It’s the students, stupid

We’re obsessing about teacher quality and ignoring what really matters, writes Will Fitzhugh on School Information System. It’s the students, stupid. If they do the work, they’ll  learn. If they wait for teachers to pour knowledge (or skills) in their heads, they won’t.

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be — namely the students.

Of course, it’s hard to fire lazy, unproductive students, Fitzhugh concedes.

Students assess the teacher

Letting students assess his teaching was transformative, writes Larry Ferlazzo, a ninth-grade English teacher at a Sacramento high school, in Ed Week.

Before students watched a five-minute video of a previous lesson, Kelly Young, who directs the Pebble Creek Labs, asked students to look for certain things.

• Leaning In—When we are engaged, we are learning forward, not slouching back.

• Who’s Doing the Work?—Students are working and learning, not sitting back listening to the teacher.

• Everybody Has a Job—All students are working all the time, listening and taking notes/annotating; asking questions; reading, etc.

• Tools of the Scholar—Pen, pencil, highlighter… The vast majority of the time, students have a writing tool in hand.

• Multiple Touches on Text—No “light” touches—we read the same text multiple times in different ways to deepen our understanding.

• Changing Trajectories—So you can read, do, or be what you want. We work hard so that students can accomplish their visions and dreams.

At first, students had nothing but positive comments about their teacher and themselves. Then one boy said, “Mr. Ferlazzo talked too long.”

Kelly immediately asked me, “Mr. Ferlazzo, what was your analysis of that clip?”

I replied, “I talked too much.”

Other students then began to say that I sometimes spent too much time giving instructions, and others said they would get bored as a result. Kelly pointed out that, yes, I was doing all the work then, and they didn’t have a job for far too long. He emphasized that there were many good elements in the lesson, but that we wanted to be honest to figure out how we could all get better.

After watching the next short clip of small-group activity, students noticed themselves goofing off.

“We were leaning back when the person was reading.”

“Sally was making noise with her pen instead of listening.”

“Most of us didn’t have a pencil in our hand.”

In the final clip, with most most students working, produced an “aha” moment.

Students hadn’t been lectured to about how they needed to act to be serious learners. In the period of a few minutes, they had actually seen video showing themselves when they were serious learners and when they were not.

In low-performing Newark schools, students are helping train teachers, reports the New York Times. Using a federal grant, the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education runs workshops in which students teach mock lessons and talk with teachers about what works and what doesn’t.

Joint student-teacher training is being tried in San Francisco, New York, Connecticut, Indiana and Georgia, the Times reports.

Students recognize good teaching

Students’ assessments of their teachers tend to match value-added measures of effectiveness, concludes research funded by the Gates Foundation. From the New York Times: 

Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores . . . 

Researchers are looking for correlations between value-added rankings and other measures of teacher effectiveness, reports the Times.

Classrooms where a majority of students said they agreed with the statement, “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time,” tended to be led by teachers with high value-added scores, the report said.

The same was true for teachers whose students agreed with the statements, “In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes,” and, “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class.”

“Kids know effective teaching when they experience it,” said researcher Ronald Ferguson, who designed the student questionnaires. “As a nation, we’ve wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school reform efforts.”

Twenty states are redesigning their systems for evaluating teachers, often asking the Gates Foundation for help in assessing effectiveness, Vicki L. Phillips, a director of education at the foundation, told the Times.

Teachers who spend a lot of time on test prep have lower value-added learning gains than those who “work their way methodically through the key concepts of literacy and mathematics,” Phillips said.

Banning cyberbullies

Cyberbullying at school or during school activities will be banned for California students starting Jan. 1.

The law gives school administrators the leverage to suspend or expel students for bullying other students by means of an electronic device such as a mobile phone or on an Internet social networking site like MySpace or Facebook . . .

I’d guess most cyberbullying takes place at home, but perhaps it will help to tell students that online cruelty is against the law.

Learning English in 2008

Ed Week’s Mary Ann Zehr recaps English learning stories of 2008.

You’ve got to love the One Semester of Spanish Love Song.