Education reports spur more ideas about teaching

I recently read three articles from The Atlantic, all of which concerned education and how the world of teaching our youth is changing and needs to be adapted to a changing world and type of learner.

These three articles really got me thinking. As has been a theme on this blog of late, I’m searching for the utopian method of teaching English. These articles fueled the fire of my ideas. They gave me hope and made me feel like I might be on the right track.

Furthermore, these articles gave me more ideas.

David Coleman. He is the man behind the Common Core Standards. This article gives a good look at what spurred the shift to a national standard to judge student learning. I’m going to highlight the points I found most interest:

  • Coleman: “‘It is you as teachers who have this obligation’ to ask students ‘to read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.'”
    • This is great! This single thought really helps me rethink what I’m doing.
  • “. . . Coleman was a lead architect of the Common Core standards, which emphasize canonical literature — think Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda — and serious nonfiction texts across all subjects, from math (Euclid’s Elements), to science (medical articles by The New Yorker’s Atul Gawande), to social studies (the Declaration of Sentiments from the feminist Seneca Falls Convention of 1848). He has spent the past year traveling from state to state, showing English teachers how to lead a close reading of great literature.”
  • Many of lauded this venture, but others have been critical
    • “But what has proved most controversial is Coleman’s unilateral vision for American students, of college as the goal and a college-prep curriculum as the means. In public education, a new reform is always coming down the pike.”
  • Some educational theorists “argued that the best way to empower children and build literacy skills — especially for students from poor or racially marginalized households — was to assign them books featuring characters similar to themselves, and to encourage them to write freely about their own lives.”
    • “Another strand of education theory prioritizes getting kids reading rather than insisting they read high-quality books.”
    • “For Coleman, the problem lies no just in what kids are reading, but in how they’re taught to think about it.”
  • Different types of writing are valued by high schools and colleges: “while high-school teachers reward students for the organization and wording of their essays, college professors placed greater value on strong thesis statements backed by evidence from the curriculum.”
  • The Common Core: “has a blanket definition of ‘college and career ready'”
    • Some think: “ignores the reality that each student has different strengths and weaknesses, and that every job requires a specific set of skills — some of which are best taught in the workplace, not in the classroom.”
  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (Republican): “believes that many children, teachers, and schools may have to be declared ‘failing’ before the public understands the urgency of school reform.”
    • Bush wants schools to fail to prove a point. There seems to be no desire for pro-active attempts to prevent a collapse.
  • Coleman says of the shift to Common Core: it “will probably lead to ‘a short-term reduction in [test] scores'”
  • Coleman’s utopia: “classrooms are intellectually stimulating havens”

Faced with an impending closure of her school due to poor performance, New Dorp (on New York’s Staten Island) Principal Deirdre DeAngelis decided to investigate why here students were performing so badly. She and her faculty eventually reached a common answer — bad writing. “Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impending intellectual growth in many subjects.” Here are the points I found most interesting:

  • Common Core causes elementary students to write differently. They will be “required to write informative and persuasive essays” instead of “personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction” as they learn to write.
    • By high school: “expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.”
  • Common Core’s architect, David Coleman: “the new writing standards are meant to reverse a pedagogical pendulum that has swung too far, favoring self-expression and emotion over lucid communication. ‘As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t’ [care] ‘about what you feel or what you think.'”
    • 25 years ago: “The popular thinking was that writing should be ‘caught, not taught,’ explains Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State University. Roughly it was suppose to work like this: Give students interesting creative-writing assignments; put that writing in a fun, social context in which kids share their work. Kids, the theory goes, will ‘catch’ what they need in order to be successful writers. Formal lesson in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression.”
    • “Middle- and high-school teachers were supposed to provide the expository- and persuasive-writing instruction.”
  • No Child Left Behind: “Literacy, which once consisted of the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and express complex thoughts about the written word, has become synonymous with reading. Formal writing instruction has become even more of an afterthought.”
  • When studying to become teachers, would-be educators “don’t learn how to teach writing.”
  • Teach students how to turn ideas into simple sentences and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to “three prompts — but, because, and so.”
  • “Research has shown that thinking, speaking, and reading comprehension are interconnected and reinforced through good writing instruction.”
  • Students used specific prompts to take part in classroom discussions:
    • “I agree/disagree with ____ because …”
    • “I have a different opinion …”
    • “I have something to add …”
    • “Can you explain your answer?”
  • Some writing experts worry: “championing expository and analytic writing at the expense of creative expression is shortsighted.”

