Where Are You with Tech?
I am definitely "Handoff" all the way, but you as a teacher can have reasons for being elsewhere on this chart- all that's important is that you've thought about it and are making a tech integration choice that is the one you believe best suits you and your students' own strengths and needs. (Thanks to Jen Roberts on Twitter. I prefer this chart to the SAMR model of thinking about tech integration!)
The State of Education, in Cake
I imagine today will not be the last time I use the tag "wild speculation" in a post, but here's the first:
This cake story on Mr. Losik's site inspired this post.
I appreciate Mr. Losik and his website certainly attests to the fact that he is not a "good old days" kind of teacher. However, the example of this cake is one that is being misused by others, educators and critics alike. Indeed the image is probably being laughed about right at this moment somewhere in America by the kind of disrespectful teacher that derides young people all planning period in the staff room.
There are exactly NONE of those teachers at my school and I am grateful for that every day. But they exist. To blame this incident on the education system not being stringent enough in its grammar and spelling instruction is wrong. This incident is NOT a failure of the cake decorator's spelling and grammar teachers, but of our entire school system's critical thinking instruction and multiple intelligence training, not only for cake decorator but also his or her manager. Disagreements are welcome but here is how I see it:
During a summer training a few years ago, when I was talking about educating all students, a fellow teacher said to me "but society needs someone to work the crap jobs" and to that stunning feat of pessimism I now reply, "No, in the 21st century we need someone to invent jobs and processes that free people from having no other option but a poor career match."
A bad career to one person is not so to another, but there are job mismatches and this cake story is one of those. (It is also a cautionary tale to retail establishments who don't have proper quality control procedures in place. I am sure there are words that someone may like on a cake that even an impeccably-educated student may not know how to spell. Also sometimes customers may purposely misspell for inside jokes and colloquial expressions.)
Yes, the cake story has larger implications for education reform, but not what many think at first glance.
Please try to get a mental picture of the person behind the icing bag. Allow me to use my completely unscientific and entirely anecdotal imagination to help you imagine a scenario beyond laughing at what a poor speller the employee is and tsk tsk- ing about his or her poor grammar and work ethic. Let's call this person "Cake Decorator " (We can't tax our imaginations too much right here at the beginning):
Cake Decorator is a person with a life, bills to pay, people who love him or her, dreams, aspirations, and skills -- yes, SKILLS (obviously cake decorating is not one of them, and neither is grammar or spelling, but there is SOMETHING this decorator does extremely well, has an affinity for, does better than you or I could do even if we took a class on it!) -- Don't forget that as you look at that bad cake.
Cake Decorator does not have mastery of verb tenses or spelling, or even the icing bag. Is the cake then evidence that today's classrooms are too lax on spelling and grammar instruction? I don't think so. Cake Decorator is in a career mismatch. That Cake Decorator seems not to know or act on that is the true failing of our education system.
K12 education does not free employers from having to have good staffing, training, and quality control practices. There is a problem at this WalMart. (I shop at Walmart, I'm not hating, that is just obvious. If I applied for a job in a field in which I have no skill, even with my good education and resume and work ethic, I would hope someone would have the sense to turn me down!)
Cake Decorator is getting paid low wages without benefits for a job he or she is ill-suited to work. Cake Decorator may be feeling trapped. Cake Decorator should probably look for a new job but Walmart may be the only show in town. Or MAYBE Cake Decorator's 11-13 years of schooling in a system that rewarded grammar and spelling but none of his or her skills has left Cake Decorator feeling worthless. "No point looking for a job because I can't do anything well," Cake Decorator may say to him or herself. (Cake Decorator probably did not use the word "well" as I just imagined in that last sentence. That's almost a definite.) Sometimes what a person learns from years of school is not to ask for help- to lay low and get by. That's the part of education we need to change.
Some readers may think "Ha! Cake Decorator will finally get what he or she deserves now! They should have worked harder in school! They probably cut classes, they probably mouthed off to their teachers or sat in the back with their head down. Now they will reap what they sowed - they deserve years and years of misery as punishment for not playing the game of school by the rules!" This thinking is blind to how academic curriculum and assessment daily fails to honor the full range of human gifts in the structure of schooling as it stands.
We graduate far too many students who are steeped in years of being labeled losers at a game that is very clearly rigged toward only a certain kind of smart.
