Sunday, October 28, 2007

Shih Shares

A colleague recently sent me this YouTube video. Ironically if you are on a Department of Ed computer you can't watch it though.

Not Who But What Is Left Behind

When I think of the things I remember most from school it was 8th grade science class with Ms Ambrosio. She would let be excused from all my other classes all day and help her with science lab. She was probably the most kind woman I ever met. She gave every student ample opportunity to succeed. I regret I never got in touch with her after I realized how important she was to me. I also will also never forget when Bro. Dicowski and Bro. Guillen shook my dad's hand at my High School graduation. I really never felt a part of my high school until that day. In college I befriended Professor Nieter at St. John's University and had a unique experience of how a man allowed his passion for science drive him to inspire groups of volunteers to learn through his modeling, and embrace the delicate wetlands that remarkably can thrive in urban settings. All of these things I carry with me into the classroom.

Why am I writing this? Who cares? Read the following:

Not Who But What Is Left Behind

By Barbara M. Stock

Our national obsession with standardized-test scores is dangerous. The idea that there is only One Right Answer, the answer to the test question, plants the seeds of authoritarian rule. Standardized tests encourage a standardized way of thinking. If there is only one right answer, there is no need to think, to question, to discuss. We breed compliance and complacency. We see challenges to authority as disloyal. The foundations of democracy break down.

I was shocked into this realization when my grandson phoned with a homework question. "What did you learn in school that helps you be a good citizen?" he asked. His question stopped me. A good citizen? In my day, teachers graded us for citizenship. A high grade meant the student was quiet. I was always talking. I earned high grades for academics, but for citizenship-unsatisfactory. It didn't matter. It didn't count in our grade point average, and GPA was what mattered. Citizenship was an empty word.

I grew up in the '50s, the era of the white picket fence and the gray flannel suit. We lived in fear-of Communism, of a Soviet invasion, of nuclear bombs. We stored canned goods in the basements of our homes and sat on the floor of the school basement with our heads between our legs for air-raid drills. Education was lock-step. In science class, we memorized a list of birds common to North America. The test required us to simply write the list. We never even saw pictures of these birds to match with the names. In English, we memorized rules of grammar. In history, we memorized dates, names of battles, names of colonies, names of presidents. There was only one right answer, and that was the answer that would get us an A on the test. I needed A's. As a first-generation American, I needed to get to college. I needed to succeed. Being a good American citizen meant getting a job and getting rich.
SIDEBAR: Creating good American citizens rests on the character of our teachers-not the facts they teach, but who they are and how they teach.
But America paid the price for One Right Answer. In the '50s, authorities often viewed with distrust those who questioned. In order to be heard, questioners shouted; confrontations became violent. The decade that followed was a decade of open rebellion. The civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the anti-war movement-all sprang from folks saying, "Don't tell me what to do. I can think for myself."

Education had to change, and it did. I was excited to see my children attend schools that encouraged them to think, to question, to listen and discuss various points of view, to learn how to learn. But our current overemphasis on standardized tests, penalizing teachers whose students don't perform well, pressuring students to learn the right answer-these are major steps backward.

I value good American citizens. I don't like orange alerts; they remind me of my childhood air-raid drills. I want to feel safe. I want to trust my neighbors. I want my children and grandchildren to feel secure and trusting. But back to my grandson's question: What did I learn in school that helped me become a good citizen? How did I learn the values underlying my loyalty and commitment to America?

First, I learned to think and ask questions, not from the lock-step teachers, but from the exceptions. Daily, on my way out the door to school, my mother reminded me, "If there's anything you don't understand, ask the teacher." My 2nd grade teacher, Miss Siegel, taught us how to think. She asked questions and pushed our class to think outside the facts. "What will happen if �" and "How would you like this story to end?" were heard regularly. Miss Pelaez, my junior high school English teacher, passed out blank paper and urged us to "write what comes to mind." She was undaunted by the McCarthy era. She did not worry about our thinking or writing something un-American. She validated free thinking.

