Tag Archives: research

Education Evolutions Newsletter #13

It was a little harder to find decidedly more positive pieces for this week, as some of that is a bit in the beholder. Hopefully, this selection does not require a dark soundtrack, perhaps a bit more like jazz.

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools – The Atlantic – Timothy D. Walker  (11 minute read)
    Walker is a Massachusetts native living and working in Finland as a teacher. In this piece, he characterizes three teachers from Finland now working in American schools and documents their experiences. Considering how Finland is widely considered the best school system in the international scoring tables, it is interesting to see their first-hand difficulties with the way our American system is structured. Also interesting is the inclusion of long-time standards advocate Marc Tucker who writes a regular column for EdWeek. While he is considered an expert in education policies and practices from abroad, Tucker’s warning at the end of the article seems rather alarmingly dramatic.

  • Why Identity and Emotion are Central To Motivating the Teen BrainKQED’s MindShiftEmmeline Zhao  (7 minute read)
    While there might not be anything truly revolutionary in this article, it does a nice job of consolidating a lot of emerging understanding about the adolescent brain. Perhaps its primary value is in a kind of reframing that enables to see certain kinds of challenges as genuine opportunities. It certainly provides soft support for the notion of students driving a lot of their own learning through setting their own goals involving their own interests, something many high schools have a difficult time embracing institutionally. There is increasingly little doubt that it is a profoundly romantic period in life, in the purest sense.

  • This Is Not An EssayModern LearnersLee Skallerup Bessette (11 minute read)
    I have a hunch that I read this once upon a time, since it was written in 2014, although it resurfaced recently as it might as well be required reading. I wish I had written this piece myself for so many reasons. Skallerup Bessette gets right to the heart of a dark disservice that we do to students far too often. Rigid, narrow demands and negative reinforcement are just part of a constellation of associations with writing for students and yet more than ever before they are “writing.” It might not be what teachers want or like but, as Skallerup Bessette observes, “They learn, they teach, they offer their own feedback, they fail, and they try again. And we often actively work in schools to devalue, undermine, and even try to get students to unlearn these skills.” We can meet students where they are or force them to meet us where we are. I know which one I would choose.

  • It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve EducationThe New York Times – Kevin Carey and Elizabeth A. Harris  (8 minute read)
    There is an element of this article that strikes a kind of cynicism, a well-who-doesn’t-know that kind of response. Yet the research profiled in this piece provides the kind of substantive data as evidence for the claim. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, there has been a lot less hard evidence in support of this than we might realize. Of course, the researchers are still using tests as a metric because schools are all about testing, right? Still, what research like this does is support the eye-test, what we see all around us, which can at times be the best kind of research and use of data. Not surprisingly, the requisite charter supporter questions the findings and seems almost dismissive. It frustrates me to no end how often journalists, in an attempt to be “balanced” include just anyone with an opposing view regardless of whether they have any warrants for their views or not.

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About Authentic Assessment & Advancing Alternatives

Photo: Rejuvenation

Rejuvenation – cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Aaron Hockley

Poking at Preconceptions

Although I have grown to rather hate the term “authentic” in an education context, I must admit to being a bit allured by the idea of authentic assessments. My main problem is that the word “authentic” is actually quite muddy, a point “Defining Authentic Classroom Assessment” refreshingly concedes in its opening.

In my experience, too often “authentic” is reductionist code for some kind of contrived task meant to mimic the “real-world,” but doesn’t and is grounded in what students already know, in effort to be relevant to them. While I am certainly no defender of standardized tests, there are a fair amount of “authentic” tests in the “real world.” Just ask any unionized tradesman or civil servant, as well as any doctor or lawyer, to name just a few occupations.

Still, my fascination with the idea of authentic assessment probably predates my being a teacher. Reading the piece by Frey, Schmitt, and Allen offered some great clarity on reestablishing a working definition of the term, authentic assessment, offering more nuance and meaning.

As a teacher consultant with the National Writing Project, I think I may be predisposed to operating within a Frey, Schmitt, and Allen frame. For example, genuine audiences have been of particular interest to me. As an English teacher, I have spent a lot of time over the years trying to make writing a genuinely authentic task, as much as possible in my classes.

In fact, I just pressed home the point with my three sections of ninth graders, saying, “All writing begins with an audience of one, and it’s you – the writer.” As a result, I have made an attempt to de-emphasize assignments and tasks that strike me as less authentic. I still have improvement to make but no one assignment currently rises to the level of a redesign. So, let me capture a recent experience and add to it looking forward.

Recounting an Authentic Change

For years, ninth graders at the school where I work were tasked with what I felt was a hackneyed attempt at a literary research paper, masquerading as a project focused more on the process of research. However, the product always proved to be more decisive than the process, and the results were often poor, semi-plagiarized, papers that amounted to little more than extended annotated bibliographies that only a teacher would ever see, with proper citation no given.

