Monthly Archives: April 2012

RIP The Week That Was Wasted

Dear students,The anti-education
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we wasted your time this week. Sorry you had to sit and wait and wait and wait while your peers finished the exam that takes everything else you do in school and belittles it. Sorry you’ve been brought up in the generation of test, test, test where teach, teach, teach means nothing unless it culminates in Commended.
I’m sorry I had to look at you and say “no talking, no questions, no, no, no” unless, of course, your question was could you read a book when you were done.
I’m sorry I had to break out the teacher look when the entire class was done within 90 minutes, and yet you had to sit silently for 4 hours in your perfect little rows of 5X5, facing forward in classrooms covered in butcher paper so you wouldn’t actually learn something.
I’m sorry the politicians we elected listened to business owners and testing companies instead of educators about how best to ensure you are learning.
I’m sorry I didn’t stand up earlier and say enough is enough.
I’m sorry I didn’t educate your parents on what the test-only culture was doing to our classrooms.
I’m afraid now I might be too late. But I won’t be silent, and neither will most of your other teachers.
Something has to change. I’m sorry it won’t change in time to make a difference for you.
And, yes, I realize the test is done. I realize that you’ve been brought up in a culture that says the test is all that matters. But, dear students, that is wrong. And while the test is done, class is not.
I’ll see you Monday. I might not be able to recapture a week of lost learning, but for the next four weeks, we’re going to learn without the pressures of the test. Hopefully, the teacher look can be put away until next year’s week of no, no, no. No learning, no questions, no real answers other than A, B, C, D.
If you’d like to bring a book for downtime, AWESOME. I have some suggestions for you, and our library is fantastic.
Perhaps we’ll have a wake for the week that was wasted.

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I Just Thought Fahrenheit 451 Was Sci-Fi

The following CHILLING conversation between teachers, k-12 and higher ed, took place on my Facebook page last week. I’ve included my original post so readers understand what started the narrative. Read it all. It won’t take long.

My original post: From TCEA 2012 Dr. Howie DiBlasi
The skills today’s business leaders say we need to be teaching

