Category Archives: Teaching & Learning

Education Evolutions #36


IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
Apologies for the delayed delivery this week. A combination other deadlines, more youth soccer than usual, and feeling a little under the weather all conspired to delay me a day.

Similar to last week’s mindfulness theme, this week must be more explicitly about race and class. Perhaps I am just responding to the popular zeitgeist or maybe I am just more ready to think and discuss those issues more lately. Neither issue ever gets enough attention, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, many of us conveniently brush away those elements of our society that may reveal its greatest ugliness. They are often too unpleasant to discuss in polite company. Yet they are far too real to deny, even if we have found ways, by and large, to insulate ourselves from them, both consciously or unconsciously.

So, this trio of articles show bravery and dig into some discomfort. The only way to have any chance of dealing with any challenge is by facing it directly and reflecting. I suppose that whole “unexamined life” tip from the ancient Greeks has been turning over in mind as well.

I have been repeating this part but I hope people like the new format and delivery. Also, I love the feedback and exchange of comments. That makes the effort even more worthwhile. If anyone comes across an article or even has a topic or theme they’d like to see shared let me know.


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

James Baldwin’s Lesson for Teachers in a Time of Turmoil – The New Yorker – Clint Smith (10-minute read)
Over the summer I finally got the chance to watch to watch the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which I highly recommend. It rekindled my interest in Baldwin’s work. There is a reason why he is resurfacing as a cultural agent at the minute. His courage and eloquence are unmistakable but his penetrating insights make him a formidable American intellectual that should be more widely read.

In this piece, Smith shares the poignancy of his annual experience of rereading Baldwin’s essay “A Talk to Teachers,” an additional item more than worth a look. Smith’s personal wrestling with introducing political discourse into his lessons is interesting enough. More interesting is how doing so is presented as a kind of subversive act which is telling.

It would be naive to ignore that at least a part of the standards movement reinforces an order, also keeping people in their place. While not entirely explicit, Smith’s recognition and reading of Baldwin “that the world was molded by people who came before, and that it can be remolded into something new” strikes a recognition of this consequence. Plus, I could not agree more that a teacher must help students confront not only the problems shaping the world but also challenge them to examine their own place in it.

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

The Very Seriously Humorless Education of Students – radical eyes for equity blog – PL Thomas (4-minute read)
I am a frequent reader of PL Thomas and have featured him in previous issues of this newsletter. In this blogpost, his personal confession highlights something that is perhaps more common than we teachers can sometimes realize, a whole lot of students, and a fair number of adults, completely miss humor when reading. Part of this is humor can be difficult to identify on the page. However, a much bigger factor is the lack of preparation and even exposure to humor in text form.

Exposing students to a wide range of authors and texts is an absolute necessity to preparing readers of any sophistication. Yet, one of the well-known consequences of the standards reform is a narrowing of curriculum to serve the demands of accountability. Again, accountability regimes are excellent mechanisms establishing or preserving a social order.

Sadly, any student that struggles with reading is typically served up a heaping dose of humorless, text-prep texts. As if the remedy is more drill-and-kill readings that commit readicide against students, instead of embracing the struggle and guiding them through the hardest yards any reader sometimes face. It does not have to be that way but it often is. “Oh, but we do a satire unit, so we are all set.”

Second Guessing My Kids of Color? – The Tempered Radical blog – Bill Ferriter (8-minute read)
Another teacher brave enough to expose themselves a little in critical reflection, Ferriter’s admission is both heartfelt and instructive. His challenge in the opening note is probably even more so. Taking a hard look at himself and the subtle aspects of his interactions with students of color is an examination I hope would be a cause for pause and heightened awareness.

It is far too easy to put on blinders or even become defensive when confronted with the kind of uncomfortable situations presented by Ferriter. That is what is refreshing and brave about his admission. No one is perfect and conversations that involve race or even class need not be a zero-sum game. We are all human and make mistakes. Yet we can all benefit from remembering that being a good kind person is never a fixed state. It is a practice, in the truest sense of the word.

Ferriter’s willingness to throw caution to the wind and take a step forward in an effort to be better is admirable. His razor-sharp recognition, “imagine the impact that being doubted over and over again, day after day, year after year has on our kids of color” is enough to make this post worth the read. If you are interested in exploring conversations about race a little more, give this Jay Smooth TedTalk a look. It is one of the best takes on the topic I have ever encountered.

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Education Evolutions Newsletter #27


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Here is a fresh batch of reading for all of you. It has a little bit of testing and assessment flair but ’tis the season. I know the last item might seem intimidating and may even take a little more effort to finish but it there is a whole lot there to have a think on and we really do need more minds thinking on these kinds of issues.

Education Evolutions:
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • To Ease The Student Debt Crisis, Hold Colleges ResponsibleFiveThirtyEightDoug Webber  (8 minute watch)
    Considering how much pressure K12 teachers are under to prepare students for college, it is interesting to consider what that potentially means for so many students. For all the nonsense about failing schools, more students than ever in the history of mankind attend higher education. Yet, the graduation rate has not really changed all that much over the decades in which attendance has surged. More concerning than ever is the rising costs and debt associated with this imbalance. Here, a Temple University economics professor highlights how colleges and universities bear none of the associated risks, suggesting maybe they should. Something tells me that there might be more potential consequences than he mentions, but it is a problem that is not going away, and one that needs to be solved lest it beget something very much like the mortgage crisis seen in 2007-08.

