basic in-class writing, in place of something else assigned as an out-of-class activity:
"In many cases, informal writing during class is a better way of providing opportunities to engage with material than homework. Informal writing looks easy, but writing good prompts that produce learning and/or produce valid formative assessments is not easy."
It's exciting to see other educators writing about the negative impact homework has on teaching and learning.

So, are you ready to join the anti-homework movement?

February 3, 2012

ASCD presenter sounds like a ROLE guy

ASCD conference presenter, Watts Wacker, sounds a lot like someone who understands a Results Only Learning Environment. Get a glimpse of what his 2012 ASCD conference presentation will look like below.

February 2, 2012

Results-only learning with Facebook

By Jan Pierce, Guest Blogger

While Facebook was once discouraged and even banned from many classrooms and schools, educators are beginning to embrace the social networking tool as a way to enhance students’ learning experience.So how can teachers use Facebook in the classroom as a tool for results-only learning? Here are some ideas.

1. Classroom Groups – This is one of the most popular ways that teachers are using Facebook. Teachers can give students Facebook-related assignments such as posting what they learned or questions they might have on the group “wall.” As students respond to one another, this encourages collaborative learning through discussion. The teacher can also post relevant links with additional material for the students to view and respond to.
Courtesy: uisjournal.com
The key to using a classroom group on Facebook is to make it private. Teachers should create separate profiles with strict privacy settings that they only use for school. Students can also create separate accounts or they can simply adjust their privacy settings to limit what content the teacher sees. The classroom group should also be private so that only the teacher, students, school administrators, and parents can view it.

2. Messages – Facebook is a great way to keep everyone informed. Teachers and students can send messages to everyone in the classroom group about unexpected absences, upcoming events, or project updates.

Teachers can also send a private message to an individual student or parent – these days, many people will be more likely to respond to Facebook than to an email. Students may also be more honest and open in a Facebook message than they would be in a private meeting with the teacher.

3. Sharing Content – Teachers can post a link to an interesting webpage, article, or video that they want their students to view. They could also add photos from a recent class trip or project. They can even post notes about daily or weekly classroom activities for students who miss class or parents who want to stay informed. Even students can get involved and post related links or photos to enhance the learning experience.

4. Keep Everyone Updated – If a parent has a Facebook account, it’s easy for them to stay updated on classroom happenings. All they have to do is check the class group page. If they have a specific concern, they can also send a private message to the teacher.

5. Class Project – Facebook itself can turn into a class project. Have students make Facebook profiles for fictional characters or historical figures and have them interact with each other the way the characters would. The students will get into the role-playing aspect and will embrace this chance to check Facebook as part of their learning experience, rather than use it as a distraction when they get home from school.

Jan Pierce is a 4th grade teacher who has over 20 years of experience in the classroom. Her interests include educational technology and online learning. She also owns the site ElementaryEducation Degree, for students interested in earning a degree in elementary education.