•Communications skills
Information and communications skills
Effective Communication
Presentation skills
Use digital technology and communication tools to
Oral and written communication
———————————–
•Inventive/Critical Thinking
Thinking and problem-solving skills;
Creative problem solving
Critical and analytical thinking
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
“Thinking outside of the box” – creativity and innovation
Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity
Creativity and Innovation
———————————–
•21st Century tools
Use 21st Century tools to develop learning skills
Teach and learn in a 21st century context
Use 21st Century Assessments that measure 21st Century Skills
Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments
Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility
Digital Age Literacy
Technology Operations and Concepts
Ability to apply discipline knowledge and concepts
———————————–
•Creating global citizens
“Knowing more about the world” – creating global citizens
Teamwork
“Developing good people skills” – teamwork
Learn academic content through real-world examples
Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
Productivity and Professional Practice
Collaboration skills and projects
———————————–
•Information literacy
“Becoming smarter about new sources of information” – information literacy
Collect and/or retrieve information
Organize and manage information · Interpret and present information
Evaluate the quality, relevance, and usefulness of information
Generate accurate information through the use of existing resources
Information gathering, evaluation and synthesis
Research and Information Fluency
Identify trends and forecast possibilities.
Literacy and numeracy
———————————–
•Personal attributes
Personal attributes such as ambition, self-awareness and an inquiring mind.
Time management and organization
Interpersonal and self-directional skills
Initiative and enterprise
Adaptability
High Productivity
Balanced lifestyle and capacity to manage stress levels
Emotional intelligence; interpersonal skills
Community involvement
Polly Wagner Birkhead A lot of things will have to change in the education world before this will happen!! But I pray the changes do come and soon!!
Thursday at 8:08pm
Mary Beth Lee Me too! Notice there’s one mention of assessment, and I don’t think it’s talking about TAKS or STAAR.
Thursday at 8:10pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead EXACTLY!!
Thursday at 8:19pm
Brittany Norman Even at the college level, we’re sacrificing communication classes. New curriculum regulations are cutting hours from the core, and the state has mandated that those cuts be made from composition and speech classes. Beginning in 2013, instead of 2 semesters of composition and 1 semester of speech, students will only be required to take one semester of composition and then choose between speech or comp for their second credit. That means that students who have trouble writing will probably opt for speech, and students who struggle with public speaking or are shy will choose to write, ensuring that they never have to face their weaknesses. (Also, without second semester comp, there’s no research component in the core ENglish curriculum… so how’s that for information literacy?) I don’t know how, but we have got to find a way to put people who understand education–who LIVE it every day and see what students need–in charge of crafting curricula and setting priorities. As long as a bunch of career politicians–whose primary concern is ensuring their own reelections–are in control, we’re never going to get back on course.
Thursday at 8:31pm
Mary Beth Lee That’s terrifying, Brittany. Who thought that was a good idea? It’s insane!
Thursday at 8:33pm
Brittany Norman According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (at least the last time I checked), the NUMBER ONE shortcoming of recent college grads–and this is according to some of the country’s major employers–is a lack of communication skills, both written and oral. So what does the Texas legislature do? Cuts down on the amount of written and oral communication training students have built into the core curriculum–and for students in some majors, that’s the only communication training that they get throughout their entire college careers (until/unless they fail the writing proficiency exam at MSU their senior year, in which case they have to take another composition skills course. The exam is given before students can start their “senior-level” hours. This year, the failure rate was absolutely staggering).
Thursday at 8:36pm
Mary Beth Lee The conspiracy theorist in me screams SEE, THEY WANT TO PRIVATIZE ALL EDUCATION. They’re destroying education on purpose. There’s an agenda. But then I shake my head and say, nope, they’re just idiots.
Thursday at 8:40pm
Peggy Browning I agree with the idiocy diagnosis.
Thursday at 8:44pm
Charlotte Wittel Dockery maybe they are idiots with an agenda
Thursday at 8:46pm
Peggy Browning That’s a possibility.
Thursday at 8:46pm
Brittany Norman I think the real problem is that things like communication skills, critical thinking, and creativity can’t be easily quantified, even though they’re very real. The education system in general (at least in the US) has a real problem with misplaced concreteness. If you can’t slap a (grossly inflated) grade on it, give it a percentile ranking, and compare it against “everyone else” (meaning, of course, only other schools in the state/country, because we don’t want to even consider how poorly we’re stacking up against the rest of the world right now) to somehow prove that everyone is “above average” even though that entire concept is ridiculous and impossible, no one wants to hear about it. And as long as the entire system is built around standardized test scores and students, parents, and educators are pressured into seeking “more-than-perfect” GPA’s just to make it into the top 10 percent and get into a state school…. nothing is going to change. You can’t assign a number to critical thinking or communication skills, which means… you can’t attach a corresponding dollar value to it.
And I know I’m rambling and going off on a major rant here, but the education system in the US hasn’t changed a whole lot (other than just becoming more and more grade and test-obsessed) since the 1950s, when a big goal of education, especially K-12, was to train students to become functional and successful cogs in the industrial machine. Our economy is no longer driven by factories. The US exports innovation–at least in theory–and the current system doesn’t provide any space in the curriculum to let students THINK. They learn how to take tests, but the real world isn’t a multiple choice exam–it’s open-ended.
Thursday at 8:53pm
Polly Wagner Birkhead I agree with Brittany! 100%. Well said!!
Thursday at 9:03pm
Brittany Norman This facebook discussion led me back to a paper I wrote in a sci-fi lit class back in undergrad because one paragraph of it fits in perfectly here. I remember re-reading Fahrenheit 451 in that class–I had read it at least a half dozen times already, but had never really focused in on the bleak future Bradbury had been forecasting for education. And… I’m afraid he was right. There are far too many situations these days where our classrooms eerily echo those in Bradbury’s dystopia. The first quote in the following paragraph is one that comes to mind far too often these days.

