Education Evolutions #106

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

It took a while but I finally got the fall cold that seems to haunt nearly every teacher I know. Once we return to school inevitably some kind of virus spreads with remarkable effectiveness. In the past, I have usually already had it and recovered. However, this year I held it off until nearly October. Consequently, it slowed me down this week and delayed the delivery of this issue.

Apart from feeling a little weakend from a cold, this fall has been a remarkably grand experience so far. School started with even more buoyance than in many previous years. I love being back in the classroom and after a year of reacclimating, I feel more comfortable and energized than ever. Students are great, classes are exciting, and I am enjoying the year as it unfolds. I am sure there will come a point when grinding is required but, right now, I feel out front of the peloton.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one, surprise. It is the longest, which is often the case too. Still, it is an excellent summary of the forces that are interrogating and out and out resisting the indiscriminate expansion of edtech. As someone who has grown to be a wary advocate over time, I cannot recommend reading material like this enough. It is a fair introduction to the resistance that is gaining ground in education.

Hope these readings find you well and healthy. Wash hands often.

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

Teaching Students How to Use Wikipedia Wisely – Edutopia – Benjamin Barbour (3-minute read)

Anyone that still readily dismisses Wikipedia might want to reconsider. It is one of the marvels of the Internet and can be a remarkably useful resource. It is far from perfect. However, as pointed out in Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, “If you are researching a complex question, starting with the resources and summaries provided by Wikipedia can give you a substantial running start on an issue.” It is a message I try to impress upon my students all the time.

What this article does nicely is breakdown a sound approach for using Wikipedia intelligently with students, as well as how to function in a more digitally literate way. Encyclopedias of all kinds provide an introduction to basic information on a topic. Deconstructing a Wikipedia article can serve as an entre to conducting actual research. It really can serve as a model starting point. Better still, it can be a filtering tool for fact-checking.

One item I take issue with is that the CRAP test referenced is no longer really sufficient if it ever really was (In fact, the acronym is not even accurate. It should be CRAAP). Mike Caulfield, author of the book linked above, has an excellent explanation. The Four Moves and a Habit is not only better but pretty much a must-read at this point.

Classroom Technology Doesn’t Make the Grade – Bloomberg – Editorial Board (3-minute read)

As an opener for the third selection below, this article is an example of the growing edtechlash that is gaining traction. It is a symptom of the greater tech backlash that is swelling more broadly. Here the editorial board of Bloomberg takes issue with technology spending. I am actually surprised that the kind of argument being made here is not used with greater frequency and at a higher volume. Yet, it still is an argument with relatively weak warrants at its core.

Test scores should not be the evidence used to evaluate whether technology is valuable in schools. There is very little evidence that technology increases standardized test scores, but that is not really the point anyway. Without getting into the flawed nature of those tests, that is not even a valid reason for adopting technology in the classroom. Of course, there does not seem to be an article about education in the mainstream press without a little teacher-bashing, so there is the requisite mention of how poorly trained teachers are too.

Similarly the potential solutions offered in this piece are equally silly. They embrace a pervasive market-think, focusing on efficiency and the kind of return on investment nonsense that already pollutes too much of the entire education field. Schools should use technology not because it raises test scores or is more efficient or any of that foolishness. Schools need to invest in technology on some level simply to remain relevant in a world teeming with it. Strong classrooms need to reflect the greater context in which they exist, and that does not mean buying computers to indoctrinate students as worker drones either.

EdTech Resistance – code acts in education – Ben Williamson (17-minute read)

Anyone who still finds all the edtech back-and-forth complicated or confusing the text of this presentation from University of Edinburgh’s Ben Williamson is well worth a look. In it, he deftly highlights the fault lines in the growing resistance to current trends in edtech and, in some ways, the tech sector more generally. It is a longer read but designates and classifies the origins of the developing resistance movement.

More than chronicling the resistance, however, he explains the reasoning of the factions in a kind of primer on the subject. He does a great job of framing the problem and the players. Being an academic in Europe, he also brings a slightly different perspective from the Silicon Valley influenced American point of view.

Apart from the straightforward presentation, possibly the best thing about this post is the list in the conclusion that amplifies the key issues in play, which actually cut to the core of education itself, as a human endeavor. Values, ethics, money, law, even epistemology and more are all in play. Those are high stakes, but Williamson’s presentation provides a quality introduction to thinking about it all.