Is the solution to the problem that we should make future students like our unfortunate friend Cake Decorator study more grammar, take more spelling tests? Or could a solution be that we teach those things, but also give Cake Decorator, and those like him or her a chance to hone equally important skills in a k12 setting?
Good grammar is one ticket into the middle class and as such should be valued in education; somewhat less so is good spelling. But these thing are NOT, NOT, I repeat, indicators of intelligence, capability, talent, or skill.
I wish I had taught Cake Decorator. If I had, I can't promise that he or she would be any better of a speller or would be any more likely to speak or write standard Midwestern-accented English, but he or she would, I hope, have learned from me that they were gifted at something, just the same. That, in the inspiring words of Angela Maiers, they are a genius and world needs their contribution.
I would hope that the assignments I gave Cake Decorator would have led him or her on a better path of training, would have kept him or her from dropping out literally or metaphorically, would have led them to create an amazing senior exit project on some topic about which most of us reading this blog know almost nothing. I'd like to imagine that that their project presentation would have blown away the judges because I as the teacher advisor would have shown young Cake Decorator how to minimize their weaknesses by maximizing their strengths.
if I had taught Cake Decorator, I'd like to think they would have learned to speak up and to self-educate when they are tasked with a job they are not qualified for; that they would be more discerning about their own qualifications and how to improve them. College- and career-ready doesn't mean "ready for any possible career" and employers can just slap people into place like cogs.
A good education should helps people, employers as well as employees, discern mismatches and fix them. More grammar worksheets and spelling tests won't fix the problems of a student like Cake Decorator. However, education advances such as PBL, maker movement, STEAM integration, genius hour will.
Maybe if more schools head the 21st-century direction that today's reflective teachers are moving, we will metaphorically have more career matches like that of the Wynn's cake decorator and fewer metaphorical -or literal -Walmart Cake Decorator career mismatches. The market won't bear everyone who wants to be a basketball player becoming one. The market won't bear every talented artist becoming a studio artist. But a good education with a background in critical thinking will help students choose the right match and learn how to adjust themselves in the real world.
What a great time to be a teacher!
In which I share with you my most crushing teacher moment:
A lot of the ed world is talking about how valuable failure is to students who have a growth mindset, and how we educators shouldn't protect students from this growth opportunity.
I want to talk to you about the value of your own failures, too, and how we can use them to make us better teachers. Let's start with one of my many cringeworthy teaching moments that changed me for the better. It happened 19 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.
It was the last day of school my first year at Piedmont. I was maybe in year 6 of my teaching, I loved my school and students, and I had hit my stride. I was no longer floundering, I was so effective, so clever, so sure that I was changing each one of my students' lives for the better.
"They are so lucky to have had me instead of a more dull teacher", I may have thought as my students filed out for the summer. One student, an honors student, a popular and attractive girl, hands me an envelope from her mom. "Oh how nice, a handwritten thank you" I may have thought. When I opened the business-style trifold letter from her mom, I read three pages of how a throwaway sarcastic joke I had made in October crushed this girl and made her secretly resent me for the rest of the year.
The mom described to me in detail how the child had come home and cried because of my callous choice of words. I remembered the incident. It happened when the student couldn't locate a word on a page (I had assigned a worksheet--even worse!) The word was right in front of her and I pointed to it and ....now I am too embarrassed to even write what i said but I called her a name one middle schooler might call another middle schooler when they make an obvious mistake. I chuckled. She laughed probably, we moved on.
Now I am staring at pages of complaint. This mom has waited until the last day of school to let me know how I hurt her daughter. I am crushed. I pen a reply and put it in the mail within hours. Pages of reply, heartfelt apology, sincere compliments. "I would never have said it if I truly thought that about your daughter, ma'am. It is because it seemed so obvious that she is brillant that I made the ridiculous insult. Please let her know...."
I never heard back. It is one of the most painful lessons of my teaching career. I hurt a child with my callousness. I need to be more careful. This job is no joke.
That was when I got rid of sarcasm and I am a better teacher for it. I've since heard from others that there is no place for it in a shared inquiry environment and I totally agree. Others use it and they feel it works. I am not sure. All I know is that I will never do it again. The incident made me a better teacher.
Maybe you have a story like this, a big embarrassing teacher fail. You're not alone. We all grow through pain.
The Celebrating Piedmont blog is all about affirming your great teaching moments. I want you to know that your "crawl under a rock moments" are useful and necessary for growth, too.
This is a link to another reflective teacher's cringworthy moment. We all have had them and we are all moving forward together!
