Education Evolutions #46

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

So this is being sent much later than usual. As the festive season approaches, time is becoming a bit more scarce. The snow in New England did not help either.

This is another eclectic mix of pieces. I deliberately kept them on the short side, given my penchant for the long read. There is no real theme to these three but I found all of them interesting. I suppose if you look really deep there is a political dimension in each of these articles but that would be a bit of a stretch and it was definitely not by design.

There is no “If you read only one article…” this week. They are each little gems on their own. The one that probably speaks to one of the main reasons I continue to curate this newsletter is probably the first one Letting Go Of School In Order To Think About Education, while the others probably reveal more of my idiosyncratic reading habits. Regardless, they seemed worth sharing. Sometimes the stranger additions get the most attention, anyway.

Enjoy the week and preparations for the holidays.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Letting Go Of School In Order To Think About Education – Medium – Identity, Education, and Power – Sherri Spelic (7-minute read)

I began following Sherri Spelic over the summer, I believe. Since then, I have found her to be an insightful and interesting educator. She has a wonderfully honest and inquisitive voice in her blogging that continually raises issues while documenting her journey as a teacher. In this post, she writes freely about some of her thoughts about the obstacles that exist in schooling that often are at odds with education. I think what I identified most within this post is how she discusses thoughts about her own children. It is a way I often begin thinking about school, now that mine are old enough to be fully immersed in the public school system.

The next best thing about her free thinking and writing is that professionally she starts with people. The more I have been at work specifically with teachers and technology the more I have become convinced that this is the only way to go. Yet, it is an increasingly hard road. Still, we humans are the greatest technology ever developed and we keep developing too. When Spelic writes, “We need to reclaim education as a human-centered public good that belongs to all of us,” I wish I had written that sentence.

Why I Seldom Teach The Hero’s Journey Anymore — And What I Teach Instead – The Huffington Post – Craig Chalquist, PhD (13-minute read)

This might be a little off the beaten path but I found this piece to be fascinating as a window into the thinking of another educator but also as a bit of cultural commentary. I am a big fan of Joseph Campbell’s work, ever since I was exposed to him in a high school humanities course, timed with the release of The Power of Myth on PBS. Nevertheless, I found Chalquist’s take on Campbell fair and fascinating. More than that, I found his alternative to the Hero’s Journey even more so.

While Campbell famously said, “We are all heroes of our own journey,” that has always seemed a little over-simplistic to me. I quite like Chatquin’s dive into what we might glean from the no-Hero’s Journey of Reenchantment. It strikes me as something that might be even more accessible to more people. While we all might hope to be heroes, it is a word that is too loosely thrown about, as cited in this piece. After all, we might all be better served by stories of “post-heroic patience, wisdom, and forgiveness” anyway.

How the Index Card Cataloged the World – The Atlantic – Daniela Blei (11-minute read)

This piece is a bit of fun. It is brief, like the medium it illuminates but is an interesting look at the development of an analog technology that had a far greater impact than we might have realized. I love historical writings like this that focus tightly on a specific item and explore its impact and evolution. It certainly made me think about how often I reach for an index card much in the way that its first user, Carl Linnaeus, did.

For anyone that remembers the old BBC show Connections with James Burke from the 1970s, this essay reminded me of a text version of that show. I loved that leisure suit wearing presenter. In addition to a reminder of the historical importance of Linnaeus for anyone that does not teach biology, it is also a poignant reminder of just how long information overload has been a problem facing humans. Better still, I love the inclusion of the dark side of classification. Like any gross misappropriation of a good idea from one context to another, bad consequences can arise. Best reminder of all, “The act of organizing information—even notes about plants—is never neutral or objective.” Definitely, something to keep in mind.

Education Evolutions #45

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

As we move into the holiday season time seems to get shorter I certainly have fallen victim to this compression of time as I began putting this issue together, a little later than I would like. I have been pulling together a lot of newsletter-like material for a number of other publications which encroached on my efforts here.