“Even education is prepackaged and directed toward a quantifiable goal – passing standardized tests. Multiple-choice examinations require no thought or analysis – only memorization. Clarisse’s description of education eerily echoes today’s uninspired classroom environments. “We never ask questions, or at least most don’t,” she laments. “They just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing…. It’s a lot of funnels and a lot of water poured down the spout and out the bottom, and them telling us it’s wine when it’s not” (Bradbury 30). Class, homework, and sports combine with extra-curricular activities, community service, part-time jobs, and SAT-prep courses. High school graduates walk the stage at commencement with a mind full of facts and simplified answers they were never taught to question. No one learns to think because thought cannot be tested, measured, and ranked. Instead, education focuses on tangible skills. College students no longer crave knowledge; they build résumés. Bradbury’s antagonistic fire chief echoed the sentiments of many degree candidates: “Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?” (Bradbury 56). Enrollment in pre-professional programs skyrockets while the arts and humanities flounder. Graduates yearn for assured employment, functional cogs in the corporate consumer machine. Interchangeable parts require only efficiency, not imagination. When that machine inevitably succumbs to obsolescence, there might be no one left to re-invent it.”
Thursday at 9:44pm

Breaking Through Comfort Zones

“Mrs. Leeeeeeee, I don’t wannaaaaaa. What if my teachers say I can’ttttttttt?”

Here’s the deal. I’ve been accused of picking favorites. Look me up on teacher sites, and you’ll see it. I admitted to the class where a student asked the above question that it’s true. I do pick favorites. Do your work? You’re a favorite. Don’t? You’re not.
Truth. Might be wrong, but it is what it is.
Does that mean I won’t work with you? Nope. Does it mean I’m going to let you skate by being a solid C-D-F student and not jump up and down, tease, cajole, insist, call your parents, make you call your parents while I’m standing there (great idea from a great English teacher), do everything in my power to make you one of my favorites? Nope. If you’re in my class, I don’t plan on letting you skate (unless you bring skates to the room. It’s big enough now to do that.). In fact, if you’re not doing your work, I’m going to make you as uncomfortable as I can. If you’re not doing your work and you’re comfortable in my classroom, I’m not doing my job.
The girl with the above quote? She’s one of my favorites. Most of my students fit that bill.
I’m in the middle of revamping my program. Because of that, I’m pushing kids out of their comfort zones. I figure the above conversation intro will be repeated time and time again over the next six weeks. The next couple weeks we’re touching on photography. We’re using Walsworth’s curriculum and taking it step by step. Step one: Visual Storytelling. I knew she was going to freak when I told all of the students they were doing this. It took six months to get her comfortable with interviewing. If I’d let her sit in front of the computer and design or write editorials and reviews–especially book reviews, she’d be in HEAVEN. But I wouldn’t be doing my job.
So I made her take the photos and narrow them down to 5-7 to tell a story. She has to have a lead image, variety and a closer.
I’m gone to Regionals tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what she has when I get back. And if she still needs to do the work, I know I can get her to do it when I’m back. Because she’s that kid. She wants to do a good job. She CAN do a good job. But she’s afraid.
She’s afraid of people looking at her while she’s holding the camera, of teachers telling her to put the camera away, of doing the work wrong, of doing something she really has no idea how to do because my instructions after an overview of visual storytelling were pretty general: Find a Rider story and tell it photographically.
She wants specifics. And she wants to hide. And she wants to be comfortable.
Not going to happen.
And when we’re done, maybe not this time–or the next–or the next, but before she leaves my program, she’ll have learned how to get out of her comfort zone. How when you walk into a room sure of yourself and your mission, people generally let you go about your business, especially when you have a press pass.
And while I’m teaching her and the other kids in my program, I’m teaching myself the same thing.
Because once upon a time, I WAS AFRAID. I didn’t want to be noticed. I was afraid of failure and wanted to be left alone in the world of newspaper and yearbook advising, and I didn’t want to worry about other technology or education reform or campus leadership. Once upon a time the only people who knew my thoughts and feelings were close friends. But a good teacher friend of mine who taught debate and WFISD’s Leadership Cohort changed me.
And if I don’t get her out of HER comfort zone, I’m letting that old me come back into the picture. Not going to happen.