Education Evolutions #105

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Well, I am definitely in the swing of things as the first wave of real assignments started flowing in. With a lot of short practices to start the year, the real work has begun. All of the student emails explaining misunderstandings or missed deadlines offers plenty of evidence.

It is hard to believe that October is already right around the corner. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a school year can ramp up and get running. Even though it has only been a few weeks, things are already starting to move at a clip. I have always felt that fall is the more demanding of the two semesters. Spring involves a lot more breaks and restarts and then the testing season severely truncates any real instructional time. Like a cyclist shifting gears, I feel ready to open things up on the big wheel and start moving.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one, as is so often the case. The title alone should be enough to hook any reader of this newsletter. While the article focuses on writing specifically do not be fooled into thinking that it is only the province of English teachers. It isn’t and that mentality may very well be a symptom of the broader disease, although it is a whole lot more complicated than that. It is short and more than worth the few minutes read. It should linger a lot longer. I hope it does and maybe even inspires some rethinking.

This weekend in New England probably offered the last gasps of summer temperatures before the true turn toward autumn, but it was glorious.

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

Silicon Valley is terrified of California’s privacy law. Good. – Tech Crunch – Zack Whittaker (3-minute read)

California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has the potential to be one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent memory. The law may not be perfect but it has changed the conversation. I can only hope that Massachusetts enact a similar law, as well as other states. I have mentioned multiple times how much further along the Europeans are on this front. It is long past due that America catches up.

What this piece does really nicely is shine a light on the new tactic of tech companies appealing for a federal law as a way to weaken the whole effort to protect consumer’s privacy. Often large corporations favor state regulation because states are a lot easier to push around with money than the federal government is. In this case, they see a watered-down federal law, where they can fully exercise their concentrated lobbying efforts and money, especially with an administration that has negative interest in protecting consumers.

Cue all big companies spewing a new version of the old line of rhetoric about how regulation stifles innovation and hurts the economy. As Whittaker suggests any time tech and telcos are in league with one another everyone should be not just suspicious but worried.

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers – The Atlantic – Joe Pinsker (7-minute read)

As an educator reading is such a major component of what I do and what I demand of students. As a parent, I possessed even more awareness of the benefits for my kids being strong readers. Being an avid reader, reading to my kids was one of the things I looked forward to most as my wife and I began a family. I still read to them, although not with the frequency I once did, where for years I read to them every day. Intuitively I started raising readers but I also made deliberate decisions, like taking them to the library every week, to make reading more like an adventure and less like a chore. Anecdotally, there are a lot of things that ring true to me from this article.

I have to admit that I am not always the biggest fan of Steven Pinker being the go-to source on literacy-related material in the media. I do sometimes take issue with some of his ideas, but mainly I find him significantly played out. Here, however, it bothered me a little less probably because I have less issue with what he has to say and he was sandwiched between some others with interesting contributions too. Still, I absolutely back his second point on background and contextual knowledge.

More than anything, I wish more people would read this article to note that being an avid reader is beneficial but not necessary to raising good readers, as ironic as that might seem. Even writing that sentence proved an ironic experience. Yet, I really kind of love the ending of this piece, which drove most of my efforts with my children. The message I tried to share is that reading is its own reward, enjoyable and fun.

Let’s Stop Killing Students’ Spirits – Inside Higher Education – John Warner (5-minute read)

First, John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write is an excellent book. It reaches far beyond writing pedagogy, an are where it also excels and presents a cogent interrogation of the kind of ill-conceived edreforms that have dominated American schools for more than the past two decades. It is ground he routinely covers in his regular columns as well, like this one. Here a series of student testimonies make a powerful case for just how wrong-headed we can be in education if we just accept the way things are instead of the way they could be.

Of course, the pressure associated with high performance is pervasive, even in places where student performance far excels most. Caustic market-think policies or unquestioned directives continue to feed the myth of competition as a necessary path to learning. Better scores beget more pressure to maintain levels of performance, perpetuating a horse race mentality. All the while, students are whipped along the way to reach a finish line that keeps getting moved. The student voices in this piece reveal the cost.

Warner’s question “When are we going to listen?” carries a resonance that looks as though it will not be receding any time soon. Amazingly, the student that uses the cookie metaphor to describe their gutting experience writes with a level of voice and eloquence that is remarkable in spite of years of being force-fed formulaic approaches. Every educator has a stake in reading and writing, no matter the subject matter or discipline. Fighting the extermination of all joy in those two activities is the responsibility of all educators, on that needs to be taken with far greater urgency and seriousness.

