Category Archives: Teaching & Learning

Education Evolutions #98

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This week’s newsletter arrives a little late as Mother’s Day prevented any time to sit down on Sunday. Hopefully, this finds everyone well.

This is another collection of short reads that run a wider gamut of topics. From the need for poetry to how technology is amplifying the fracturing of public life to the foolishness of standardized testing, a lot of ground is covered. The nice thing is when all the articles are this short it is easy to give them all a look.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the middle one. It is not the first time that I have highlighted something by danah boyd. She is an excellent thinker and writer on the technology front and it was her particular expertise in youth culture and tech that first led me to her work. If you have not read anything by her you should do some quick searching and start. However, this keynote speech is as good a place to start as any.

More showers in May in New England. What else is new?

Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Who needs poetry? We all do – and we need it now – The Guardian – Kenan Malik (1-minute read)

This is a very brief but beautiful commentary about the importance of poetry. While some people might be quick to dismiss poetry, I agree with Malik. We have never needed it more. There is poetry even in this column itself.

As I have been trying to convince students of late, poetry is not necessarily as scary as we might like it to be. There can be a remoteness to poetry that makes it hard for some to find a way in. However, there is so much poetry is not accessible, inviting, and even amusing that it need not be that way for anyone, especially with only a bit of interest.

The reasons used to support the need for poetry are eloquent and elegant. Few if any uses of language has the power and concentration of poetry. It is both artistic and understandable. In fact, the Meena Alexander quote that poetry “is a work that exists as an object in the world but also… allows the world entry” might be one of the most beautiful insights I have read recently. Consider clicking the links for the poems they are pretty good too.

Agnotology and Epistemological Fragmentation – Data & Society: Points – danah boyd (8-minute read)

Anyone unfamiliar with danah boyd should take a moment and look her up. She is an academic researcher with some deep roots and serious chops. She wrote her dissertation on the rise of social networks, when MySpace was bigger than Facebook – Ah, those halcyon days. She speaks and writes a lot about technology and society and definitely knows her stuff.

In this keynote speech, she breaks down a couple of major problems that are plaguing our modern lives at the minute, the use of media in a deliberately manipulative way to undermine “the social fabric of public life.” It is something that has been going on for some time but has been supercharged through the use of technology, especially social media.

Agnotology was not a term familiar to me but it is an awfully good one to label part of the problem. The idea of purposefully seeding doubt and forcing everyday people to question what is fact versus fiction has become a major thread in contemporary life and we are feeling the cost it daily. “Many people who are steeped in history and committed to evidence-based decision-making are experiencing a collective sense of being gaslit,” might be the single best line in this presentation. It is good but boyd is always good.

We Must Teach for ‘Range’ and ‘Depth’ – EdWeek – James Nehring (4-minute read)

While this piece is a few years older, I came across it again more recently and felt an instant recognition. As the testing season enters full flight, this kind of sentiment should get read with greater regularity. Nehring nails the paradox that we find ourselves in regularly as educators, “The problem is this: Human judgment is poison to accountability, but it is the basic ingredient for assessment of learning.” As we have drifted increasingly toward accountability measures, human judgment has been maligned. Now, we are even hearing the whispered promises of artificial intelligence taking care of the assessment.

Yet, it only seems to get sillier. New tests are forcing curricular changes across the nation but for what. They are not being driven by educational goals as much as they are driven by the desire for accountability. Decades after the failure of foolish policies like No Child Left Behind, policymakers continue to consort with test makers in an ever-increasingly costly enterprise that does very little to serve students. Even a little human judgment surely has born that fact out as truth.

This whole piece reminded me of the research by masters of human error Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who discovered all kinds of things about the flaws in human intuition. We cannot take human judgment out of any context with humans. Just like removing emotion from rational thought does not work out so well. They are intertwined. A really intelligent principal once reminded me education is the human resources business, literally and figuratively. When it comes to educating our young, human judgment should be tempered but always present.

Education Evolutions #97

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This week’s newsletter covers a lot of ground. From individual awareness and agency to consciousness of the collective, these writings have some real breadth and depth. There was a lot to choose from this week but these are the ones that struck the strongest chord for me.

