My wife was singing in Gimli this past weekend, in an event connected to the Icelandic Festival – Islendingadagurinn. While she was rehearsing in the performance hall, I had an hour to do that with which I pleased. I’m not much for wandering around markets, watching historical Viking battle re-enactors, or solo noshing on food truck offerings – so I found a quiet bench in the shade and I started reading Diane Ravitch’s 2013 Book Reign of Error. The backdrop of dull swords clanging and weathered shields wielded by men yelling what I can only assume to be “charge” in Icelandic seemed perfect. I was reading about a battle taking place in our legislative buildings, coffee shops, and schools. How to best meet the needs of our students is, and likely will always be, a principal concern in our society.
I’m a little late to the party on reading this book – but I’m happy that I started this during PME810 – as understanding the philosophical, developmental, and conceptual foundations of curriculum allows me to interpret the criticisms of standardized testing through a more finely-tuned lens than if I had opened the book a few months ago.
In Chapter 2: The Context for Corporate Reform, Ravitch discusses No Child Left Behind (NCLB). She wrote about the waste of time, money, and reform energy in trying to meet the proficiency targets as outlined in the legislation. She wrote about the impossible standards against which teachers and schools were measured. (Including an interesting thought experiment where she asked why governments were not prepared to fire police officers for not achieving 0% crime rates – but they were happy to replace school staff if their students could not achieve 100% proficiency scores). She wrote about the negative consequences of a reform agenda. I presume that the intentions of this reform agenda were honest and good – but the outcomes were anything but.
I can’t be so cynical as to suppose that every administration of standardized tests is negative or evil – but I can certainly understand the negative consequences of a system concerned with a narrow set of results/standards instead of a broadened educational experience. I am not a single-subject, one-discipline at-a-time educator – no, I believe in teaching the whole child and building a better future for all – where all can contribute as they best see fit.
While the book is not the subject of my PME810 course – there are connections to be made. How do we, as a society, select the most appropriate learning environment to meet the needs of our students? There are so many problems with that question – how do we define society? Most appropriate? the needs of our students? Should we also endeavour to meet the needs of society by overriding the needs of our students? Do we teach for students, for ourselves, for corporations, for social reform, to retain the status quo?
There are a lot of questions… and I’m afraid that I am not nearer to the answers.
So now, for Module 3 – I am asked to discuss planning, instruction, and assessment with the various combinations of curricular philosophy, conception, and design in mind. I can’t do this. Not here. Not in one post intended to respond to one week’s activities.
What I will do is look at how my teaching style can most appropriately be categorized according to what I’ve learned… and perhaps a reflection of where I need to focus my energies going forward. Either to further enhance my program, or take a step back and make changes given my teaching situation.
I have spent a good amount of time this summer planning my year. I haven’t spent much time planning specific units, gathering materials for curricular targets, or invested a lot of time into powerpoint presentations. No – a lot of my planning is for setting up an appropriate learning environment to deliver content that is ultimately informed by conversation with, and observation of, students. Further – I have certain ideas and areas for units to move towards – but I need to be flexible to allow for student voice and choice in their learning. Our school division affords students and teachers an amazing gift early in the school year to spend half an hour with each student, one-on-one, to assess learning needs and abilities and to get to know our students as individuals. I have focused a lot of effort into maximizing the value of that time – and to build regular one-on-one conferencing opportunities into my classes throughout the year.
I love to talk. This is a problem. I love to share information. This is also a problem. I love to learn from my students. This is great. I love when students learn on their own and share with their peers. This is amazing. I love when students are engaged with a school-based activity that is entirely driven by their own interests and needs. This is the goal. I see myself as a facilitator of student learning. My instruction needs to be differentiated so as to meet group and individual learning goals. My ego needs to be lessened so as to not be threatened by students who aren’t interested in learning about certain things. My mind needs to be open to receiving feedback about how to best meet student needs.
As a teacher, I put a lot of information and ideas in front of the students. I call it the “throw a handful of spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks” approach. It’s not always clean… it’s often wasteful… but I find that it’s the best thing to do to expose my students to as many ideas, perspectives, and learning opportunities as possible. The downside is that there comes a time where some students have too many choices in front of them – and they need structure and simple expectations to alleviate the stress which is brought out by that experience. The upside is that for students who can’t do the same thing as their friends day in, day out – they have an opportunity to develop according to their interests.
I assess students differently… err – I have different assessment techniques for different students based on their needs and goals. I assess students based on what I observe – which means that students are assessed at different times during the day/week/term/year on the same outcomes – hopefully not all on June 30th – but I’d do it if I had to. I don’t punish students for having a “bad day.”
A lot of my feedback is highly individualized, to the extent where I can provide that. Students are encouraged and supported to self-assess and to reflect on how well they used their time to meet their personalized learning goals. In this sense, I transfer a lot of responsibility to the students… this helps tremendously with both formative and summative assessment. I do focus a lot more on formative assessment that summative assessments – largely because I feel incapable of providing equal grades. I can provide fair assessments and feedback, but I don’t like comparing all students against the same measuring stick. What I do is assess student progress… and when I have to provide grades – I do so begrudgingly… because I recognize that it is not fair to assign a lower-performing student a higher grade on a particular assignment just because he or she progressed more than a higher performing student who may have put his or her engine into cruise mode.
What This Means
I am very much of a progressivist mindset with a learner-centered curricular design. I experience the tensions between meeting group and community goals while trying to offer individualized opportunities. I feel the conflict between meeting certain grade-level targets – both so that the students can be successful going into their next years – but also because those targets have been well-thought-out and they deserve to be respected… even if I disagree at points. I’m left feeling how I often feel when discussing teaching and education – like I need to be better. Hopefully, I’ll find a way to do that. Now what’s Icelandic for “charge” again? I’m going to need to yell that as I dive into my next round of professional development materials!