The shadow knows


After 14 years in the classroom, a teacher turned learning coach shadowed two students for two days. She scribbled notes, did a chemistry lab and took tests with her host students, a 10th grader and a 12th grader.

It was exhausting — and enlightening, she writes. Over the two days, students spent 90 percent of the time sitting passively and listening (or not listening).

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:

Offer brief, blitzkrieg-like mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heels (e.g. a ten-minute lecture on Whitman’s life and poetry, followed by small-group work in which teams scour new poems of his for the very themes and notions expressed in the lecture, and then share out or perform some of them to the whole group while everyone takes notes on the findings.)

Set an egg timer every time I get up to talk and all eyes are on me. When the timer goes off, I am done.

. . . Ask every class to start with students’ Essential Questions or just general questions born of confusion from the previous night’s reading or the previous class’s discussion. I would ask them to come in to class and write them all on the board, and then, as a group, ask them to choose which one we start with and which ones need to be addressed.

She’d also set a personal “no sarcasm” goal and ask students to hold her accountable for it.

“Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder,” she concludes. All teachers should spend a day as a shadow to build empathy for their students.

‘Free’ college won’t help needy students

“Free community college” programs won’t help low-income students because they already pay little or no tuition. Nearly all benefits of the Tennessee Promise and Chicago’s new scholarships will go to middle-class students who aren’t eligible for Pell Grants and other aid.

Why teens sext

About a third of older teens have sent a naked photo of themselves, usually to a boyfriend or girlfriend, writes Hanna Rosin in Why Kids Sext in The Atlantic.

Why do teens sext? Because they’re stupid?

Michelle Obama: Advice to my teen-age self

Michelle Obama: Advice to My Younger SelfWhat advice would you give to your younger self? People asked Michelle Obama.

“Stop being so afraid!,” she replied. “That’s really what strikes me when I look back – the sheer amount of time I spent tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation. I was afraid of not knowing the answer in class and looking stupid, or worried about what some boy thought of me, or wondering whether the other girls liked my clothes or my hair, or angsting about some offhand comment someone made to me in the lunchroom.”

I would love to go back in time and tell my younger self, “Michelle, these middle and high school years are just a tiny blip in your life, and all the slights and embarrassments and heartaches, all those times you got that one question wrong on that test – none of that is important in the scheme of things.”

When my daughter entered her teens, I shared my hard-won wisdom. “Other people don’t care about your hair or your clothes. They’re worried about their own hair and their own clothes.”

From ‘meh’ to ‘muahaha’

The Halloween Decorating Kit at Steve Spangler Science promises 10 activities to take your trick-or-treaters from “meh” to “muahaha.”

. . . make your home or classroom into the spooky and ghastly fright-fest you’ve always wanted. No more peeled grapes for eyeballs and spaghetti for brains and guts. You’re going to use amazing hands-on science to create an unforgettably haunting experience!

The kit includes “glowing ghost eggs, growing brains and, of course, toxic zombie blood.

Halloween: Too pagan for schools?

When some parents complained Halloweeen is a pagan holiday, a New Jersey school canceled the annual celebrations.

But Halloween is back on the schedule at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood.

District officials decided they needed more time to discuss the issue.

Each year, students whose parents object to celebrating Halloween are given an alternative activity.

Parents who think Halloween is the work of the devil must be frustrated by how much fun the holiday is for its celebrants. It’s tough to compete.

Think tankers don’t like the Vergara strategy

Think tankers hate the Vergara strategy, writes Alexander Russo in linking to the American Federation of Teachers’ anti-Campbell Brown video.

Why? “Think tankers and others are feeling burned by the pushback against reforms of the recent era (the so-called “war on teachers”), they’re not as nearly familiar with legal strategies (as opposed to policies, programs, and politics), and they probably think they’re smarter than Campbell Brown, who’s leading the charge.”

LA Superintendent Deasy resigns

Under fire from all sides, John Deasy has resigned as superintendent of Los Angeles Unified. “Needless to say this has been hard work, in fact exhausting work,” Deasy wrote in his resignation letter. “I am proud and honored, but it is time for a transition.”

deasy2He’ll stay on for the rest of the school year as a consultant, while Ramon Cortines — the veteran reliever for urban school districts — will be interim superintendent.

Deasy’s three and half years were “mired in controversy over technology missteps like the rollout of a $1.3 billion iPad program and a court case that struck down teacher tenure laws in California,” notes the Hechinger Report.

However, test scores and graduation rates are up, while suspension rates “have dropped dramatically.”

