Category Archives: assessment

Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean Students perform so well in PISA?

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Zongyi Deng and S. Gopinathan shine a spotlight on the success of Singapore’s school system and argue th…

Source: Real Singaporean Lessons: Why do Singaporean Students perform so well in PISA?

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Challenging the Use of Test Scores to Assess Teachers and Teacher Educators

Clare and I (Clive) have often argued against the use of “value-added measures” (VAMs) to assess teachers and teacher educators, measures that rely exclusively on standardized test scores. Others (e.g., David Berliner, Diane Ravitch) have taken a similar stand.

In the May 2016 issue of the Educational Researcher, opposition to VAMs receives dramatic support from Steven Klees of the University of Maryland. In a letter to ER, Klees welcomes a recent AERA Statement about how difficult it is to assess teachers using VAMs. However, he goes on to say that it’s not only difficult, it’s impossible! He notes that “dozens, perhaps hundreds, of variables” influence test scores, and hence misattributing cause is not only a “significant risk,” it is “rampant and inherent” in the use of VAMs. He concludes:

“The bottom line is that regardless of technical sophistication, the use of VAM is never ‘accurate, reliable, and valid’ and will never yield ‘rigorously supported inferences’” (p. 267).

In my view, even if we give some weight to test scores, it is imperative to supplement them with other considerations: e.g., the judgment of teachers and their colleagues about good teaching, opinions of students about their teachers’ effectiveness, theories about effective pedagogy. Effective teaching is so complex there can be no quick fix in assessing it.

It will be interesting to see how the education research and policy communities respond to Klees’s extraordinary claim, given that VAMs are the latest great hope for the reform of teaching and teacher education.

 

HIGH-STAKES TESTING OR CRITICAL THINKING

I (Clare) read this article in TC Record and I thought is sums up the dilemma so many teachers face. Teach skills but also teach critical thinking. They are so often set up in opposition that many teachers are left thinking they have to choose one or the other. We need to both! http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=20557

Assessing Critical Thinking in a Data-Driven Educational System

by Amanda Mattocks — May 10, 2016

The current educational environment has left teachers trapped between the accountability mandates of high stakes testing and the desire to provide an authentic, skills-based curriculum that is rich in critical thinking activities. As the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is implemented nationwide, teachers and districts should seize the opportunity to develop alternative assessment tools that incorporate more authentic measurement of students’ critical thinking skills.

HIGH-STAKES TESTING OR CRITICAL THINKING

 

The tension between high-stakes testing accountability and an authentic, skills-based learning environment infused with critical thinking has made the assessment of student learning a challenge for even the most experienced education professionals. Classroom teachers need to be both public servants responsible for aggregate student growth, and inspirational role models tasked with shaping future minds. The recently sunsetted No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002; U.S. DOE, 2002) narrowed the definition of learning to concepts found on multiple choice examinations that require mass data collection, equated student growth to test score improvement, and instigated punitive measures when schools do not meet national proficiency standards. In theory, the numerical data generated from the annual standardized assessment has held teachers accountable, but this has come at the cost of adequate curriculum depth, appropriate real-world skills, and deep critical thinking skills which are less easily measurable but arguably more important to foster. Tension remains between generating trackable measures of growth and providing learning filled with critical thinking activities. This tension may soon lessen given that measuring student growth and providing authentic skills-based learning are not mutually exclusive anymore; both can be accomplished simultaneously by working within the new assessment guidelines of ESSA.

EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT

 

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) has the potential to diffuse the tension between high-stakes annual testing and authentic skills-based learning. ESSA calls for the systematic collection of data of a different nature than that aggregated by traditional standardized testing. According to the federal ESSA website, “Assessments must involve multiple measures of student achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding, which may include measures of student growth partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks” (NCLS, 2015). ESSA will be fully implemented across the United States by the end of 2017 and public school teachers will have the opportunity to develop high-quality assessments involving critical thinking that mirror an authentic, skills-based classroom with a curriculum rich in performance tasks measuring higher-order thinking. While the job of developing authentic assessments for measuring skills-based learning and critical thinking is daunting, the educational community is already fertile ground for the ESAA’s requirements. Due to the fact that ESSA allows teachers to report data from interim assessments based on higher-order thinking skills, each localized educational community has the opportunity to establish the relevant criteria on teacher-designed rubrics and create skills-based performance tasks as long as the result is high-quality measurable data.