These reads get progressively longer but they all offer in-depth looks into their subject matter. Read together, I hope that their scope can be appreciated more than simply picking and choosing. I mention that with the knowledge that most people probably do a lot more picking and choosing. Plus, I am never completely sure how much of my thinking influences the urge to click a link.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” has to be the last one. Any educator would benefit from interrogating the ideas presented in this essay. Teaching has always been and will forever continue to be a political act, no matter what anyone might suggest to the contrary. It is a humanitarian effort at the core, which is at least in part why it is often referred to a calling. It is closely tied to the original three professions too. Read and reflect on the intersection of education and our democratic experiment.

The bloom has definitely begun but April’s showers seem to be reaching into May.

Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Mindfulness Won’t Save Us. Fixing the System Will – ACSD Education Update – Christina Torres (3-minute read)

While I am a proponent of mindfulness, personally, and even believe that there is a place for it in schools, this article touches on the source of some of my ambivalence on the topic. Torres’ challenge for educators to take a long hard look at their complicity in authoritarian systems might be the most important point from this piece.

Another key element is the recognition that mindfulness is a tool, not a solution. It cannot be a solution, ever. As the quoted Buddhist teachers suggest, mindfulness is about embracing life in all of its complexity not finding some happy place or avoiding unpleasantness. The latter where my ambivalence arises. Managing frustration or negative feelings is important for any human but so is recognizing that humans also make evaluative judgments all the time and those judgments can have a major impact, especially when it comes to the systems in which we live.

There are systemic problems in our world, where many people have been maligned in all kinds of ways. To avoid confronting that fact is antithetical to mindfulness. Perhaps the growing interest in mindfulness might trigger this realization, rather than invite passive compliance to existing systems that oppress or dehumanize. As far as I can tell, exploring or interrogating life’s paradoxes is an important part of living a healthy life, both individually and collectively.

Student Agency, Authority, and Credibility as Writers – radical eyes for equity blog – PL Thomas (7-minute read)

This post resonated with me considerably. I often think of myself as a teacher of young writers if I am a teacher of anything, which is both a source of strength but also consternation. Thomas hits on some of the latter here. He is an excellent thinker and teacher that I include often in this newsletter. As I watch students finish their research projects, I found myself identifying with a lot of what was written here.

I really like how Thomas lays out the structure of his approach in his bulleted list. I even share much, if not all of his rationales. However, at the risk of seeming contradictory, I provide a formatting template for students. While I explain much of the reasoning for format and nuances of different formats to my students, it all seems like a bridge too far for high school students. Yet upon even greater reflection, it has been an attempt to alleviate a grading problem. It is also about prioritization of time.

Sources, revising, openings and endings are much more significant issues for students in my mind. They are big concepts where high school students often struggle, wrestling with their abstract qualities at times. Formatting almost always is conflated only with students’ idea of rules. Plus, it is one of the easiest things to itemize in a rubric and score. I think that is part of the reason I chose to sidestep it, somewhat. It was an attempt to minimize the associated grade damage. In providing a formatting template, I have been surprised at just how many chose not to use it. Perhaps I need to find new ways to help them with the notion of purposefulness.

The Virtue of an Educated Voter – The American Scholar – Alan Taylor  (19-minute read)

There is so much insight in this essay it is hard to know where to begin. For me, it served as a poignant reminder that we may well live in Alexander Hamilton’s world but we cannot forget Thomas Jefferson’s idealism. Both men were undoubtedly flawed. While the two fought fiercely for the future of the nation, one of the things Jefferson remained most proud of in his long list of achievements in life was fostering our public educational system. It became the envy of the world.

It is good to be reminded of the battles that have been fought for the entirety of our nation. What I appreciate most about this essay is Taylor’s insistence that education is a public good not just a private benefit. That belief deeply informed my decision to go into education. It also is one of the primary reasons that sustains my involvement. Education is not job training. The more we accept that lie the more we corrupt the very system we are trying to preserve. As Taylor highlights, those beliefs seem quaint today. Still, how many of those that have benefitted most from our public investment in education see fit to destroy it? It is hard to say but it is not a short line.

Without arresting the path we find ourselves on, we are only likely to hasten the demise of our republic. We are already well down the path of demagoguery and have enshrined a plutocracy, at least for the foreseeable future. The only option is to continue to fight for our public education system. It is imperfect, severely underfunded in places, and remains a political battleground. That is because the stakes are so high. The world in which we now live is not so far from that which our founders, at least in terms of the corrosive forces of foreign threat and seemingly innate human selfishness. Reminding ourselves of this fact may be virtuous in itself.