Deasy testified for the prosecution in the Vergara trial, which overturned state laws governing teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal. He never discussed the case with the school board, trustee Steve Zimmer told the Hechinger Report.

Zimmer was particularly disturbed that Deasy seemed to enjoy taking down laws that were put in place to protect the 28,000 teachers he leads.

“You take something that needs a scalpel and careful instrumentation and instead you take out the sledgehammer,” says Zimmer. “Deasy wasn’t careful enough to avoid the perception that he enjoyed using the sledgehammer. He fought for things he really believed in, which is fine, but he wasn’t careful about how it would be perceived by the people who have to teach our kids everyday.”

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., isn’t a big fan of the Vergara lawsuit, yet he admires that Deasy stuck to his principles. “For a superintendent to make it clear that he hopes his own district will lose a lawsuit in order to effect change takes a little bit of chutzpah,” says Hess.

Deasy was hired to shake up the system, says David Menefee-Libey, a politics professor at Pomona.

Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brought Deasy into the district with backing from billionaire Eli Broad, with the hope of growing the charter school system, confronting the teachers union, and changing the terms of teacher employment in Los Angeles.

“Unless you think the status quo is just hunky-dory, you can sit back and do the same old, same old because it makes it easier or congenial,” says Joel Klein, former schools chancellor in New York City. “If you’re not willing to do things that are controversial, then in my view you’re not going to change things for kids, and if you’re not going to change things for kids, then why be a superintendent?”

Reading tests hurt teaching

Testing “makes clear that every student matters,”, writes Fordham’s Andy Smarick.

Robert Pondiscio agrees. But reading tests “do more harm than good” by encouraging ineffective teaching practices, he writes in Prospect.

Reading comprehension is not a skill or a body of content that can be taught. The annual reading tests we administer to children through eighth grade are de facto tests of background knowledge and vocabulary. Moreover, they are not “instructionally sensitive.” Success or failure can have little to do with what is taught.

. . . a substantial body of research has consistently shown that reading comprehension relies on the reader knowing at least something about the topic he or she is reading about (and sometimes quite a lot). The effects of prior knowledge can be profound: Students who are ostensibly “poor” readers can suddenly comprehend quite well when reading about a subject they know a lot about — even outperforming “good” readers who lack background knowledge the “poor” readers possess.

Reading tests, however, treat reading comprehension as a broad, generalized skill.

Even the best schools find it much easier to raise math scores than reading scores, writes Pondiscio. That’s because math is learned primarily at school, while reading comprehension reflects the sum of children’s “experiences, interests, and knowledge, both in and out school.”

Text passages on reading tests don’t draw on what’s taught in school. New York’s Core-aligned fifth-grade reading test featured passages about BMX bike racing and sailing. The sixth-grade test featured a poem about “pit ponies,” horse and donkeys used in mines, and a passage on loggerhead turtles.

Some kids will have the background knowledge to understand these passages. Others will be clueless. And it will have little to do with the teacher’s competence.

Tests, not standards, “drive classroom practice,” writes Pondiscio.  Neither new nor old reading tests encourage teachers to build students’ knowledge so they can understand what they read.

He suggests making reading tests low stakes for teachers, testing decoding up to grade four and then using subject-matter tests or “curriculum-based tests with reading passages based on topics taught in school.” If fifth graders are learning about New York state history and astronomy, test them on readings about state history and astronomy. But that would require a common curriculum.

Testing for competency

New Hampshire requires high schools to measure credit in terms of competency rather than “seat time,” writes Julie Freeland. Schools are trying different ways to evaluate competence.

At Sanborn Regional High School, students take pen-and-paper exams, but they can retest if they haven’t achieved mastery.

North Country Charter Academy students follow a self-paced online curriculum with frequent online tests to evaluate mastery. Teachers provide support as needed.

Next Charter School uses student projects.

For example, the students in a social studies course might be asked to write a letter to President Obama proposing foreign policy strategies. The letter might have to include both a historical account of previous foreign policy strategies, a proposed action, and a rationale and justification for why that proposed action was the best option.

If the project doesn’t show mastery, the student can revise it or pick a new project.

From Policy to Practice, by the Christensen Institute, looks at New Hampshire’s shift to competency-based learning.

CreditWren McDonald

Replace the college admissions systems with assessment centers, proposes Adam Grant in the New York Times. Businesses, government and the military use these to evaluate job candidates, he writes. “Today, at a typical center, applicants spend a day completing a series of individual tasks, group activities and interviews. Some assessments are objectively scored for performance; others are observed by multiple trained evaluators looking for key behaviors.”