RIP Sprinkles

I brought Sprinkles home a month into my first year of teaching. She was the runt of a barn cat litter. My class “gave” her to me because DH, who at the time was D fiance, had said no pets. The minute she came home with me she was much DH’s cat as mine. First, any time he had the TV on The Weather Channel or Scooby Doo, she stopped to watch with him. 2nd, she’d actually sit on his chest in bed.
Sprinkles loved babies. She was a gentle soul and scaredy cat. DH had to climb up a ladder to get her from the roof more than once. We finally figured out that if she could get herself up there, she could get herself down. She didn’t like that decision on our part, but she did finally quit getting on the roof.
We had a mean neighbor cat who always tried to beat her up and actually succeeded a couple times. For some silly reason I insisted on her having a collar with a bell on it. Every time she walked into the front yard, she announced her presence.
She loved to lay outside on the sidewalk in the sun. And she loved to chase Barbie Doll heads when she was a kitten.
She liked to play with string on a branch, and still would every once in a while until the last month.
DD named her the day I brought her home.
She loved to do Pilates with me, which I always found funny. She’d lay on her back and copy me while I did the 100.
If I was on the Total Gym, she insisted on being in the living room with me.
She only ate her dry cat food, cereal milk and left over vanilla ice cream until the last couple years when she developed a taste for Oatmeal Cream Pies, cheese, bacon and chicken, but even then, she only liked a taste of those foods, not a meal.
She grew old while we–DH, DD and I–all grew up.
She was a good cat, and we loved her dearly. Taking her to the vet this morning was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.
As much as this hurts today, the last 18 years were worth it.

Sprinkles Kitty Lee August 1994-April 12, 2012.

Building on the Values of No Child Left Behind


Since NCLB took hold we’ve seen entire generations of children taught to bubble in answers like pros while losing the ability to problem solve and think critically. Our schools are earning “Exemplary” ratings, and yet, the only subjects students learn are those measured by a test. Testing companies and their lobbyists are earning billions while school districts try to balance budgets. Teachers and administrators across the nation are calling for change, but politicians and lobbyists–most of whom have never set foot in a public school–continue to beat the drum of test, test, test. The test in and of itself is not the problem. Having a tool to measure data is a good thing. The problem is politicians bought into testing company lies that the test was the salvation of education. And then they tied everything we do in education to that lie. Instead of investing in great teacher training and effective strategies for everything from classroom management to best learning practices, we invest in hour upon hour of “How to actively monitor a test” and “keeping the test secure.” (more)
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

(continued) The test has done nothing to improve teaching other than helping teachers learn to analyze data. While that’s not a bad thing, when it comes at the expense of actual student learning, it’s terrible.
Has their been some success in closing the achievement gap? Yes. Would that success happen without NCLB and its test driven theory that has created big business for Pearson, et al? Yes. We were already working on best practices before NCLB. True best practices, not best test taking practices. Reading this post, I have to wonder if the author has even looked at the exit-level tests we’re giving children today. If not, he should. And then he should take a released practice test, publish his results and then talk about how the test translates into real world learning and how NCLB saved education. Talk to professors and they’ll tell you the truth: today’s students aren’t prepared for post-secondary learning, but they are expert standardized test takers. I’m sorry, but I just don’t see standardized test taker as a great career path for any student, regardless of socioeconomic class.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Empty Nest No More

So after two years, our empty nest is full. Or somewhat full. Or as full as a 17-yr-old niece can make it.
ON (Oldest Niece), as she chose to be called here, is now a Rider Raider. It’s been quite the last 10 days to say the least.
Today ON got a taste of Auntie’s kind of parenting.
There’s a boy…
Geez, it’s been a long time since I’ve worried about boys. DD is nearly 22. I can worry all day long, but she’s going to do what she’s going to do. So a year ago I quit worrying about her boy and switched to prayer alone.
ON’s another story.
I “encouraged” ON and the boy to hang out in the newsroom this morning before school. I think he thought he was getting away without the interrogation. I waited until 5 minutes before the bell just so I could watch him. And then I asked him to come talk to me for a few minutes. ON groaned. It was hilarious.
I have no idea if the boy is interested in talking to ON outside of school or not. If he is, he gets to run the Uncle Gauntlet. DH gets people right away. He’s always right. I made sure ON knows the boy will have to meet Uncle.

If you’re a praying person, prayers are greatly appreciated for us and ON. If you’re not, positive thoughts work, too!

I plan on blogging more regularly again now that things seem to be settled.