I remember the day Mrs. Josephs, my high school English teacher, was called out of class to the principal's office. She had assigned For Whom the Bell Tolls; the principal told her to cancel the assignment because the text was sexually explicit. Instead, she posted a list of pages (with the sexiest scenes) and told us not to read them. That day I learned how to use creativity and humor under fire. I saw how she thought and worked with, not against, people holding different views.
I recall Mr. Morse, a college professor who had a strong belief in his students' ability to think. His classroom was silent; he listened intently to each student, and by his behavior taught us to listen to each other. That skill is invaluable to me in raising my family, building close relationships, and certainly in becoming an informed citizen.
SIDEBAR: If there is only one right answer, there is nothing to be curious about.
Second, I learned to develop a healthy emotional attitude. I appreciate Miss Allen, my junior high school vice principal, who welcomed me into her office and allowed me to vent. I was no good at conforming. I was hard on myself and angry toward others. I felt left out of cliques. I hated losing competitions. She took time to listen. She knew if I remained hurt, I would lash out and hurt others. Instead, she handed me Kleenex, often suggested a different perspective, and sent me back to class kinder to myself and to others. Teaching students to regurgitate answers overlooks the emotional needs of children. A good citizen must respond to those who are hurting. Otherwise, we risk their rage and are horrified at the current epidemic of youth violence.

Third, from all these teachers I learned to value an open mind. But permission to be curious, I learned first from Miss Aiken, my kindergarten teacher. With no pressures of accountability and progress, she allowed me to sit for hours on the window seat studying rainbows in cut crystals. I'm still as curious-about new ideas, new people. If there is only one right answer, there is nothing to be curious about.

How did I learn to be a good citizen? Not by staying silent in class. Not by memorizing facts. Creating good American citizens rests on the character of our teachers-not the facts they teach, but who they are and how they teach. In our time of "no child left behind," which places tremendous emphasis on standardization, I fear that the essential lessons for becoming a good American are precisely what are being left behind. I've yet to see a tombstone marking a grade point average or an SAT score.
Barbara M. Stock is a clinical psychologist in private practice who has consulted on K-12 school programs and taught at the college level. She lives in Wilmette, Ill.

Joanna Vogel former QHST student has posted the following on her blog. The version I have here was found at .

Parent Teacher Conferences and the Internet

Using (paid for by a non-profit ISA) has changed the parent teacher conference experience. Parents are already fully aware of the "grades" their children have so meetings must find a new topic of conversation. The conversation between myself and parents now seems to focus on strategies to access the skills their children have or improving those skills that their children are still struggling with. Granted some parents are still here to argue and vent but shifting the focus of the conversation is much easier that the veil of secrecy has been lifted from my grade book.

No parent seemed shocked by their visit. Most parents raved about the open communication the freshmen team has through constant electronic contact.(Unfortunately, one parent did not have an email address).

One thing that I did walk away with this year was that the parents and students are looking at the online grade book much more than before. (I've been using this for the past six years) As a result of an increased volume of readership of my grade book, I feel an added stress. It is a stress of accountability. I need to be more diligent in updating information on the site. I am confident that ultimately , it will make me a better teacher.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Creating School Culture

I find this blog, even as an "outsider" to be very refreshing, and insightful. To that end, I ask for your advisement.

As I enter the second year of our school's existence, we still seem to be lacking a sense of "culture." The sense of what it means to be a student from our school (World Journalism Prep HS). Besides simply going to class, and meeting the expectations for behavior, etc., what does it mean when you say "I go to..."

The easy part, I guess, would be for us as the teachers to impose what we want upon the learning community. My want is for the learning community to step up and say "this is how we're going to do school here." How do I inspire student activism?

Any assistance that you can provide is so greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 good....I need to see her teach...

Today was a typical day at QHST my student teacher from Queens College was observed, and I was once again thrown into an odd position of defending our school's practices to a retired NYC school teacher (the observer from QC).

"A little revolution now and then is a good thing; the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

-Thomas Jefferson (1787)

I agree that revolution is good sometimes, and putting down a rebellion can be quite gratifying too I suppose. I guess the winner always feels a little stronger. One of the student teacher's supervisors was on site to evaluate the student teacher's performance. He noticed that the student teacher was not standing an preaching to the students, but rather facilitating a carousel activity.

He informed me that this was " good....I need to see her teach. Can I come back on Friday?" Pulling me over to the side he whispered this might be fine in education textbooks "...but com' on this stuff really doesn't work."

He was about to leave the room and give up on the lesson when I stopped him by asking, "Would you rather see a more "teacher centered" lesson next time?" He seemed shocked at the question. I went on to explain that if he was unable to use the rubric the college sent out to rate her performance then maybe we need to change the rubric to align more with reform philosophy.

