Education Evolutions #112

Close up of smartphone in hand flickr photo by shared under
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This may find you a little later than normal but I have been taking advantage of the holiday weekend. Plus, I spent a little longer basking in the latest victory of my favorite team Liverpool FC, as they continue to chase their first Premier League title and first top-flight league title in 30 years.

This week’s options are a shorter mix of readings that cover a lot of varied topics. The variety is pretty common but the brevity of the selections is not always true. In this issue, it is a feature.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is a tough choice. The second one is a positive and refreshing read and I even included a video version of the message as well. The last one is also definitely worth a click and the book that provides the focus for the post, Winners Take All, is also something that might interest many readers of this newsletter.

Enjoy the long weekend.

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

Why it’s Time to Give Up Grades – Starr Sackstein’s blog – Starr Sackstein (2-minute read)

I have been thinking a lot about grades again recently and how much I dislike them. The first few paragraphs of this post I could easily have written myself. I too have long given up on the notion that tests are terribly informative beyond the most superficial of findings. I too feel the idea of putting a number or letter on the work of students is frustrating and more arbitrary than many teachers would like to admit.

Given a recent experience with students, I am even more convinced that it only contributes to more problems for the students. Some of the benefits Sackstein submits are agreeable. The power of feedback is inarguable. That power is almost entirely removed when a grade is included. Grades definitely can adversely affect the relationship between teacher and student, which undermines the essential goal of learning. And who could blame students for always feeling judged by teachers? As much as some might want to argue grades are feedback, they certainly seem a whole lot more like evaluation to the students.

This is an extremely short piece and there is plenty of material out there about ungrading or going gradeless, whatever phrasing might be used. PL Thomas, among many others, has written in much greater detail about this topic, In fact, he covers the difficulty that many students have with breaking away from traditional grading practice. As he explains, “A culture of grading allows both students and teachers to be lazy about the things we claim to care about the most.” Still, Sackstein asks the most important question, what is the first step to giving up grades?

A three-point plan for sleepless, screen-obsessed kids: play, play and more play – The Sydney Morning Herald – Pasi Sahlberg (3-minute read)

The internationally renown Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg has become the deputy director of the Gonski Institute for Education at the University of New South Wales. In this op-ed piece in Sydney’s main daily newspaper, he presents one of the simplest prescriptions for addressing problems facing young people and smart devices – play.

Sahlberg is a fierce advocate against what he calls GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), which has infected most of the Western World, including a particularly virulent strain in the US. He has traveled the globe sharing what the Finns discovered and how they overhauled their schooling to benefit children and families, making them one of the most celebrated education systems in the world.

I like a lot of what Sahlberg has to say, having read a lot of his work over the last few years. He applies a wisdom to many problems that seems simple but can be remarkably subtle and addresses issues with keen insight. What I particularly like about this piece is that he recognizes that the device is not so much the problem as much as the behavior. Now, the behaviors may well be induced by the device but that is not automatically a given. The reality is that a lot of adults do a pretty awful job of modeling healthy behaviors for the young. I cannot count the number o times I have watched parents ignoring their children in public, while they stare and swipe at their phones. Yet, citing overwhelming evidence from pediatricians, making time for more outdoor play in school and at home might be at least part of the answer. Even stronger he advocates making it a policy mandate. Here is a video version of the same message.

Coming To Terms With ‘Winners Take All’ – Sherri Spelic on Medium – Sherri Spelic (7-minute read)

Another educator that I like reading a lot is Sherri Spelic. Based in Europe, the American ex-pat presents not only presents an interesting point of view from afar, she is a remarkably intuitive and open writer. In this piece she focuses on her personal reaction to reading the book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas.

The book is a remarkable read on its own and one I recommend to just about anyone. What I appreciate about Spelic’s reflection about her reading of it is the unvarnished honesty. She not only appreciates Giridharadas’ work but breaks down many of the most compelling bits as well. Her particular focus on the Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, who makes an extensive appearance in Winners Take All, seems to have sparked something within her even more profound.

What I appreciate most, however, is how Spelic both recognizes Giridharadas’ acknowledgment of being part of the problem he writes about and, as the post title suggests, attempts to come to terms with her own place within the context of the problems that are at the core of the book. That awareness and willingness to look at herself and the privilege she enjoys is an excellent model and a great place to start after the reading.

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