 

ASSESSING CRITICAL THINKING

 

After watching my students critically discuss complex themes like the American Dream and income inequality during Socratic-styled seminars, I became convinced that understanding and critical thinking are most evident when assessments incorporate real-world problems and performance tasks. Evaluating classroom discussion is challenging but worth the effort because of its curriculum relevance, authenticity, and rigor. Stanford Professor Sam Wineburg calls for students to think like a historian by “understanding that each of us is more than a handful of labels ascribed to us at birth” (Wineburg, 2001, p. 7). In order to reach this deeper understanding, students need to develop critical thinking skills, defined by the American Philosophical Association (APA) as “purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based” (Facione, 1990). Traditional social studies assessments that measure names, dates, and events have their place in education but cannot measure “higher-order thinking skills and understandings” as required by ESSA. A curriculum that includes skills-based activities have the potential to also measure critical thinking. Instead of testing students on factual recall, Wineburg required high school students, college students, and professors to read documents out loud, pause to interject their thoughts, and analyze the material they just assimilated (Wineberg, 2001, p. 7). Wineburg measured the interview transcripts for the presence of critical thinking using established criterion and then norm referenced the interviews to determine the depth of critical thought to assess the performance activity (2001).

 

Peter Boghossian, an educator in the correctional system, also created measurable data derived from performance activities. In order to promote the merits of Socratic seminars to colleagues, Boghossian analyzed transcriptions of his discussions about morality using a rubric designed from the APA’s definition of critical thinking. His students demonstrated their ability to think critically by evaluating, interpreting, inferring, and analyzing by engaging in these types of activities (Boghossian, 2006). By crafting a numerical rubric around skills-based performance tasks, teams of teachers can collect data on student critical thinking ability. Wineburg and Boghossian used two completely different alternative assessments designed to measure critical thinking and both performance tasks yielded helpful data regarding student abilities. Stanford’s History Education Group develops free content through their project called Beyond the Bubble which is aptly named for its goal to move assessments away from multiple-choice examinations (Wineburg, Smith, & Breakstone, 2016). The organization, led by Sam Wineburg, provides critical thinking assessments utilizing primary sources with numerical proficiency rubrics and scored example assessments (Wineburg et al., 2016). With localized numerical data generated from rubrics, teachers can collaborate and strategize pedagogical shifts to promote student growth and then report the relevant and longitudinal information to the state under ESSA, instead of the state collecting a single high-stakes examination and subsequently passing the data to teachers.

CALL TO ACTION

By creating rubrics for critical thinking performance activities, teachers can collaborate to generate meaningful data that can be reported to the state for accountability purposes. This means that nurturing a skills-based classroom rich in critical thinking and reporting achievement goals can happen simultaneously, which is an exciting prospect for both teachers and local communities. However, for change to take place in the classroom, departments and districts need to design rubrics based on higher-order thinking skills using performance assessments. As states implement ESSA in the next couple of years, teachers and districts should seize the opportunity to develop alternative sources of data that incorporate authentic assessments of critical thinking skills.

 

References

Boghossian, P. (2006). Socratic pedagogy, critical thinking, and inmate education. Journal of Correctional Education, 57(1), 42–63.

 

Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95 (2015).

Facione, P. A. (1990). Research Findings and Recommendations. Newark, DE: American Philosophical Association.

 

National Conference of the State Legislature (NCLS) (2015). Summary of the every student succeeds act, legislation reauthorizing the elementary and secondary act. Washington DC: NCSL. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/documents/capitolforum/2015/onlineresources/summary_12_10.pdf

 

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, • 115, Stat. 1425 (2002).

United States Department of Education (2002). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 executive summary. Washington DC: The U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/execsumm.pdf

 

Wineburg, S. S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

 

Wineburg, S. S., Smith, M., & Breakstone, J. (2016). Beyond the bubble. Stanford, CA: Stanford History Education Group. Retrieved from https://beyondthebubble.stanford.edu/

 

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 10, 2016
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 20557, Date Accessed: 6/11/2016 7:14:01 PM

Learning Policy Institute

I (Clare) continue to be concerned about our often “over assessment “of students. Last year at AERA I was at a presentation where the presenter talked about one elementary school teacher with whom he was working who had to conduct 30 standardized tests in one year! Yes 30 (that is not a typo). What does this number of assessments do to children? The teacher? The curriculum? The climate in the classroom. I just received the announcement below which I hope will bring some “common sense” to assessment.