Education Evolutions #104

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Now that the school year could be said to be gearing into full swing, it seems as though fall is right around the corner. It is always a bit mad to me how fast things can seem to pass, once we get past the opening days of a school year. It now feels like we are just about to feel the acceleration.

Returning to this practice of culling through readings and sharing has been fun. Every year since I returned to the classroom, I think, “Can I still do this? Do I have the time?” Yet, I quite like forcing myself into a reflective look at what has been giving me a lot to think about. Considering how often I force that kind of thing upon my students, it seems only fair that I impose similar kinds of demands on myself.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. I know it is longer and maybe a little wonky for some. However, anyone that has found themselves hooked by the cadre of edustars of what I like to call the digiterati would benefit from reading Benjamin Doxtdator, among other like edubloggers. There is a growing group of educators cashing in their classroom experience for the allure of marketworld’s promises of leadership and consulting opportunities. While I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush, I do sometimes wonder how many edustars couldn’t actually wait to actually leave the school.

Enjoy the sunny, cooler temps and now getting deeper into the real work of the school year now.

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

Ode to the poem: why memorising poetry still matters for human connection – The Conversation – Veronica Alfano (4-minute read)

This school year, once I got through the first couple of days machinations, I now begin each of my English classes by reading a poem. There are no real expectations for them associated with it. I simply read it twice, might make a comment or two and then move into the next thing. Very occasionally I might ask them a quick question about it but that’s it.

I have tried this in previous years and faltered at some point, feeling as though I have run out of time. However, this year I am determined to stick to it. For one, poetry terrifies most students, maybe even most people. For many, poetry seems too remote, too obscure, too easy to dismiss and avoid. I would not call my self a poet nor even an expert in poetry but both feel and know it is important, which is why this article appealed to me so much.

For a couple of years, I have considered asking students to memorize a poem for many of the reasons noted in this piece. Alfano highlights many benefits to this practice, which I can personally evidence. There are still whole speeches from Shakespeare plays that are burned into me, as well as a couple of favorite poems. Each has become like a well-worn jacket tucked in the closet, that you rarely wear but could never bring yourself to discard. Still, every once in a while you dust one off and remember why you once loved it so.

We Have Ruined Childhood – The New York Times – Kim Brooks (5-minute read)

This opinion piece from The New York Times over the summer might be considered a polemic, taking at aim a whole range of how adults have ruined childhood and referencing all kinds of sources. As an educator, I have spent quite a few years now reading and thinking about how what we do in schools may contribute to the harm children feel. I suppose becoming a parent gave me a lot of pause for that too.

I also have kind of a soft spot for Peter Gray, having had a real positive correspondence with him some years ago about alternative methods of schooling and education. Plus, he is a local to me, being Boston College professor. He has long advocated some ideas I think are sincerely worth considering by the general education field. There are a host of other sources included too.

Of the other references, Challenge Success is mentioned, which is a main reason why I included it here. The school where I work is partnering with the organization that started at Stanford University this year. As the program is rolled out, there may be more on that to come. It has become exceptionally difficult to argue against some of the points raised in this article.

Beyond Champions and Pirates – A Long View on Education – Benjamin Doxtdator (14-minute read)

I might say this every time I include something by Benjamin Doxtdator but I really like his writing. He is among a handful of K-12 educators that writes regularly online and I can honestly say I regularly learn something from his work. He brings a particularly academic and erudite perspective that I admire and appreciate.

This blogpost is from a few months ago but has been on my mind a lot since the summer where a fascinating exchange erupted on Twitter between a number of social justice driven educators and a handful of edustars from Pirate Press and elsewhere. While at times, some may have believed it to became hostile, I found it particularly intriguing how one side was so determined to dismiss or desired to take the conversation out of the public eye. Yet. I generally feel anyone charging money for a book ought to be able to face some criticism and maybe even engage in some public dialogue.

For Doxtdator’s part, this is an excellent critical reading of the current wave of edustar publishing. He is exceptionally clear about his intentions and criticisms. While it is certainly reasonable not to agree with the criticism, it is nigh impossible to suggest that the opinions expressed in it are unfair, uninformed, or even particularly hostile. He is pretty openly trying to pull the educational conversation in a particular direction, one which I am increasingly aligned. That said, I have not always been as thoughtfully critical of some of the ideas under the microscope here in the past as I have been in recent years. When you know better, hopefully, you do better.