The only reason we need gifted education progams is because of poor pedagogy and misguided objectives in mainstream education. If we Flipped Bloom's, there would be no need for gifted pullouts.
A lot of you aren't going to like what I say so let me begin by saying I am gifted.
A famous blogger likes to remind readers that she was valedictorian of her high school, because there are too few opportunities in real life to get mileage out of the H-E-double-hockey-sticks she put herself teenage self through to earn that distinction.
Twenty five years out, I still get mileage out of my ivy league degree because it's shorthand- it lets people know I am a smart person. Smart Person capital S capital P. I have been told my whole life that I was winning at school. Why? Because I can read well and quickly, because I can tear through a standardized test like nobody's business, because I can think of plenty of uses for a paper clip...
That is all great. I appreciate that about myself, even if a fair portion of my gifts probably grew as a direct result of my being seen as gifted by others. I also have all the "quirks" that gifted kids supposedly have. And I'm ok with that, too. I've grown into my style and that is why adulthood is so great for us nerds.
However, what really grates me about the fact that we, the education world, label gifted children is that in doing so we are effectively deciding that their type of smart (our type of smart) is better and more valued than other types. The thing is though, that it is not.
Don't even tell me that the gifted label takes a broad range of gifts into account because it does not.
What's more, the children who, at the tender age of 8 are told "You are not a winner in this contest of school", what are we doing to them? What is it like for them to spend 13 years in a system that says to them daily "You are not winning, you are average, you bottom half", or worse. This is not what education should be doing. We are shutting kids down.
What we should be in the business of doing is nurturing the giftedness of all of our learners, not just the quick readers, clever thinkers, math whizzes. Because all children deserve to be winning.
Before you say that I am one of those "everybody gets a trophy" people, please consider that I am not saying build up children by lying to them, I am saying we educators need to remove our blinders so we can recognize and nurture the gifts that are truly there in each child.
Those blinders will never come off as long as we keep saying "These kids with the asterisks next to their names, these are the ones who need a challenge, who can accomplish more than you can imagine."
Quick-thinking kids are not the ONLY talented ones. They are not the only ones deserving of a break, deserving of the understanding that their considerable talents also come with considerable weaknesses (labelled "quirks" instead of "faults" or "problems" as they are for other students) Gifted kids are merely talented in what our business happens to be, but our business - the business of academics - has changed rapidly in this era of the information revolution.
Being a quick digester of the written word or mathematical equation has NEVER been the only way to success, the only safeguard against being scammed, the only outlet to a satisfying and meaninful life; it is even less so now. So why are we still labeling such a narrow kind of smart? It is one reason that 7,000 brilliant children dropping out of our high school's every day, every single one of them gifted!
Our blinders are still on. You have to believe me. Why? Because I am gifted, so I must be right!
How to Go Paperless
If you have exhausted your yearly paper allotment, if it bothers you to use your precious printer ink stash, or if you just want to be better organized, I am here for you!
I am a paper hater and ink hoarder from waaayy back. Iit gives me hives to print any photo with a dark background. In fact, my hatred of the copy machine may be how I became an accidental techy in the first place! So free yourself from the worksheet! Here are some resources you can use to run class in such a way that your paper is only used for drawing, cutting and creating:
I use Evernote to store my personal notes and lesson plans. I can use the web clipper to save parts of a website or send the whole link to evernote. Every evernote account has an email address that you can use to forward yourself emails you wish to keep without filling up your inbox or printing them. Great way to keep evidence of parent contacts, pats on the back for eval time, etc.
Permamarks-Ever gone to a link you needed only to find it moved or gone? Permamarks is a great way to store sites you will want to use every year. It saves the site so even if the site owner takes it down or moves it you can still access it exactly as it was saved year after year!
Google Drive- Google drive is great for sharing and colllaborating with co workers and students. It is a great way to receive student work as well. Make a folder, paste the link on your wiki, and have students turn the work in there. This can also be done via Edmodo.
Basically, if you flip blooms and use BYOT you won't need worksheets anymore anyway. Enjoy your extra time and more engaged students!
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Lisa Gurthie is the PD facilitator at Piedmont IB Middle School. She specializes in tech and arts integration, interdisciplinary holistic education, and unschooling school to reconnect academia to real life. One day she will modernize her "about" page. She curates this blog for the professional development convenience of the teachers at Piedmont, but the editorial comments are her own.