 

How Can Schools Measure True College and Career Readiness? Learning Policy Institute Receives Award to Support More Authentic Assessments for California Students

The Learning Policy Institute (LPI) was named today as one of 12 organizations nationwide th-2to receive a grant award from the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) to fundamentally rethink the roles that assessment should play to advance student learning and to improve our K-12 education system. LPI is supporting the California Performance Assessment Collaborative (CPAC), a newly launched pilot project that enables schools, districts, and networks in California to share, research, and document current efforts to graduate students using competency-based approaches. Instead of assessments based only on testing, these will assess applied learning focused on deep understanding of content and demonstration of 21st century skills in order to inform other schools as well as state policymakers.

CPAC’s work has deep implications for teaching and learning in participating schools and for the work of both practitioners and policymakers who are rethinking assessments with the passage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires states to implement assessments that measure “higher-order thinking skills and understanding” and explicitly invites the use of “portfolios, projects, or extended-performance tasks” as part of state and local assessment systems.

Born from the vision of a group of committed educators, policymakers, and researchers in response to the current policy environment, CPAC serves as an “innovation site” within the state where educators from various contexts are now working together within a professional learning community dedicated to the advancement of authentic, meaningful assessments for California children.

CPAC is composed of the Learning Policy Institute working with schools from the CORE network, including the Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco Unified School Districts; Envision Schools; High Tech High; Internationals Network for Public Schools; Linked Learning Alliance; and New Tech Network; plus East Palo Alto Academy (Sequoia Union High School District); Hillsdale High School (San Mateo Unified School District); John Muir High School (Pasadena Unified School District); and Oceana High School (Jefferson Union High School District). In addition to ALP, support for this collaborative program comes from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Notes Linda Darling-Hammond, CEO and President of the Learning Policy Institute, “This work will inform both those seeking to develop more meaningful assessments in their schools and those seeking to develop policies that can support the deeper learning opportunities today’s students need to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s world. Ultimately, the goal is to enable students to pursue – and colleges and employers to be able to receive – more productive measures of students’ genuine accomplishments and readiness for postsecondary college, career, and civic life. “

“For too long, assessment has been something that is ‘done to’ kids instead of with them,” said Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Education, one of the organizations partnering with the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP). “These 12 grantees have promising plans to use assessment to build student agency, support a broader definition of student success, and envision new systems of assessment and accountability.”

Out of 148 proposals, ALP selected its 12 grantees based on the “boldness of their ideas, the quality of their learning plan and general orientation toward learning, potential for scale and routes to ‘systemness,’ and their potential contribution to the learning agenda.” Next Generation Learning Challenges is the the co-partner of this initiative, with funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The Learning Policy Institute and CPAC proudly join the Center for Collaborative Education, Colorado Education, Del Lago Academy, Fairfax County Public Schools, Hawai’i Department of Education, Henry County Schools, Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium, New Hampshire Learning Initiative, Summit Public Schools, Two Rivers Public Charter School, and WestEd as recipients of the initial round of ALP grants. For more information on the project and the 12 grant recipients, visit http://www.assessmentforlearningproject.org.

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About the Learning Policy Institute
The Learning Policy Institute conducts and communicates independent high-quality research to improve education. Working with policymakers, researchers, educators, community groups, and others, we seek to advance evidence-based policies that support empowering and equitable learning for each and every child. For more information, visit http://www.learningpolicyinstitute.org.
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info@learningpolicyinstitute.org

Testing and Assessment in Norway

I (Clare) read this article on testing. We have had many posts about assessment on this blog and thought this one might be more “food for thought.”

International Education News

In order to learn about what’s happened with testing and assessment in Norway in recent years, we had a conversation with Sverre Tveit. Tveit is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo. He will join the University of Agder in southern Norway as University Lecturer in August. In addition to his comparative research related to assessment policy, Tveit has also worked on education and assessment issues at the municipal level (the equivalent of the district level in the US) and was a board member of the Norwegian School Student Union (which organized protests against the initial implementation of the national tests in 2005). He talked with us about how the national tests seem to have been integrated into the Norwegian education system but also pointed to the ways in which local and national politics reflect continuing debates over issues and tensions of testing, assessment…

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Support for Teachers from the Field of Medicine

At last someone has linked the problems of inappropriate use of testing in education with Doctorthose of the prestigious profession of medicine. Robert Wachter, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, has written a book titled The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age in which he argues that measurement has gotten out of hand. In a New York Times article “How Measurement Fails Us” (Sunday Review, Jan 17, 2016, p. 5) he states:

“Two of the most vital industries, health care and education, have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements. Of course, we need to hold professionals accountable. But the focus on numbers has gone too far.”