This article asserts that students are better at evaluating teachers than administrators or anyone else because the students have more exposure to the teachers. Therefore, students should take surveys about the teachers to evaluate their effectiveness. This mimics what takes place in colleges across the country. The following are the points I found interesting:

  • Research: “if you asked the kids the right questions, they could identify, with uncanny accuracy, their most — and least — effective teachers.”
  • “Should teachers be paid, trained, or dismissed based in part on what children say about them?”
    • I believe the answer is no, but I think their input could be valuable.
  • Getting the input from the students is strange and different from what the students are used to.
  • “Test scores can reveal when kids are not learning; they can’t reveal why.”
  • “Students were better than trained adult observers at evaluating teachers.”
  • “Even if one kid had a grudge against a teacher or just blew off the survey, his response alone couldn’t sway the average.”
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation conducted a survey. Five of the questions they asked were found to give a good picture of student learning:
    • Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.
    • My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.
    • Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.
    • In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.
    • In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.
  • Timothy Daly, the New Teacher Project (nonprofit based in Brooklyn) President and former teacher: “The advent of student feedback in teacher evaluations is among the most significant developments for education reform in the last decade.”
  • Some are “wary of forcing anything on teachers”
  • “Students’ expectations seemingly rise along with their family income.”

Conclusion

First, before I briefly run through my thoughts on all of these articles, I have to point out that the last article, “Why Kids Should Grade Teachers,” doesn’t necessarily relate directly to my teaching of English. However, it is a very interesting notion. After all, colleges have the students fill out evaluations on their teachers at the end of every semester. I believe having the students’ voices heard is valuable. After all, as the article pointed out, they have the most contact with the teachers and are best equipped judge the effectiveness of the educator.

However, for the students’ opinions to be valid, one must consider the fact that at present they are not necessarily comfortable with the shift to the Common Core, which has the students taking a more active role in their own education. Their frustrations with not simply having the answer spoon-fed to them could likely cause the system of student evaluations to not accurately reflect the effectiveness of the teachers because the students might feel they aren’t being “taught.”

This brings me to “The Schoolmaster.” I think the concept Coleman has come up with is noble. Leveling the playing field is a good idea. My favorite part of it is where it calls for students to become more involved in their own education. As I’ve written about previously, I am trying to introduce that in my classes.

I strongly disagree with Jeb Bush. Just letting schools fail is ridiculous. Why would anyone in their right mind think it is OK to let something as important as education fail just to prove a point? That is idiotic.

I do agree with the fact that there is a disconnect between the styles of writing high schools and colleges value. I’m going to change how I teach this. Since the Common Core is supposed to be a “college and career ready” program, I am going to try to teach my students how to write for college and abandon the teaching of “high school” writing.

Speaking of writing, the article about “The Writing Revolution” also gave me a host of great ideas.

First, the article was correct. I was taught how to teach writing. I do a lot of writing myself, and I feel I have a good grasp on it. However, that doesn’t mean I know how to best teach it. I’m going to work on that.

I think using the three simple prompts and the four more complex prompts is a great idea. I’m going to incorporate them.

I think creative writing is important, but I am a journalist by trade. Therefore, I like the notion of having the students write more informative, analytical and persuasive pieces.

Overall, I found this series to be a great read that truly stimulated thought. Of course, I’m still not at the point where I know how to achieve my utopia, but I feel like I’m making progress every day.

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