This group of articles is a bit more of a hodge-podge. Not sure any real theme emerged as I curated the list. If anything, If anything, there might be something about relationships, care, and building communities, and not the coopted versions Mark Zuckerberg has started talking about at every turn.

Similarly, I am not sure that there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. The last one is the longest and might be the most useful in terms of applying to a classroom tomorrow. It reminded me of how often I have been inclined to simply write questions on student work, as feedback, without any grades, as an English teacher. The thing about that strategy is that questions invite a response or an answer, which is a conversation. Conversations can be pretty effective at building trust. And trust seems like the only truly genuine influence for greater learning, although that last statement may make more sense after reading the end of this newsletter.

Enjoy what is left of the weekend.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Why Teachers Are The Sleeping Giant In The Fight For Net Neutrality – TeachThought – Terry Heick (7-minute read)

When I read this headline, I so want it to be true. As I continued to read, I was reminded how much I often like what Terry Heick contributes to the teaching information landscape. I do not always agree but I appreciate his contributions and they make me think harder. Here I agree with a lot of what he writes. There is no question that the Internet matters. It might matter more now than it ever has. Most humans now carry it with them everywhere they go. There are not many things that we carry with us daily that are not important.

I also hope that teachers are the sleeping giants he suggests, not just about net neutrality but about so many issues and challenges that we collectively face. At the risk of making things messier, net neutrality matters too because it is neutrality that has enabled all of the very corporations lined up to divide it into their little fifedoms to thrive. The Internet was a publicly funded and founded phenomenon that has benefitted commercial interests.

One old metaphor used for the Internet was the superhighway. Our country built highways and interstates to help people travel and commerce to thrive. To hand over our highway and interstate system to a handful of private interests with their own agendas would be a profound betrayal of the public interest and devastate the very notion of a public good. We messed this up pretty spectacularly when rivers and waterways were the highways, by the way, at great expense. Net neutrality, with all of its imperfections and problems, at least harbors some value in the public interest. Without it, only the biggest corporate interests get their way. Corporate good, and the market carousel, completely replaces the public in virtual space, which should be increasingly referred to simply as space. In general, I believe public spaces should be protected.

The End of the Social Era Can’t Come Soon Enough – Vanity Fair – Nick Bilton (8-minute read)

Social media and the companies behind its rise have certainly been enduring a rough few months. I would humbly submit that it is for good reason. The notion that these are just platforms and that platforms are somehow neutral is quite problematic. I hope that we will come to a future point, where we will see the current state as a destructive fad, as the subtitle suggests. However, I am not sure it has quite the inevitablity that Bilton seems to suggest.

One problem is that for all the destruction, a lot of us are really very fond of many of the social media outlets we use regularly. Plus, for some reason, the drug analogies have never quite fit for me. It might be a better comparison for devices themselves but the social media component amplifies too many elements of social interaction, sans technology mediation, for me to feel it is helpful or illuminating. Still, I appreciate a lot of what Bilton is advancing here. There are a lot of problems associated with how we have taken to social media and technology-mediated platforms. Riffing off poet and bioregionalist Gary Snyder’s sentiment, “The most radical thing you can do is stay home,” I find myself saying, “The most radical thing you can do is turn it off,” which applies to social media or even computers.

The Secret of Effective Feedback – TeachThought – Dylan William (16-minute read)

I stumbled across this article in the last week by way of prolific edublogger Larry Ferlazzo, which he claimed as being the best article of student feedback he had read. That seemed like high praise, so I wanted to give it a read. I am not sure that it is the best I have ever read but no alternative readily comes to mind either. It is a topic that gets a whole lot of coverage but I rarely feel like much of it is all that good. This article is definitely good.

Most valuable is the recognition just how much trust plays a part in the feedback loop. That seems so simple but there may be no factor more critical. I wish that it was not added at the end of the piece and rather led with that. Without trust, there is no feedback, at least as we think of it. It is simply noise. I would also argue that William’s contention that “Looking at student work is essentially an assessment process,” is actually incomplete and slightly inaccurate because too often assessment is confused with evaluation. What’s more evaluation and its association with judgment is anathema to building trust. In fact, that might be why feedback is so often ineffective. These distinctions matter and all too often they are blurred or misunderstood. Perhaps that is the seed of a future article of my own.

