What’s the best way to teach teachers?

Stephen King on teaching writing

 

Before he was a best-selling writer, Stephen King was a high school English teacher. In The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey asks King about teaching writing and reading.

Lahey: You have called informal essays “silly and unsubstantial things,” not at all useful for teaching good writing. What kinds of essay assignments are useful?

King: I tried to give assignments that would teach kids to be specific. I used to repeat “See, then say” half a dozen times a day. So I would often ask them to describe operations that they take for granted. Ask a girl to write a paragraph on how she braids her sister’s hair. Ask a boy to explain a sports rule. These are just basic starting points, where students learn to write on paper what they might tell a friend. It keeps it concrete. If you ask a kid to write on “My Favorite Movie,” you’re opening the door to subjectivity, and hence to a flood of clichés.

It’s “a horrible idea” to teach Moby-Dick or Dubliners to high school juniors, says King. It’s too depressing. “But it’s good to make them reach a little. They’ve got to see there are brighter literary worlds than Twilight. Reading good fiction is like making the jump from masturbation to sex.”

If he hadn’t been able to make a living as a writer, King was planning to switch to teaching elementary school.

Here’s the flat, sad truth: By the time they get to high school, a lot of these kids have already closed their minds to what we love. I wanted to get to them while they were still wide open. Teenagers are wonderful, beautiful freethinkers at the best of times. At the worst, it’s like beating your fists on a brick wall. Also, they’re so preoccupied with their hormones it’s often hard to get their attention.

“Do you think great teachers are born or do you think they can be trained?” asks Lahey.

King: Good teachers can be trained, if they really want to learn (some are pretty lazy). Great teachers, like Socrates, are born.

. . . The best teachers are artists.

I’ve never read one of King’s novels. I don’t like the genre. But his book on writing, titled On Writing, is excellent. His advice to would-be writers — “write a lot and read a lot” — is precisely what I say to young writers.

School choice isn’t enough

School choice shouldn’t just be about “which one” but also about “what kind or how much or even whether or not,” writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post.

American education is almost exclusively designed to prepare students for university study and bachelor degrees. Even kindergarten teachers talk to kids and parents about “college readiness.” The added emphasis on STEM subjects in recent years narrows the focus even more.

Excluded from the system, however, are students who would prefer to learn a trade and work in skilled labor. Excluded are the kids who focus predominantly on the arts. Excluded are students who won’t sit passively in rows for 12 years completing worksheets and bubbling in standardized tests. Excluded are many children who don’t fit the “common” profile with “common” goals and standardized dreams.

Public education “should be offered as an opportunity,” writes Mazenko, a high school English teacher. It shouldn’t be a “mandate.”

Zhao: Don’t follow the dragon

The U.S. shouldn’t try to “catch up” with China, argues Yong Zhao in  Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

 China’s test-obsessed, authoritarian schools aren’t a model, says Zhao, who was raised in China and is now a University of Oregon education professor.

Shanghai students ranked at the top in the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, test twice in a row.

But the Chinese system “ignores children’s uniqueness, interests and passion, which results in homogenization,” Zhao tells the New York Times. “It forces them to spend almost all the time preparing for tests, leaving little time for social and physical activities.”

U.S. schools are following China’s example by becoming “more centralized, standardized and test-driven,” says Zhao.

Finnish schools “let down” two-thirds of students, according to Maarit Korhonen, a primary teacher. Those who aren’t academically minded and don’t do well on exams are “thrown away,” writes Korhonen in Herää, Koulu! (Wake Up, School!) There’s little to challenge the talented, she adds.

Finland’s top PISA scores have led to complacency, charges Korhonen.

Structure leads to success

Community colleges are improving pass rates and persistence by integrating “high-impact practices” into structured academic and career pathways reports the Center for Community College Student Engagement. Announcing a class attendance policy, banning late registration and requiring a “student success course” may have big payoffs.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Why Homeschool is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling, which introduces programming concepts such as looping, mental models and debugging.

Pepsi pusher is suspended

Canadian schools aren’t any saner than ours.

Alberta high school student Keenan Shaw was suspended for two days for selling an illicit substance, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run. He was pushing Pepsi — the sugared kind – in a school that allows only diet soda.

Threatened with expulsion, the 12th grader says he’s retiring from the soda business. But he wasn’t the only entrepreneur.

“I’m not going to name any names, but I know a couple of people selling marijuana. There’s kids selling smokes, there was a kid last year selling meth, as well as a kid selling acid,” said Shaw.

 

Getting classroom observations right

For all the talk of “value-added” performance measures, most teachers can’t be evaluated by gains in their students’ test scores because they don’t teach tested subjects or no prior test scores are available, write Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos and Katharine M. Lindquist in Education Next. That makes it important to get classroom observations right.

“Teacher evaluations should include two to three annual classroom observations, with at least one of those observations being conducted by a trained observer from outside the teacher’s school,” they recommend.

In addition, classroom observations “should carry at least as much weight as test-score gains in determining a teacher’s overall evaluation score when both are available.”

ednext_XV_1_whitehurst_fig03-smallTeachers with lots of low-performing students complain they’re rated ineffective unfairly.

That’s true, say the researchers. “Districts should adjust teachers’ classroom-observation scores for the background characteristics of their students, a factor that can have a substantial and unfair influence on a teacher’s evaluation rating.”

Scores can be adjusted for “the percentages of students who are white, black, Hispanic, special education, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, English language learners, and male,” they write.

Poll: Parents are cooler on college

Americans are less likely to say a college education is very important and less confident they can pay for it, according to the 2014 PDK/Gallup Poll.

Four years ago, 75 percent said college is very important. That’s down to 50 percent.

Only 13 percent believe a high school graduate is ready to start a career. But only 37 percent say college graduates are ready for the workforce.

In order of importance, Americans believe the most important factor in helping a high school student get a good job one day is: learning skills like dependability, persistence, and teamwork; having a mentor or adviser; earning a B or higher grade point average; and working on a real-world project that takes at least six months to complete. Performing well on standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT, was rated lowest in importance for getting a good job.

“We were genuinely surprised by the divided response on the importance of college,” said William Bushaw, CEO of PDK. “Americans seem to be rethinking the idea that a college education is essential.”

By strong margins, those polled higher entrance requirements to education schools, more practice time for new teachers and board certification.

College is the new high school

A college degree is becoming the new high school diploma, the minimum credential required to get even the most basic, entry-level job. Thanks to “upcredentialing,” it takes a BA to get a job as a file clerk.

Four-year college graduates in the lowest earning quartile don’t make much more than high school-only workers.