  • Bribing children to take our testsDangerously Irrelevant – Scott McLeod  (5 minute read)
    This blogpost might be the most succinct undermining argument for standardized testing I have seen. As education departments and schools around the nation continue to double-down on standardized tests the consequences continue to grow too. Thus, schools are often encouraged to play games that are merely symptomatic of a much more malignant disease. I am not sure that most attempts to motivate students to do well on exams are all that awful, although any form of punishment related to test performance is indefensible for too many reasons to count. Yet, what McLeod hammers home better than most is that all of this testing foolishness essentially has nothing but negative value for the students. It is all about adults. One more education practice done to students and not for them. Meanwhile, how often do we hear the refrain, “We have to do what’s best for the children.”

  • Author Interview: ‘The Perfect Assessment System’EdWeek: Classroom Q&A – Larry Ferlazzo  (10 minute read)
    While promoting his book, Rick Siggins offers some interesting insights into assessment and how it can benefit and motivate learning. The simple Q&A format makes for a relatively quick read. There is a little bit of edspeak that has to be sifted but there is definitely some value in Stiggins’ responses. Among them is a criticism of standardized testing’s value, which is interesting since the Assessment Training Institute (ATI), founded by Stiggins, is owned by Pearson, purveyor of all manner of tests and assessments. Nevertheless, involving students in ongoing self-assessment, devaluation of ranking and sorting, promoting the belief that learning success is within reach, and the need for a newer, better vision of assessment for learning are all worthy ideas to read. Far and away the best line of the piece, “We have been stuck for decades in a 1950s vision of excellence in assessment that never was excellent.” The piece successfully made me keen on the book.

  • Maybe we’re not afraid: on Edtech’s inability to imagine the futureA Long View on Education blog – Benjamin Doxtdator  (25 minute read)
    Of this week’s selections, this is definitely the deep dive. Full of all kinds of wonderful wonky references and research, Doxtador interrogates the educational trope of the technophobe teacher. While I am not saying that those educators do not exist, it has always struck me as a far too simplistic assessment. Similarly, not all hard-charging, techno-evangelist teachers are models of innovation or even good teaching. The post has sweep and ambition, as it critically examines some of the dominant narratives of at the intersection of education, technology, and mercantilism. There are so many great references packed into this piece and the list of issues edtech should be addressing is excellent. It may not be for everybody but it is certainly one of the more thought-provoking things I have read in recent weeks. It cuts through a lot of propagandist noise.

As always thanks for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #26


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

This is a short eclectic mix of articles that may even have a slightly contradictory flavor. For me, that might be all the more reason why you might want to give them each a look. Plus, they are short. So don’t let the poetry article scare you off.

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Tech Bigwigs Know How Addictive Their Products Are. Why Don’t the Rest of Us?Wired – Adam Alter  (13 minute watch)
    There was a time when stories like this were really making the rounds in the media. While this piece is an excerpt with a definite effort to sell a book by the article’s author, it does take a broader and more in-depth look at some aspects of life with devices and youth that probably should get a little more attention. Nevermind, youth adults need to be a whole lot more aware of behavioral addictions to devices too. Yet, youth have far fewer tools deal with these kinds of problems. The need for an “emergency brake” mentioned here is becoming an increasingly important phenomenon that we have culturally not been entirely ready to wrestle. There are no easy answers and I do not want to overly stoke fear but it is about time that we start thinking more deeply about putting them to use.

  • Why Teaching Poetry Is So ImportantThe Atlantic – Andrew Simmons  (7 minute read)
    As an English teacher, I could not really pass on including this article. Written by a high school English teacher, this is a strong argument for not only teaching poetry but even better about why it gets such short shrift. There are a lot of points where I am in absolute agreement, although I wish that Simmons would have went even further. There is no question that poetry has an image problem and can also be terribly intimidating for a lot of people but there may be no better literature with the breadth and depth of reach and relevance as poetry. It even has vastly greater connection to academic disciplines beyond literature or English study. That may be why the dearth of poetry in any modern curriculum is so tragic to me. That which we cannot easily measure has quickly fallen out of fashion, much to our collective loss. I will admit that I rarely feel as in command when teaching poetry but its power has never been lost on me. I wish more teachers across the disciplines recognized its importance and could overcome any fears about using it in their classes too. There is a reason why most of the human writing we have from previous centuries is poetic.

  • Five Ideas to Go Beyond SAMRTech & Learning’s K-12 Blueprint – Michael Gorman  (6 minute read)
    I think the SAMR model is a great first step in advancing not just teaching with technology but teaching practice in general. However, like all first steps they should not be the last. Having spent a fair amount  of time this past year watching teachers operate in their classes, I use the SAMR model as a lens for feedback but it is just one lens. Still, I really like Gorman’s broader approach and interrogation of the the model. There definitely are better Substitution examples than others, as he highlights. Moreover, I love his point on the letter placement being more about the lesson than the teacher. Using SAMR as a lens can provide some excellent anchors to discuss a particular lesson and potentially some more innovative pedagogical practices. It has genuine benefits and my hope is to use it to as way to start conversations but hope it never provides the end of them. Teaching and learning requires a lot of diversification and differentiation after all.

As always, thanks for supporting this newsletter.