I presented him with a rubric I photocopied from an Alfie Kohn book that shows what a teacher should be doing, and he laughed. He began to follow the student teacher around the class as she asked questions encouraging students to dig deeper into the topics they were investigating.

Our freshmen students in the Montessori Small Learning Community responded wonderfully.

Ultimately he admitted that when the lesson started he was not expecting anything from the format. He left however with a smile and said, "I never thought this stuff worked...thanks."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Teacher Incentives

The Following appeared in the NY Times:

"The New York City plan is not a straightforward arrangement, in which individual teachers throughout a school system receive extra money based on the performance of their students. Rather, bonuses equivalent to $3,000 per teacher will be given to schools that meet overall performance standards.

Four-member “compensation committees” at each school, consisting of two teachers, the principal and a principal’s appointee, will decide how to divide the money. They can reward everyone equally or give more money to the teachers whose students’ scores rise the most.

The program is starting this year in 200 schools with high concentrations of poor children. It is expected to reach 400 schools next year. The schools have not been named yet.

So how, exactly, will the prospect (but not the guarantee) of earning $3,000 (or possibly earning far more, or nothing at all) change teachers’ decisions and behavior?"

OK here is my take on this... Is this implying that we as teachers are not doing enough already? Is a carrot going to make us run faster? I'm doing the best I can carrot or no carrot. The underlying assumption here seems to be that we as teachers can work harder if given more money. Show me the teacher that steps back and says, "Well if they paid me $3000 more I'd get them to pass." I think this is a union busting tactic and an insult to our profession.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Power and Voice in the Classroom

"Children learn to make good decisions by making
decisions, not by following directions."

-Alfie Kohn

I have always started my lessons or unit off with a question. A question I created, a question I thought was intriguing, a question broad enough that it’s answer could possibly used as part of a response to a thematic essay on a global studies regents exam.

The original question proposed by a teacher should only be a starting point though. If we don’t allow “student voice” we are silencing half of a conversation in our classrooms. When teachers are hell bent on students answering “teacher questions” they tend to disregard the student perspective.

During a Columbus Day PD made possible by the Inventing the People , Teaching American History grant, I discovered the masterful ballet of teacher generated vs. student generated questions appears to be a key element in the art of teaching. When teachers generate questions they already know what responses they want students to have. In a sense ‘teacher questions’ are intrinsically non-authentic.

Why do we as educators struggle so much with authentic questions? Could it be the fear of losing power? Is the thought of not knowing where the students will end up in a lesson too overwhelming? Teachers seem to be relieved of this fear by asking fabricated non-authentic questions.

On the contrary, student generated questions are inherently authentic. Students by their nature want to know things. Students when given the opportunity to ask an authentic question most likely do not take into consideration standardized tests, or community concerns over curriculum.

Surprisingly though it is not enough to just have students generate the questions. The ideas need to be developed, and the course of the lesson needs to be flexible. Respecting student perspective is a charge all educators are mandated to uphold. Listen to what students say and change the course of your lesson.

When students don’t ask traditional “on track” questions teacher should not be so quick to dismiss these questions. Students ask “off track” questions and generate apparently “left field” ideas because of the disconnect. The disconnect is between where the teacher is bringing the class and where the students are themselves. Alfie Kohn touches on this power struggle of student generated vs. teacher generated class discussion in his book, The Schools our Children Deserve.

“Indeed, the story of American schools is – and always has been- the story of doing things TO students rather than working WITH them”

-Alfie Kohn

Next time I'm involved in a discussion in class, next I'm worried about "where" I am in the curriculum, I think its important for me to step back and reflect on the rich conversation that took us "off track." What decisions did we as a community of learners make?

According to Thomas Jefferson, the real work of teachers in the US has always been to create an informed citizenry. A people able to make informed and critical decisions. A democratic classroom of engaged learners can only occur when all options, questions and ideas are respected. When teachers as power figures begin to be the sole proprietors of the choices in a classroom democracy is squashed. Teachers who ignore student intrests by providing a menu of options students can choose from are still afraid of the democratic ideal.

"There is small choice in rotten apples." - Shakespeare

Please fell free to leave comments!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

College Process

Mayo brought to my attention an interesting piece in American Educator. The article written by Kathleen Cushmen ( who articulates advisory's purpose well), looks at how we as teachers can help "First in the Family" college applicants.

