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Lead from the Start: March 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

think outside the bubble

Have you ever seen a kid learn something you weren't teaching them at the time? When did learning actually occur? Was it while you were teaching, when they were doing seat work, in your class discussion? Was it valuable? Might it help them later in life?

The paradigm we operate with in education today is entirely technical. Policy makers and the public believe that students learn what we teach them. Period. But what might they be learning while we are busy trying to teach them to pass a test? If we only look for student achievement in relation to what we have taught we might never talk about the elephant in the room, that kids might not need everything we are teaching them. Or, kids might be able to learn some things that could be essential to their lives, if we only stopped paying so much attention to those test scores. If we become aware of what happens outside of the mind control testing we might see what is really happening in our students' lives.

This is what the post-positivist paradigm has brought us to in education. We have become bean counters. On TLN a teacher in New York has been discussing hourly measurable objectives. Yes, hourly. Can you imagine what that is like? Measuring ... constantly. Maybe it only bothers me because I am in preschool where the standards have only begun to quantify our students' learning. When we focus on quantity what do we sacrifice in quality? This is what testing has wrought, a world where nobody is looking at what really matters, kids lives.

Think outside the bubble ...

p.s. This video is based on some visual cognition research done at the University of Illinois. Check it out, its fascinating. As an avid road cyclist and commuter I am asking you to please take this public service announcement to heart while you are driving to work. You could save a life.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

MEME Passion Quilt

I was recently tagged by Bill Ferriter to participate in the Meme Passion Quilt. I had a hard time deciding and thought of adding 4 or 8 pictures but picked just this one from years ago in my classroom.

This image shows what I love about teaching this age kids. I love the manner in which they are able to move from imagination to reality in a seamless fashion. I love how playing music, pretending, and learning become one in the classroom. If you could have heard his rhythm you might understand. To this little boy those Marx brothers glasses gave him super rhythmic powers. It was also the first time he had expressed real pride in some thing he had done. He was so proud of himself and I was so proud of him.

I will tag my five:

I hereby tag the following for the Passion Quilt Meme:

Ellen Berg
Susan Graham
Jose Vilson
Dayle Timmons
Cindi Rigsbee

Passion Quilt Meme Rules:
1. Think about what you are passionate about teaching your students.
2. Post a picture from a source like FlickrCC or Flickr Creative Commons or make/take your own that captures what YOU are most passionate about for kids to learn about…and give your picture a short title.
3. Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt” and link back to this blog entry.
4. Include links to 5 folks in your professional learning network or whom you follow on Twitter/Pownce.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Flight of the Albatross (Va Examines NCLB Opt-Out)

The bird (The VA Opt-Out Bill) will fly, or at least hover in one place, until the wind dies down.

The bill that goes a half step towards not Opting out of NCLB will likely be signed by Gov. Kaine. The seagull like bill (that hovers in the air looking for scraps from the ED) will enable the VA - Board to examine whether VA should with draw from NCLB. Will it happen? What do you think?

From an Ed Week article by Mary Ann Zehr.

Under President Bush’s proposal for the fiscal 2009 K-12 federal education budget, Virginia is set to receive $416 million in federal education funding, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education.

Gov. Kaine is “not going to throw that away,” Mr. Hickey said. He noted that the bill says simply that the board should study the issue, and the governor doesn’t have any problem with such a study, so he’ll likely support the bill.

This is on the heals of Virginia's half adopting expanded pre-k for all its children, by funding a $22 million increase instead of the $58 million requested by Kaine.

Isn't there a line dance called called the Virginia Reel? Maybe it should be the Virginia Half-step and become our state dance. Our General Assembly seems to know it all ready.

Video from Google videos and Killermont/Tron Church Hogmanay Ceilidh 2006 - Virginia Reel

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Is AWNM a Star Upon Thar Machine?

Is Daniel Pink really Sylvester McMonkey McBean? Is A Whole New Mind really a Star upon Thar machine?

I am a big proponent of Daniel Pink's, A Whole New Mind and 21CL. Thanks to Renee Moore, of TLN I read the negative review of Pink's book by Gary Stager titled, The Worst Book of the 21st Century. The idea I really took away from the review is a rejection of pop-business books as adding anything to education. I always enjoy hearing a dissenting voice but Mr. Stager's was especially enjoyable, if a little long. One of my favorite quotes is:
What business gurus like Don Tapscott, Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins have in common is that none of them actually ever ran a business prior to hitting the bestseller list proffering untested business advice to others. Most of them have never been the night manager of a Seven-Eleven let alone launched or managed an innovative business venture.

They sure are fancy talkers.
And I liked:
Ultimately the success of these books is based on the authors’ ability to reduce complex concepts to simplistic binary dichotomies or playground rhymes. Such books are filled with numbered rule-based advice with little room for nuance. Issues are either black or white. The principles apply to any situation.
Supposedly, because of the involvement of the business world we have been moving away from fads in education. But, when writers like Freidman and Pink are getting all the speaking engagements instead of Linda Darling-Hammond or John L. Goodlad, aren't we still buying what Sylvester McMonkey McBean is selling? Especially, as Stager points out, much of what they are selling is pseudo-science?

