Thursday, January 25, 2007

What Happened to Monday?

“The Bush administration called on Wednesday for an array of changes to the president’s signature education law..[NCLB]. The proposals would give local school officials new powers to override both teachers’ contracts and…..”

Do you think “rating day” when all the exams have already been "rated" will be eliminated? And teachers will be forced to talk with each other in SLC meetings?

What is happening Monday? There may be a few mid-year Regent's Exams left to grade, but I am almost positive the majority of the teachers will be overwhelmend with boredom.

A plan was in place for non-instuctional, community building, among each of the three Small Learning Communities. Our school's unique structure thrives on the opportunties to reflect on our experiences and learn from eachother.

Just because the DOE is giving us the time to waste...does not mean we have to waste it. What is our professional responsibility?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ending on the Positive

Working in a small school with many able personnel can be challenging at times. Often people have so much effort and energy invested in the school that any criticism of school practices can appear to be personal attacks. I often become so overwhelmed with passion for the vision of the school that when differences of opinion on school issues arise I feel personally obligated to defend my view of “my” school.

I’m sure I could go on and on about how separating the “me” out of my philosophy of schooling is so important. But this is a positive blog…. (ps. I’m not good with the negative…)

As tough as it is to sometimes have personal conversations in a small school (at least for me) the benefit of sharing our work with each other is immeasurable. Seeing best practices is what I miss most since the loss of CFGs. In the last two days the freshmen team of the Montessori Small Learning Community has been able to sit in on two IEP meetings. One could not help but be impressed with the level of concern both the SETSS provider and the Gen Ed teachers had for both the parent and the student during each of these meetings. In the ten years I have been attending these type of meetings I have never once left an IEP meeting feeling like I did something good. Carmela changed this. Thank You Carmela. (ps. I know I cut people off quickly in conversation….I’ll work on that)

I also had the opportunity to walk through the Multicultural Exhibition presented by the Montessori Sophomore team. I was inspired with the sense of community the teachers and students have with one another. Many students were excited to show off their work and share their traditions, hopes, dreams and cultural traditions. Infusing math into the exhibition through informational posters was something unique.

Many articles we as a community have read warn us against a thematic approach to interdisciplinary work, but the sophomore team has shown it can be done. Thank You Montessori Sophomore Team for modeling how an effective team can come together with an eye-opening culminating event.

Below is a short video clip of the Sophomore Exhibiton. A keen eye will notice there are three pics out of place.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Regions, Tenure, and Unfair Funding : GONE?

Watching Mr. Bloomberg's first 20 mins of his State of the City address he laid out his idea for this year's educational policy.

1. empowering principals
2. eliminating the Regional offices
3. adjusting "tenure"..... not gone
4. funding students not schools aka Fiscal Equity.

Watch the speech mins 15-25 are focussed on education. CLick on the link...drag windows media player control to 15:00 and listen.

Thursday's NYTimes article. (yes, I scooped them by a day)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Raising the Bar, Rigor, and HW

Mayo writes:

I'm reading The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing by Alfie Kohn. The book raises a lot of interesting issues about homework, and also about the supposed raising of standards. I've been uncomfortable with the way the word "rigor" has been tossed about so much lately. Some thoughts on the topic appear in the book:

"...some parents seem to figure that as long as their kids have lots of stuff to do every night, never mind what it is, then learning must be taking place. Educational quality is assumed to be synonymous with "rigor," and rigor, in turn, is thought to be reflected by the quantity and difficulty of assignments." (20)

Kohn writes about how the term "raising the bar" comes from showing horses and how that ought to cause us to stop and think. He adds:

"It's not just the etymology of the term "raising the bar" that should provoke questions, for example; it's the fact that this phrase signals an agenda of doing the same thing we've always done in classrooms, except now with fewer kids being likely to succeed. Almost a century ago, John Dewey reminded us that the value of what students do "resides in its connection with a stimulation of greater thoughtfulness, not in the greater strain it imposes." (122)

I'm wondering where most of QHST's teachers stand on the concept of "rigor" and on the homework question.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Losing Formative Days

The following article was attached to this week’s principal's information sheet (PIS) here at QHST. I had the opportunity to read and discuss the article with some colleagues. Isn't it ironic that the article so convincingly speaks to the value of formative assessment yet the BOE is adopting more standardized testing under the nomenclature of "Interim Assessment". We are now losing days of instruction to distribute and assess more standardized tests. How are we as educators going to use the data from these tests? What type of feedback will our students get from these tests? If we aren't clear of the answers to these questions, then what exactly are we doing? (Mr. Klein or Mr. Bloomberg feel free to respond)

Excerpted from:

Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

By Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

Tests given in class and tests and other exercises assigned for homework are also important means of promoting feedback. A good test can be an occasion for learning. It is better to have frequent short tests than infrequent long ones. Any new learning should first be tested within about a week of a first encounter, but more frequent tests are counterproductive. The quality of the test items -- that is, their relevance to the main learning aims and their clear communication to the pupil -- requires scrutiny as well. Good questions are hard to generate, and teachers should collaborate and draw on outside sources to collect such questions.

