Education Evolutions #42

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

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital AgeWell, autumn is truly upon us. The days are shortening, the leaves are nearly gone, and we are on the march toward the holidays. All the more reason to curl up and do a little reading, even if it is on a digital device. Hey, the heat from the battery can provide a little warmth too.

These articles echo sub-themes that have made more than a few appearances in this newsletter, beyond the broad categories of education, technology,  evolutions in teaching. The addictive aspects of technology, standardized testing, and personal learning are all issues that catch my eye on my reading travels. The first topic is gathering quite a bit of attention lately, as is the leviathan power of companies like Google and Facebook. We certainly live in interesting times.

I have included an MCAS article, which got me a bit wound up but I tried not to get too carried away. The opinion piece seemed like a natural extension to me, although I am not sure that it would be for everyone. It is just that single test wields a lot of control over our entire educational process. It impacts curriculum and content, amplifies costs and competitiveness, and students do not really have a whole lot of say about it. Students can have more say in our individual classrooms but it requires a resistance to the control we cede to standardized tests, be they from the state or The College Board, for that matter. One thing I think gets overlooked too easily in education is the simple fact that standardization is anathema to personalization, in the truest sens of the word.

If you read only one article, take a look at the last one, ‘Our minds can be hijacked’. It is long but it is a fascinating mix of information that is underappreciated and deeply important. Plus, it is really well-written.

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

Schools struggle to explain MCAS changes as parents receive scores – The Boston Globe – James Vaznis (8-minute read)

Having recently received MCAS scores for one of my children, this was a fascinating and not altogether surprising article. It should come as no surprise to anyone that there might be something slightly amiss when it comes to standardized test scores, even in Massachusetts. It may be spun as all part of the revamp of the test but make no mistake about it, it is not in the interests of testmakers or even departments of education to stop “resetting” tests. North Andover Superintendent Jennifer Price is exactly right when she explained, “The state moved the goal.”

Doing so is what keeps the whole machine working. We can’t have too many students do too well because that would mean the test was too easy. It is right there in the article even, “state education officials have suggested that the old MCAS was too easy because so many students scored “proficient” and “advanced” and that the new results, which showed about half of students meeting or exceeding expectations, are a better reflection of reality.” Whose twisted reality considers only half of school-age children meeting expectations? That is the PROBLEM almost in a nutshell! Yet expectations are always about politics on both the micro and macro levels.

Plus, this idea that in part drove the revamp about teacher expectations at one grade level being “consistent with what teachers at the next grade level expected” strikes me as profoundly problematic. Anyone that has been teaching long enough knows how quickly these kinds of conversations degenerate into complaints about what the previous teachers should have done. It feeds a blame-down culture that is already foolish. Objectively speaking, students are asked to do more earlier than ever before in their schooling. We have all those standards and these tests to thank for that. And I am not even going to start on the flaws with NAEP.

It’s Not About a Pen, It’s About the Bigger Issue – EdWeek’s Work in Progress blog – Starr Sackstein (7-minute read)

This piece by Sackstein is kind of the coda to a previous column and the responses to it. So much of how we school students is a behaviorist cycle of rewards and punishments. While I would not immediately dismiss behaviorism entirely as a theory, I have long thought there has to be better ways but not always. LIke Sackstein, I think of all the stupid practices I have had to outgrow and it is hard not to feel a little bit of shame. I only hope that I continue to outgrow that kind of foolishness.

What strikes me most starkly about this column is not so much what, the explicit content, but the how, the implicit consequences. Perhaps that is another column but even efforts like the ones advocated are not without their consequences. On some level, for all the head-nodding that might occur in reading a column like this, I fear there is far more “valuing compliance over learning” as Sackstein states in a reply from the previous column’s discussion thread. The compliance goes beyond students too. Too often teachers that question the kind of things Sackstein does here, as well as notions of going gradeless, are considered radical and it is the teacher who is met with expectations of compliance with their colleagues.

Personalizing learning, the real personalizing that is tailored and involves people, not the co-opted, corporatized edtech version that is being advanced as the next silver bullet, is not just for our students. Teachers benefit from it too. Perhaps if the wider system truly honored the principle of personalized, or perhaps better phrased, personal learning there would be less need for compliance from all parties. There might even be more learning happening, but it would probably be way too hard to measure. So that doesn’t really count, does it? Too radical. Too messy.

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia – The Guardian – Paul Lewis (27-minute read)

I have included articles on this topic before but this is perhaps the best one I have read to date. It is thorough, just look at the reading time, but also exceptionally well-researched. Who knew the names of engineers and designers of things like the pull-down to refresh touchscreen action? Well, Lewis does and he talks to them directly and their thoughts should be taken with greater scrutiny.

The consequences of addictive behaviors being baked into the devices that we use every day are enormously consequential. In fact, this article resonated with me unlike many others as I continuously considered how I curate and create this very newsletter simultaneously while reading. This piece weaves together a number of important themes in an exceptionally well-written way.

While the first person profiled, Justin Rosenstein, points out that humans create things without full consideration of the potential unintended, negative consequences. We may need to do a much better job of anticipating or at least responding to them once they are identified. As one-time colleague, Leah Pearlman said, “One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before.” Perhaps it is a byproduct of aging but that is a sentiment that turns over in my mind with more regularity than most.

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