"I'm quite happy to say
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars."

Ultimately, I think that Pink makes some valid points that need to be heard and, as I said in a comment I left for Mr. Stager:
As for your point about reading Freidman or Pink instead of education books we (educators) might like to take a lesson from Pink. Maybe educators should apply some of that right mind thinking to write more readable books. I definitely learned more from John L. Goodlad than from Daniel Pink but, there isn't anybody who wants to talk about Goodlad with me, especially not in the teacher's lounge.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

March Mathness in this week's Carnival

Learn Me Good gives us a basketball theme this week for the Carvnival of ED, March Mathness . SWISH!

Monday, March 10, 2008

VA's Gov. Kaine to recieve albatross NCLB Opt-Out Bill

If there is one thing NCLB is good at it is being a dart board for politicians hoping to look good in the eyes of their constituents. Kaine, a proponent of early childhood access and friend of teachers, will be handed the albatross Virginia's Opt-out bill to be officially killed. Signing off on the bill could be a politcial boost or boon depending on whether the bill is killed in the U.S. Congress or turned into a better (more realistic) bill that the state would then have to reapply for funds under. Sometimes people forget that the NCLB is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in wolf's clothing. The original ESEA was a much kinder beast. If it took off it's costume would we follow it to school one day?

We have been discussing Virginia's theoretically possible Opt-Out from NCLB on an accomplished teacher's forum here in Virginia. The discussion has mostly centered around the same things that this post talks about. Politics. Most teachers seem to know that some sort of accountability measures are necessary and helpful, they also see the technocratic approach of NCLB as unnecessarily restrictive and punitive. So our "what if" conversation has mostly been a "what is" conversation.

The possibility that Gov. Kaine will sign the bill is extremely slim. If there is one universal truth in politics and education that I learned in a class about NCLB it is "never look soft" on accountability. According to Maria Glod, a Washington Post writer who covered Virginia's frustrations with the ED over English Language Learners and testing, she reported:
Virginia's Board of Education would be directed to recommend whether the state should pull out of a federal school accountability system under legislation that cleared the General Assembly Saturday. It now awaits consideration by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).
This means that there is only one political stop gap between the bill's passing (and making many teachers happy, at least for a little while) and Kaine wringing its neck and looking like the farmer who killed the family bird. If the board tells Kaine to kill it he is off the hook. But, if the board says yes...

However, there is a reality check in place in the bill. Glod writes:

the bill would require the board to present a plan to the governor and legislature by June 30, 2009.
Plenty of time to come up with a $350 million dollar short fall and a plan for all those Title I specialists.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Let your kids play or they might become ADHD (or worse... not test well)

There are a bunch of issues tied up in the recent NPR series on "executive function" development and the "serious play" of kids that are bound to be a bruhaha of bloggers-a-buzz with comments, opinions, scientific and anecdotal evidence confirming and denying what preschool teachers have known for a very long time. Play is good. For everyone.

I see these articles fitting into a general shift in consciousness that has percolated up from NCLB and other standards type reforms that, because they are not based on reality, would only work if we had a set of test ready tots. So I am faced with the same disillusionment that I looked at the Yes We Can video. Kids need to play, because of well, a lot of things including executive function. Also, it develops creativity, social/emotional well being, imagination, emergent language and literacy, logical thinking, and the ability to live as a proactive member of society. I have learned that you can develop all of the higher level thinking skills and content knowledge in play.

At the same time the article seems to be bent towards the idea that we should let kids play so that they are more compliant members of society. To borrow an idea from musician and professor, Dr. Kurt Stemhagen, "We need to feed poor kids free breakfast at school because it is the right moral/ethical thing to do, not because it increases test scores." I feel the same way about play which is why I have a hard time with the following.

According to executive function researcher Adele Diamond, all of these little exercises genuinely do improve the ability of children to control themselves. Diamond, professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, recalls the very first time she ever set foot in a Tools of the Mind classroom.

"I was totally blown away. The kids were sitting together working quietly. It was like a second-grade classroom instead of a preschool classroom. I couldn't believe it," Diamond says.

Later, trying to do another one of those things that researchers love to do, she applies a finding in one area to a problem in another area.

Diamond says there are potential benefits to this training that go beyond improved executive-function scores. She and several other researchers argue that children's reduced self-regulation skills may be showing up in the numbers of kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

"I think a lot of kids get diagnosed with ADHD now, not all but many just because they never learned how to exercise self-control, self-regulation, the executive functions early," she says.

So here we are with kids who are diagnosed with ADHD because they didn't develop self control. Is it possible this is true? Yes, but I hope we don't just let our kids play because we are afraid they will become ADHD, Or, so that they will pass a test.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Eduwonks Bring the Carnival Home

Excellent and exhaustive carnival this week from Eduwonks. I definitely cite the eduwonks as a major reason I am blogging and living in the 21C now. After reading a couple carnivals two years ago and figuring out that there is a great wide world out here that educators can build sandcastles in with words, I started this here blog. Enjoy the carnival and watch out for the cotton candy.