Education Evolutions #113

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

Hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just visible on the horizon already. It feels like Autumn passed in a single stormy bluster. The cold has definitely snapped and the leaves are all gone at least in New England. October seems to have come and gone apace.

This week presents another mix of shorter reads than sometimes makes it into this newsletter. Sometimes it just works out that way, although I imagine it bothers few. I do like a long-form piece, to be sure, some weeks there are just fewer options than others.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. I tend to arrange the items by reading time most often, so the last one often gets the nod. These selections are all pretty close in length, however. More than anything, I think teachers need to avail; themselves of the personalized learning trend that has been building for some time, especially when it comes from edtech. Good teachers have tried to make learning more personal for their students for as long as I can remember, well before the rise of digital technology. That is a truth everyone should keep firmly in mind.

Also, since I las week posted an educator’s response to reading, Winners Take All, I thought it might be worth including this clip from The Daily Show (I tried to embed it but WordPress did not like the code so much). It is a pretty impassioned synopsis of the book from the author Anand Giridharadas. Perhaps it might encourage some of you to give the book a look. Plus, I kind of like including some video in this newsletter. I may try to do it more often.

Have a great week, as we all make that push toward the turkey break.

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

Are teachers allowed to think — or expected to simply follow directions? – The Washington Post – Steve Singer (5-minute read)

Steve Singer writes a pretty bold blog called Gadfly on the Wall, which this Washington Post republished. He is a fierce fighter for public schools and teachers. He writes at a remarkable volume and zeal that has been at the vanguard of the wave of teacher resistance to the kind of virulent edreformy nonsense that can infect public schools. In this piece, he draws out a pretty stark but critically important question.

There are a whole lot of teachers that spend time and energy going through the gauntlet of preparation and certification to essentially be told, “Forget all that. We know what you heard and we do it differently here. Take this curriculum that we spent no small amount of money on and just follow that,” with a more insidious implication of it-doesn’t-matter-what-you-think-because-if-you-rock-the-boat-you’re-gone. Worse still, this kind of attitude can be the most strident in contexts where there are already a whole host of factors stacked against the teacher to start.

For the most part, I have been extraordinarily lucky in this regard but meet teachers all the time that suffer from the kind of lament that Singer describes in this piece. However, any attempts to undermine teachers’ professionalism, expertise, and autonomy should be met with far more than a sideways glance. That does not by any means suggest that anything goes either. Yet, compliance and control, as well as expedience and efficiency are too often hallmarks of school improvement plans be they on the surface or lurking underneath. The more schools are viewed through marketworld lenses the more vivid the edreform colors. Singer hits this on the nose with, “It’s ironic. The act of removing teacher autonomy results in dampening our effectiveness,” – always.

Why Writing Better Will Make You a Better Person – The Chronicle of Higher Education – Bob Fischer and Nathan Nobis (5-minute read)

I came across this article from a few months ago and couldn’t resist adding it. I think I may even use it in my classes at some point. The title alone was enough to catch my eye. Digging into it, there are quite a few insightful points made about the overlap between the efforts to be a good writer and good person. I will say, this piece almost makes it seem a little too simple, but it remains pretty strong on the whole. I certainly read it with interest and there are some solid takeaways.

What I like most of all about this piece is how much attention is given to audience in the points that the professors are advancing. Unfortunately, this is an area where students, at least at the secondary level, are given all kinds of mixed messages. I cannot even count the number of times I have heard a teacher give some imaginary audience characteristics when everyone in the room knows that the only audience for the work will be the teacher behind the charade. That may sound a bit harsh but I am not sure why there needs to be so much pretense. Clearly, some things will be written for the teacher to assess but that need not be everything that students are asked to write. They can write for one another, their own imagined or real audiences, general audiences with the possibilities of submission to wider publication. There are a whole host of options available once teachers stop thinking that everything needs to be graded or under the tight control of wacky templates.

While this article is clearly written with a more higher education audience in mind there is still plenty that could be applied at lower levels. Plus, any teacher could benefit from being more conscious of the points advanced here. The bullet point list at the end of this piece is pretty sound advice for just about anyone, in fact. I stress the “short sentences, paragraphs, sections, and articles” with great emphasis in my journalism classes, which is a startingly foreign concept for students who have spent a number of years trying to find ways to “fluff things up.” However, I would humbly submit that the point has a much wider breadth and that we sometimes do students a real disservice with all the templatized writing and sentence counts, which can radically distort their very sense of what a paragraph even is.

Data: Here’s What Educators Think About Personalized Learning – EdWeek – Alyson Klein (7-minute read)

A colleague sent me this article, as it relates to a project that we are currently engaged in together involving blended and personalized learning. It is an interesting read albeit a pretty superficial one, surveying what teachers think about personalized learning specifically. Blended learning is woven into things but not in an explicitly labeled way. On the surface, this article would suggest that it is a mixed bag.

Yet, there is a subtle or maybe not so subtle, indication that any reluctance from teachers is misguided or antiquated. The more suspicious and cynical part of me might surmise that could be the result of the disclaimer at the very end of the article, “Coverage of whole-child approaches to learning is supported in part by a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.” Seeing that Facebook has a personalized learning platform called Summit Learning, which is not all that personalized nor all that good, couldn’t have anything to do with the framing of ay of this.

Just how mixed the results are I find to be telling. For one, the terms blended and particularly personalized learning are so incoherent that they can verge on meaningless. Or perhaps better stated, can mean just about anything. And that really should be the first sign of trouble. The harder it is to nail down exactly what these terms mean the easier it is for education companies to co-opt them and claim, “You want what? Yeah, we have that.” Similar to a sentiment from the item above, there is a considerable amount of personalized learning technology inextricably entangled with compliance and control contexts. Not to mention that those systems are seriously lacking the persons in personalized. Sitting kids in front of machines rarely even approach the kind of pie-in-the-sky results claimed by edtech. One of the best, brief polemics on this stuff is written by Peter Greene. His whole train metaphor is excellent on multiple levels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.