Education Evolutions #96

The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This week’s newsletter includes a broad selection of topics. Some of them include writers or subjects that I have included in the past but remain relevant, interesting to me, and are worthy of tracking, especially given the focus of this newsletter.

Most of these reads are of similar length, so it would be easy to give them all a try while you enjoy a cup of coffee or something. These also inspired a number of connections to other pieces that either probe in more depth or provide more background. Those links tend to be a bit longer reads but are worth exploring.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is a pick ’em. They are so different in focus and subject that I can see them being appealing to different people for very different reasons. However, even if sports are not your thing, the first one might get a slight edge. Still, hopefully, there is a little something for everyone.

For those in New England, it looks like spring has teased us a bit. Yet the bloom looks like it has begun.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Why Are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling With Depression? – The Atlantic – Linda Flanagan (7-minute read)

When I came across this article I was instantly intrigued. I discovered this right on the heels of reading a quality personal research paper one of my students wrote about managing stress and anxiety as an athlete. Also, considering the level of importance placed on sports by many adolescents, this is the kind of article that high school teachers should give a read. Even if you are not interested in sports recognizing what many of our students could be experiencing is helpful.

Flanagan dives into the bigger issues that seem to contribute to the rise in mental health issues experienced by younger and younger athletes. The professionalization of sport, parent’s vicarious hopes and dreams, as well as other factors are all included. It is a quality introduction to the concept and growing challenge. There is an irony in part of the solution being something that may trickle down from the college level to high school but considering screening student-athletes for mental health concerns has some merit.

One thing missing from the article is the very real factor of high school athletes having to come to grips with the fact that they may be at the end of their highly competitive athletic lives, which affects everyone differently.  Interestingly when I teased this article to a colleague, a reader of this newsletter, they mentioned The Mindful Athlete to me. The book looks like a great resource and one I look forward to reading over the summer.

Silicon Valley Came to Kansas Schools. That Started a Rebellion – The New York Times – Nellie Bowles (8-minute read)

This article got a lot of play across the interwebs recently as Summit Learning continues to take a beating and for good reason. Facebook’s efforts into education with their personalized learning platform is not what the marketing buzz suggests – imagine. Given the heat that the company has been taking on the meta level, I would think anyone considering what they have to offer for education would have a word with themselves, but alas.

I have written about Summit before and have seen it in action at multiple grade levels. For all the talk of personalization, there are remarkably few persons involved, which is my general criticism of the “personalized learning” myth. Apart from the fact that the term has been completely co-opted by commercial edtech entities looking for the latest marketing buzzwords to advance sales, it is a term that has been reduced for the most part to mean learning by machine, as the kids in Kansas found out.

While this Chalkbeat article is interesting and captured a moment in some detail, this article provides a lot more background on Summit, its origin and evolution, as well as its clever connection to Harvard for self-serving purposes but not necessarily valid ones. There are few if any long-term objective research studies on any of these “learning platforms” that are involved in effectively a landgrab across education. Facebook was late to the game and invested heavily in their charter-based-techno-solutions-for-everything experiment to try and catch up. Yet that’s all it is – a grand experiment on children in what me better called “de-personalized lack-of-learning.

Why The Big Standardized Test Is Useless For Teachers – Forbes – Peter Greene (4-minute read)

As schools around the country administer tests to their students, there have been plenty of articles on the topic. I have forwarded pieces by Peter Greene before and it looks as though now he is writing regularly for Forbes. Here he offers a pretty shrewd takedown of standardized tests.

Greene’s early metaphor about coaching a team for a game you will neither see nor be able to even talk about is apt, but he furthers it with an even sharper edge of truth. Still, where he really gets to task in exposing the level of secrecy. I wonder how much people outside of education really understand a whole lot about the testing that their children are subjected to for the major standardized tests. Unless they have a child that has experienced a truly aberrant experience, I imagine most rely primarily on the oversimplification of high scores are good and low scores are bad.

Yet, what I always find most frustrating about all the testing conversation is how infrequently the cost is invoked as deeply suspect. All efforts in academic accountability simply increase the cost of that accounting, in both quantifiable and qualitative concerns, never mind the even more deeply suspect notion of measuring learning outcomes. The testing only gets more expensive and it is spreading to the university level too. It is a whole lot of money that could easily be better spent on better results even.