Sadly, this seems to be more prevalent in schools than I would like. What’s worse, few students were really learning the value of research skills, rarely were terribly interested in the author or their work, and usually experienced a significant drop in performance, not to mention their letter grade for that semester.

It took years for me to convince people of an alternative approach. Resistance to any change was strong, until it wasn’t. We were ready for rejuvenation.

Enter the late Ken Macrorie’s I-Search Paper. From his original “contextbook,” published in 1980, Ken Macrorie advances the idea that no one can begin looking at something without a preconceived notion. He honored the idea that research is a quest and the more personal the better. Admittedly, Macrorie’s text looks a little dated now. Yet it is remarkably prescient regarding a world-wide-webbed world. His ideas remain remarkably resonant.

Riffing off Macrorie’s basic idea, we refashioned our whole approach to teaching research and the final product. Students self-select the topic of their research. Crafting deep, interesting questions about topics of interest becomes central to the effort. We teachers focus primarily on skills associated with authentic research, especially in a world with Google merely a thumb-swipe away. We have re-oriented students toward gathering data from real people, rather than simply the Internet or library.

Now our students write something that looks a whole lot more like an I-Search paper than a traditional research paper. The task is actually more complex, with more moving parts, and engages students in process that is more preparatory for the kind of research they are likely to do in their lives, inside and outside of school. The process is primary, and the paper product has become more an exercise in how to prepare work for an audience of more than a single teacher, with proper formatting and citation. Best of all, it asks the student to investigate something in which they actually have an interest or care.

There remains a departmental resistance, but it has faded. However, since making the switch the results have actually been significantly improved. The papers are more interesting and reflect genuine research and investigation.

Looking Forward

As a team of teachers, we continue to modify and adjust our I-Search-influenced unit. I have experimented with different modes of presentation beyond simply a final papers, but this is where I would like to make this assessment even more authentic, in the truest spirit of the term.

As an exercise in distilling the quest into the most simplistic of terms, I have encouraged students to make Google Search Story videos. The old service simplifying the process is now gone, but I am considering it as a requirement, but I am still looking for more ways to make the work public. Now that we teach ninth grade in a 1:1 laptop environment, we have been employing blogging as a more routine practice for class. Thus, this year I will be leveraging our use of blogging as an integral part of the I-Search process, making the work more public and reflective in real time. Lastly, I am even considering having students distill their research into some kind of limited presentation, like a five slide deck or PechaKucha style, and having them script and record their presentation.

Getting Serious as a #SEACCR – Week 3 Reflections

Photo: Reflections

Reflections – cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Dead Habits

Use these guiding questions as you consider how you contributed to the learning of others:

Sharing Resources & Ideas

I have not been the best sharer of curated sources for this course, thus far. However, I suspect that may change in the coming weeks. There are a few projects that I might be able to offer assistance by sharing some known resources. So I suspect that I may be adding tot he Diigo group. Apart from the articles included in my annotated bibliography, I don’t believe I shared a lot of other resources. I have had my hands full trying to pursue my own line of inquiry.

Image: #SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper

#SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper – aggregating course activity

Still, I have been trying to continue to model different ways of archiving a lot of the Twitter chatter associated with class.  I do think that more frequent Twitter updates of the SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper that I created a couple of weeks ago, from the list I created, might be useful. It is a much cleaner way to read the latest activity from the course. Plus, assigns a ranking of top tweets, based in part on retweeting. I have now automated a tweet promoting the page of collected #SEACCR tweets to be published daily at 4:00 PM Alaskan Time. This should anticipate our weekly Twitter chats, which is an active period for fellow classmates. I may need to adjust the time. That is another item on which I need to solicit some feedback.

I am not sure how much use others will find the Tweeted Times paper, but it is more an experiment. I will try to solicit some more feedback in the next Twitter chat. I think not publishing regular updates very likely left it a forgotten resource by many. Plus, it may have been just a bit too much for anyone new to Twitter. However, by now most of the participants have been tweeting with much greater regularity.

Impact

It is pretty difficult to discern the impact I have made by participating in this course and community. I like to think that I am having some, but I am definitely removed from the Alaskan cohort, no matter how much I might try to stay connected.

In some ways, I have had to begin burrowing in my own head a bit more, as I suspect many other participants, trying to fashion a path that I will begin to take for my own inquiry. Narrowing and focusing a question, while investigating what is already out there in the research community is time consuming. Focusing on my own concerns necessarily cuts into the time for sharing, exchanging, and engaging with the community. Similarly, contributions from others become less visible and harder to track. Again, as everyone begins to emerge with a clearer vision of what they are pursuing and where they are headed, I imagine opportunities will arise where a greater impact can be made.

One area that I continue to try and make an impact is through commenting and encouraging colleagues by reading and responding to their blog posts. I have also been tweeting when I comment, in hopes of encouraging others to read and comment on those posts as well. I am not sure that it is working, but it also serves as a record of my own activity for myself, which has been useful. That is a tip I would encourage others to consider doing too.