In the article Wachter notes that “burnout rates for doctors top 50 percent” and he says recent research has shown that “the electronic health record was a dominant culprit.” He then draws a parallel with teaching.

“Education is experiencing its own version of measurement fatigue. Educators complain that the focus on student test performance comes at the expense of learning.”

Wachter maintains that what is needed is “thoughtful and limited assessment.” “Measurement cannot go away, but it needs to be scaled back and allowed to mature. We need more targeted measures, ones that have been vetted to ensure that they really matter.” We also need to take account of the harm excessive measurement does. Again he compares the two professions: research has shown that

“In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.”

With this welcome support, we in education need to consider how we can keep measurement within limits and focused on key matters, so it does not undermine our profession. When is measurement useful, and when does it do more harm than good?

Professional Learning in Top Performing Systems, part 2

I (Clare) thought you might find this blog interesting about high performing schools. Not sure I agree with all of it but food for thought

International Education News

PDinfographicv2The National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) Center on International Education Benchmarking has released two reports on professional learning environments in top performing systems: Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems and Developing Shanghai’s TeachersTo explore and share the findings of these reports, the NCEE held a conference last week featuring presentations and panel conversations with the leading voices in education from around the world. This conference was also streamed live and can be viewed online. Moderated by Marc Tucker, president and CEO of NCEE, speakers included Ben Jensen (author of Beyond PD) and Minxuan Zhang (author of Developing Shanghai’s Teachers).

Ben Jensen began his presentation with the questions, “What is at the core of high performing professional learning systems? What is the strategy to ensure effectiveness?”

Jensen argued that we need to move past the idea that there is a single answer…

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Reflection on My Teacher Education Program

I (Clare) am currently teaching a graduate course Current Issues in Teacher Education. The first assignment asks students to:

Write a reflection paper on your experiences in a professional program (teacher education, Teaching English as a Second Language ….). Provide a very brief description of the program. Some questions to consider are: What were the strengths/weaknesses of the program? How well did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher? What were the limitations of the program? Have your views of the program changed since graduation? How could the program have been improved? Did the program prepare you to assume the duties of a teacher (or other position)? Do NOT respond to all of these questions. Select one or two and respond to them. In the fourth class of the course, you will work in small groups and share your paper with your fellow students.

Since all of the students in the course are teachers they have a good perspective on their program. Their assignments were so stellar I felt these would be of great value to share with other teacher educators. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing these papers. I learned much and I suspect you will too. I have changed the name of the university so that no school of education is identified.

In June 2011, I graduated from a 2 year Teacher Education Program at the YYY University. Freshly hired by two boards, I felt both the nervous anticipation of one traversing into uncharted waters and the confidence of one for whom the world had suddenly opened. I believed I was entirely prepared. In many ways, I was as prepared as possible after two years of training; there will always be aspects of my chosen profession that can only be learned through experience (for who could ever predict all the potential dilemmas and baffling questions raised by students, colleagues, or parents over a lifetime of teaching?). As a future teacher-educator, I can reflect in retrospect on some programming changes that may have augmented the skills and knowledge I carried with me into my first year of teaching.

Designed to Meet Current Needs

I have many accolades for my two-year teacher education program. The XXX Program was well-designed, with a clear vision to produce teachers who were reflective practitioners. To accomplish this, it had a well-balanced, thoughtful curriculum which seemed to have an equal basis in academic readings, instruction in pedagogy and learning development, courses in Ontario Curriculum subject areas, and four practice teaching blocks. Professors treated student teachers with respect and showed genuine interest for our ideas and experiences. They also drew on their own examples from time in the classroom and did not seem removed from current issues in education.

Over and above our regular courses, we could attend workshops which addressed other current educational needs, such as how to teach to English Language Learners; community-building through TRIBES; and technology in-services. The program also offered the opportunity of conducting our own Master’s Research Project, without which I would not have had the confidence to consider pursuing further graduate studies.

In addition to courses in the various subject areas of the Ontario Curriculum, the XXX Program also had a phenomenal Special Education and Adaptive Instruction course that taught me concepts and strategies I use on a daily basis in my own classroom. Having talked with many colleagues who did not have any special education training in their pre-service training, I feel this was a major boon to the XXX Program. Every teacher will encounter students who learn in different ways and will need to know how to accommodate or modify as needed.