After News Article on Test, Michigan Orders Retesting

The following article clearly shows how schools need to test more. We should pretest, then test. How are we supposed to know if these kids are smart? How are we going to separate the smart kids from the dumb kids? I'm glad 5th and 6th graders are being introduced into this stressful situation early, this way they are weeded out by HS. (if all this sounds absolutely ludicrous read on):

DETROIT, Oct. 12 — Michigan’s Department of Education is making thousands of fifth- and sixth-graders retake a part of the state’s standardized writing test because a newspaper published a brief article about the test that revealed the topics of two questions.

The retesting is expected to cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” a spokesman for the department, Martin Ackley, said Friday, at a time when Michigan is entangled in its worst-ever financial crisis. State lawmakers this month narrowly avoided a government shutdown by voting to raise taxes to help close a $1.75 billion budget deficit.

State officials say the article, published Tuesday in The Jackson Citizen-Patriot newspaper, could give an unfair advantage to students who had not yet taken the test. Not all schools administer the examination on the same day. The test, which determines compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law, has to be identical for all students.

The decision to retest has outraged parents and school district officials across the state, who say it wastes time and could lead to lower scores. The state is considering penalties against the Jackson Public Schools, which apologized for allowing a reporter inside a classroom during testing.

The situation has embarrassed The Citizen-Patriot, which has a circulation of 32,000 in south-central Michigan. The paper’s editor, Eileen Lehnert, said that the reporter, Chad Livengood, “did everything right” and that there was no intention to disclose sensitive information.

Ms. Lehnert also questioned the logic of schools’ not testing simultaneously in an era of text messaging and online social networking. “I feel awful,” she said. “But I can’t see, knowing what we knew then, what we possibly could have done differently.”

The three-week window during which schools can administer the test, known as the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, began Monday. Officials are unsure how many of the state’s 260,000 fifth- and sixth-grade students have already taken the section being recalled.

In past years, schools that violated testing protocol gave their students an emergency replacement version, Mr. Ackley said. But because people anywhere in Michigan could have read the article on the newspaper’s Web site, officials decided to give all schools a new writing test.

Published: October 13, 2007 NYTimes

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

What learning styles does the PSAT test for?

October 17th. Schools are open but NYC has decided to pay for all our 10th and 11th graders to take the PSAT. The College Board will create, and grade the exam. NYC school employees with distribute the exams, proctor the exams, collate the exams and re-collect the exams. NYC guidance conselors will be overwhelmed with the fear and grief of students upon the return of the scores. Administrators will be overwhelmed with questions as to where, when and why their son or daughter is taking the exam.

All this for a test.

Our school does not have the room for this to effectively occur while all the freshmen and all the seniors are in the building. Hence, teachers are attempting to create "out of school experiences" for all the freshmen and seniors. Our school's furniture was created for the other 179 days when cooperative group projects, and student exhibitons are our forms of assesment. We have no budget to support these "out of school expereinces", no menu of suggested locations paid for by the lucrative private company known as the College Board. NYC pays the College Board ($1.2 million dollars); the College Board gives schools the exams, and teachers are left to figure the rest out.

Losing the building for a standarized test. The first filter between high school and college. Paid for by Mike and the DOE.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Team Forms to Analyze City Schools

For years, education experts have dreamed of a group that would gather reams of data on New York City’s public schools, analyzing the numbers to figure out what works, and what does not, in schools.

Now, after years of major changes to the system under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a group of academics has formed the Research Partnership for New York City Schools to do just that kind of analysis.

The partnership includes social scientists from New York University, Columbia University’s Teachers College and the City University of New York, who have already begun researching topics like school financing and high school choice. They will present their reports at an inaugural conference Friday at the CUNY Graduate Center.

“This is something that everyone needs,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of Partnership for New York City, a group of business leaders from throughout the city that supports the effort. Ms. Wylde, who endorsed the Bloomberg administration’s takeover of the schools in 2002, called for such a research group in 2005, after commissioning a “progress report” of the Bloomberg changes.

The group is modeling itself after the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, formed in 1990, when that city’s schools were undergoing their own major changes. The Chicago group has produced dozens of reports in the nearly two decades since, becoming an important and respected source of education research.

The New York partnership has received initial financing from private organizations, including the Gates, Carnegie and Spencer foundations. But many details of its operation are unsettled, like which university will be host to the council and how the council will determine topics to pursue.