It is really interesting and informative to read others’ blogposts. Of course there is the benefit of reading about their evolving project, which should reassure anyone that they are not alone. Yet, I find there is a lot to be gleaned from how individuals go about posting, including content, structure, and style. My observations make me think more about how I blog, something I have been giving a lot of thought for the last few months, as I have been making a concerted effort to post daily during the work week and at least once over the weekend.

Tracking Twitter Activity

Keeping with the tradition of using Storify to highlight contributions to the weekly Twitter chat, Here are a few tweets and exchanges that characterize some of my contributions and conversations from the week. Storify is proving to be a really useful tool, far more than I previously thought. It is perfect for collecting and curating Twitter activity in a narrative way, which is useful for an open course like this that leverages Twitter use by participants.

by  – Mon, Sep 30 2013 16:46:55

Tweets of a #SEACCR – Week 3

  1. Finally getting to read some fellow #SEACCR people’s reflections. @fadwa has solid list of differences in ELA standards…
  2. Interesting thoughts about #SEACCR action research question by @barbradonachy differentiationdiary.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/new…
  3. Here are examples of how I tweet the blogposts both to promote the work of others, as well as track my own activity. It is an easy practice that others might find worth doing, as well.
  4. BTW If anyone wants to be added to the #seaccr list I made twitter.com/akh003/lists/s… just let me know – don’t know if I missed anyone
  5. This was an effort to ensure that I have all the #SEACCRs listed in  Twitter list, which I also use to generate the SEACCR Tweeted Times newspaper. The list seems appreciated and having an impact.
  6. I am thinking my #seaccr question will give me excuse to finally get @hickstro Troy Hicks’ new book – been wanting to get it anyway
  7. @akh003 That’s great, thanks. Is #seaccr a teacher research project? That seems to be what I am getting from the tweets.
  8. @hickstro @akh003 It is – a nine week experience to help teachers conduct research in their classrooms! #seaccr
  9. @ak_leeg @akh003 Sounds great! Please let me know if I can be of help… I am always interested in teacher research. #seaccr
  10. @hickstro @akh003 #seaccr we’d love for you to come in at 4:30 AKDT on Tuesday or Thursday with us! A wonderful group of AK teachers others
  11. As it turns out, Troy Hicks’ new book may not impact my inquiry as much as I originally thought. However, mentioning him did prompt a response, which may result in his participating in one of our upcoming Twitter chats which would no doubt benefit everyone. Hicks is a great ambassador scholar.
  12. Wondering if I can find any #seaccr literature on using Google Docs with students that isn’t propaganda, plenty on reader response grps
  13. @akh003 #seaccr I wouldn’t focus on Google Docs…that won’t be the end all – it will be the way you use it – your teaching strategies & Mgmt
  14. @ak_leeg I hear you, but I am interested in how the built in digital collaboration of GDocs changes the writing process for students #seaccr
  15. @akh003 #seaccr ah – well I’ll do some looking and see if I can find…I’m sure there are articles and conf proceedings. Tried Google Scholar?
  16. @ak_leeg Will do. Just starting the #seaccr hunting and gathering
  17. @JNUrain @ak_leeg Not quite. More interested in the tool’s impact on reader response groups and the writing process. #seaccr
  18. @JNUrain @ak_leeg Wondering what the impact actually is? Does that live interactive ability record comments and such help or hinder? #seaccr
  19. Here is a longer exchange around my inquiry that helped clarify and lead to an instructional video from Dr. Lee Graham. That in turn helped me identify a number of potentially helpful sources to read.
  20. @RazorMath @BarbraDonachy @ak_teacher I’m gatherin you all know the mother of differentiation in Carol Ann Tomlinson #seaccr – met her once
  21. @akh003 @BarbraDonachy @ak_teacher #seaccr – I didn’t, but I actually haven’t looked into anything. thanks! You just gave me some good info
  22. THis exchange was all about sharing knowledge and assisting a colleague with a potential resource.
  23. @fadwaedais So I am really fascinated what you find with this. I can tip you to a bunch of stuff that they have done in Australia #seaccr
  24. @fadwaedais You might want to take a look at the work of David Rose and JR Martin from Univ. of Sydney #seaccr – fascinating stuff as alt.
  25. Similarly, continuing to pass information that may be helpful, based on prior knowledge and project.

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Final Thoughts from the Week that Was

Ultimately, I was able to get a good start on gathering up some research material and articles. I still hope to dig a bit deeper into the roots of peer response groups, since that is a considerable foundation for my line of inquiry. I know from reading and experience that quality peer response groups are predicated on explicit teaching and practice. It takes time to cultivate practices and habits that are beneficial. My hope is to find some additional methods and strategies to improve the groups as well as glean insights into how Google Docs might be better leveraged in the process.