Education Evolutions #43

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital AgeApologies for the late delivery, it has been quite a long week, to be honest. My reading habits took a bit of a hit, as a result. So the breadth of articles that came across my navigation of the internets was not what it normally is.

Still, these three pieces have a distinctly historical tone. There are some reflective looks into the past of varying depth and perhaps a glimpse of the future that may be already racing upon us. In some ways, however, these are the kinds of articles that made me want to start this newsletter. I try to include the kinds of pieces that a teacher might not necessarily notice or take the time to read but nevertheless help explain and give their context deeper understanding, in hopes of inspiring motivation and maybe even a positive change.

Interestingly there were some notable responses to the MCAS piece I included last week. They included two short letters that call the whole apparatus into question. One is a response from a teacher that might be more easily dismissed in the current climate, which is as frustrating as it is foolish. The second, however, is from a policymaker, which is refreshing and offers a glimmer of hope.

If you read only one article, take a look at the last one, How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party. As usual, it is the long one but it the kind of curated how-we-got-here article that is both introductory and informative with a heaping of insight.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

What 150 Years of Education Statistics Say About Schools Today – Education Week – Sarah D. Sparks (10-minute read)

This is a fascinating window into an organization I reckon few teachers knew existed, the National Center for Education Statistics, as well as a nice primer on just how long some of the current tensions in the field have existed. The need to compare ourselves to other schools around the world has existed almost since the creation of our system, long predating things like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Also interesting is just how much equity has played a central role in our nation’s efforts at public education. The shape of the problem may have changed somewhat but so many of the same populations remain affected. These are just two strong reminders of how much some of these problems may be bigger than education itself. They may never completely disappear but they might be at the core of what education attempts to forever address.

Stop shooting silver bullets and learn to trust our teachers again – The Guardian – Rebecca Allen (9-minute read)

This is a piece from England and may not seem quite as relevant but, as I have often mentioned in this newsletter, so much of the kind of failed edreforms called for in the United States have already floundered in England. In that sense, England could easily serve as our canary-in-a-coal-mine harbinger of what not to do if only we were more thoughtful.

So many of the facts and figures itemized in this article look very familiar to a teacher in America. Ever-increasing demands “to create a paper trail that proves learning has happened, for people who were not present in the room at the time” have been felt as acutely on this side of the Atlantic. Endless curriculum reforms, initiatives, and accountability measures have negatively impacted our profession for some time now. As Dr. Allen so insightfully points out, “auditing teaching isn’t actually possible.” Anyone suggesting otherwise is simply peddling pseudo-science and politics not what is in the best interest of students and certainly not teachers.

How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party – The Baffler – Jennifer C. Berkshire (21-minute read)

Berkshire is a local education journalist who has built quite a reputation over the past few years. Her work is excellently researched and insightful. This piece is no different. If you want a deeper understanding of the history and forces that currently shape the nearly the entire education conversation in our country at the moment, you can not do much better than this read. It weaves together a number of threads that have been mentioned at times in this newsletter and more that I has been affirmed by wider reading (here is just one example).

As much as this should be read by teachers it remains a hard read. Teachers and their unions are often the single largest line items on any municipal budget. That makes a large target for blunt instrument cost reductions. Still all cuts come at a cost – somewhere. The real challenge is deepening understanding of history and politics in the context of public education without feeling a sense of bleakness. Yet, teachers, unions and all, are capable of becoming enormously powerful platforms for political grassroots movement, enlisting parents, other municipal workers, and more. And contrary to billionaires and neoliberal Democrats insistence, that teacher-led platform has never been terribly interested in perpetuating poverty, discrimination, or limitations on social mobility, at least in any way that I am aware.