The governing board includes Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein; Randi Weingarten, the president of the city teachers’ union; William G. Bowen, the former president of Princeton University; and Robert L. Hughes, the president of New Visions for Public Schools, which has helped start dozens of small high schools in the city.

As researchers did in Chicago, the New York group plans to collect data across the city to track things like how students perform over time, how long teachers stay in the system and how schools spend their money.

“We want to be an outside agency that is looking at data to see what is really effective,” said Richard Arum, a professor at New York University who has been organizing the group through the Social Science Research Council.

Critics have suggested that the presence of Mr. Klein and Ms. Weingarten on the board would undercut the group’s independence. But John Q. Easton, the executive director of the Chicago group, said that by including officials from the school system, the group would ensure that its findings would be respected.

“Part of what has made us trusted is that we had all the opposing voices together,” Mr. Easton said in a phone interview this week. “If they don’t buy into it, it’s not going to be listened to.”
In Chicago, school officials are notified of each of the research topics before they are published, a practice that will almost certainly be duplicated in New York.

Some of the most useful work, Mr. Easton said, has come out of research on high school student performance, where researchers found that performance in ninth grade was a strong indicator of whether students would drop out. While the conclusion might appear obvious, he said, it sent ripples through the school system.

“You move from speculation to evidence,” said Paul Goren, the vice president of the Spencer Foundation, which has also financed the Chicago program.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Already PEECed

The following reflection was written by J Fernandez a 9th grader here at QHST:

As I entered high school, I feared that the experience would be overwhelming. I believed that everyone would be negatively influenced by drugs, sex, alcohol, and such . I feared that high school would be filled with violence and pessimistic things. My expectation was that, high school would be a true horror story, with no end. On the contrary, my high school experience so far has been a true treasure; something that I will always hold with me.

I'm sure you think I'm crazy because I'm only a freshman at the school, but just looking around the school; seeing the diversity and care we have for each other, really speaks a lot about a school. The school seems very concerned with accepting and helping others, no matter what physical or emotional challenges we face.

The Freshman Montessori Team, organized by Ms. Sadera, , planned an unforgettable and exciting trip for us to the Pocono Environmental Education Center in Pennsylvania. We did all types of exciting and highly anticipated activities. We went through a hike, which I can honestly say no one was energetic about. It was long, but it was interesting to see nature and the many animals that are found in the National Forest. We worked together to overcome obstacles dealing with your balance and hanging onto ropes, which everyone loved.

The whole concept of the trip was for the freshmen to develop a better sense of teamwork, something I admittedly lack in. The experience was amazing. The only negative detail about this trip was the lowly enthusiastic P.E.E.C. guides. They all looked like they'd rather be dead than showing us around. I ignored them and just had some fun meeting new people and working together on the obstacle challenges.

This trip made me realize how different our school is from all the other New York City High Schools. Teamwork is an essential part of our education.Acceptance, generosity, courage, and academic excellence are what the Queens High School of Teaching is all about. The school culture is great. The students are great. The staff is great. That's all that matters. As for our freshman students, we need prepare ourselves for the time of your lives here at QHST!!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Challenge of Inclusion

While reading the book "Modifying Schoolwork" by Janney and Snell it occurred to me that the best inclusion classrooms are classrooms that adapt for the inclusion of many learning styles all the time. “Inclusion” should not be something we do sometimes. All learners benefit from inclusion, the real challenge is for the educator in the room to bend their lesson and modify the delivery of content in order to make learning accessible for everyone in the room. Differentiating the instruction without “dumbing down” the content seems to be the real challenge. In reality all classrooms are “inclusive” or at least strive to be. No two students learn in the same manner therefore enabling only one teaching modality seems ludicrous.

Teachers need to make differentiating tasks the norm in the class. Differentiation cannot be the exception so that a few labeled students get access. By assigning ‘group work’ that involves critical thinking, and a display of this critical thinking , students in cooperative groups should be able to shine in various aspects of the task. Constantly rotating tasks; and fostering a sense of accountability to each member’s role in the group and then using data to inform your decision for both role assignments and group formation might be the most critical part of facilitating and truly inclusive classroom.

Ideally observers to the truly inclusive classroom should not be able to immediately identify the labeled students, but also should have a difficult time distinguishing the paras from the co-teacher, from the lead educator in the room.

I know this sounds like preaching to a choir. I just needed to see it in writing.