Given questions of good quality, it is essential to ensure the quality of the feedback. Research studies have shown that, if pupils are given only marks or grades, they do not benefit from the feedback. The worst scenario is one in which some pupils who get low marks this time also got low marks last time and come to expect to get low marks next time. This cycle of repeated failure becomes part of a shared belief between such students and their teacher. Feedback has been shown to improve learning when it gives each pupil specific guidance on strengths and weaknesses, preferably without any overall marks. Thus the way in which test results are reported to pupils so that they can identify their own strengths and weaknesses is critical. Pupils must be given the means and opportunities to work with evidence of their difficulties. For formative purposes, a test at the end of a unit or teaching module is pointless; it is too late to work with the results. We conclude that the feedback on tests, seatwork, and homework should give each pupil guidance on how to improve, and each pupil must be given help and an opportunity to work on the improvement.

All these points make clear that there is no one simple way to improve formative assessment. What is common to them is that a teacher's approach should start by being realistic and confronting the question "Do I really know enough about the understanding of my pupils to be able to help each of them?"

Much of the work teachers must do to make good use of formative assessment can give rise to difficulties. Some pupils will resist attempts to change accustomed routines, for any such change is uncomfortable, and emphasis on the challenge to think for yourself (and not just to work harder) can be threatening to many. Pupils cannot be expected to believe in the value of changes for their learning before they have experienced the benefits of such changes. Moreover, many of the initiatives that are needed take more class time, particularly when a central purpose is to change the outlook on learning and the working methods of pupils. Thus teachers have to take risks in the belief that such investment of time will yield rewards in the future, while "delivery" and "coverage" with poor understanding are pointless and can even be harmful.

Teachers must deal with two basic issues that are the source of many of the problems associated with changing to a system of formative assessment. The first is the nature of each teacher's beliefs about learning. If the teacher assumes that knowledge is to be transmitted and learned, that understanding will develop later, and that clarity of exposition accompanied by rewards for patient reception are the essentials of good teaching, then formative assessment is hardly necessary. However, most teachers accept the wealth of evidence that this transmission model does not work, even when judged by its own criteria, and so are willing to make a commitment to teaching through interaction.

Formative assessment is an essential component of such instruction. We do not mean to imply that individualized, one-on-one teaching is the only solution; rather we mean that what is needed is a classroom culture of questioning and deep thinking, in which pupils learn from shared discussions with teachers and peers. What emerges very clearly here is the indivisibility of instruction and formative assessment practices.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Schools Attuned

I am really pleased that we have been given the services of Schools Attuned again. Two days last week I had the opportunity to attend a workshop for the Schools Attuned program based on Dr. Mel Levine’s Neurodevelopmental constructs. The workshop, like many I have attended in the past, will most definitely leave a lasting impression on me. The Facilitator, Clare Wurtzel, introduced us to the “role of a facilitator” through two texts, “The Zen of Facilitation” and “Paying Doubles” (by Nancy Mohr).

I have never read either of the articles and found them both to be very rich. As the workshop progressed I realized so many things about facilitators of meetings.

Teachers teach the same way with adults and children. If you get a chance to lead a group of teachers you quickly fall back into the model you use in the classroom. This was so evident when teachers attempted to get the attention of the class by saying, “All eyes on me” or “We can begin when all the pens are down.” As we were sitting in the workshop each member got a chance to facilitate a piece of the “Schools Attuned” curriculum. I know I personally fell into my “QHST” mode when it was my turn to present. (I passed out activity guides…..I’m such a geek)

Teachers love to hear themselves speak. Many people presented information here the same way they would in their class. Teachers meeting without clear protocols get way too off topic. I applaud Clare for bringing us back, but educators love to share their personal struggle. (I switched to the word educator here purposely because most of the other participants were assistant principles.)

I would not do well in a traditional classroom. I felt uncomfortable. I was being talked to. I was being told where to look, “All eyes up here” - one person even flicked the lights to get the attention of the eleven participants. I could not follow the verbal directions, there were too many cooks. We had just read these two amazing articles and it seemed that the heart of the articles was being ignored.

Feedback is impossible without a protocol. One of the more enlightened participants of the group said, “I did not enjoy that you did the learning for us.” I was relived to hear that others were bothered. But I did not feel safe. I realized that without a protocol where everyone is mandated to give warm and cool feedback (like a CFG) giving cool feedback is way too awkward.

I look forward to sharing the new ideas I was introduced to during the workshop with my team. We are going to begin looking at the neurodevelopmental constructs after reading, “A Mind at A Time” by Mel Levine.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Smaller the Better?

A growing body of research suggests that small schools -- in the range of 400 to 800 students -- are safer and more productive because students are less alienated and more connected to caring adults, and teachers have more of an opportunity to get to know and support their students, the U.S. Department of Education reports.

The smaller the better?