While I have no criticisms of this course, it could easily be extended to two years, to incorporate a greater understanding of the multitude of needs teachers have to support in the classroom. A longer course may also have allowed for more detailed instruction in Individual Education Plans, which all teachers will need to write and should receive training to do so (though many of my classmates and I accomplished this by taking a Special Education Part 1 Additional Qualification offered to us at the end of the program). Then as now, I was proud to be a part of a program that saw special education as an integral part of a pre-service program design. As I return to University YYY in pursuit of my doctorate, I feel discouraged to see no courses available in this important field.

Multiple Placement Opportunities

The XXX Program offered four placements to teacher candidates, which allowed me to observe and practice my burgeoning teaching skills in different settings. Perhaps naively, I hoped I would see the innovative strategies, clear assessment criteria, and classroom community-building I was reading about play out in front of me, but that was not always the case. I was very fortunate that my first Associate Teacher (AT) was exemplary. Not only was she the only AT to teach me how to do assessments, I will never forget watching her teach a lesson that did not go as expected. She turned to me and said, “ZZZ, that’s what happens when a lesson fails. It happens to everyone and it will happen to you. Sometimes, a lesson just won’t work, no matter how much you’ve prepared. Don’t take it personally; just plan it a different way tomorrow.” Of all my practicum experiences, that day had the greatest impact on me. Had she not uttered those words, I might have been afraid to plan creative lessons and to try new approaches; and any failure may have felt like a reflection on my ability. My other practice teaching blocks did not leave the same impression on me; yet I made the most of each and asked to teach up to one-hundred percent of the time, so I could try, and fail, and reflect, and try again, open to as much or as little input as my ATs were willing to give me.

Solely by chance, I was matched with one particular teacher who instilled in me such a significant lesson. While I recognize the ethical murkiness of having a mechanism for screening possible ATs, it is critical that student teachers have the chance to observe and participate in classrooms where teachers are masters of their craft. Every teacher candidate should have the opportunity to learn from an exemplary mentor (and hopefully four). Potential ATs should be screened and offered professional development in being an effective mentor (for example, debriefing with the candidate about their lesson designs and the thought process behind each pedagogical choice, of which the student teacher may be unaware). These powerful examples should show teacher candidates not only best practices but help them to envision the potential of teaching, rather than a reiteration of the rote learning they may have experienced as students going through the system. How can any new teacher feel confident to incorporate more current pedagogical concepts into their classroom without the chance to observe in practice? I consider myself lucky that I had one such placement.

An Enhanced Education

Like most things in life, the XXX Program was what one made of it. For a tenacious person like me, it met my needs beautifully. When I encountered an assignment I felt would be too similar to another, I asked the instructor if I could do it a different way (I even wrote a play exploring educational issues for a course, rather than write another reflection). When I was determined to have a placement in a classroom for children with Autism, I found the classroom and set up the placement myself, politely self-advocating with the placement coordinator. Later, I requested and received an intermediate placement, even though I was primary-junior, because one future goal was to acquire an additional qualification in that level. Throughout my time in the program, I ensured I had opportunities that were in line with my professional goals. Many of my classmates did not know they could be proactive, and went with the flow instead. They often grumbled about assignments they did not like or placements that were not what they wanted.

I wonder whether their experience would have been improved if we had had a pro-seminar course, similar to the one in the PhD program. Such a course could walk student teachers through the program itself, but it could also help students to identify their educational goals and be assertive in taking ownership for their learning; and it could shed light on the behind-the-scenes of teaching that pre-service programs do not have time to teach, such as how to manage difficult conversations with parents, principals, and colleagues. The kids are easy; for me, dealing with the politics of other adults is definitely the hardest part of teaching.

An Emphasis on Personal & Teacher Identities

Unlike other programs, the XXX Program did not gloss over the many realities of being a teacher. My classmates and I had courses where we created our resumes and practiced interview skills; we learned about educational law and the higher standard to which teachers are held (causing us all, no doubt, to secure our Facebook settings). My instructors emphasized work-life balance, and at the time, I believed I could imagine the many long hours and the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion I would later experience. Little did I know then the extent of it; two years ago I decided to adopt my dear cat Gerrie, to help me have something besides my students’ troubles to focus on when I got home! Without those words of encouragement (and reality) from my XX teacher-educators, I may have felt I was not cut out to be a teacher, on one of those difficult days (and thank goodness for Gerrie!).

For me, the XXX Program instilled in me a mindset. One of the most invaluable concepts taught was the importance of developing a teacher identity. By the end of the program, I came to envision myself as a compassionate and reflective practitioner, who believed that all students could succeed if given the chance and supports needed. As an educator today, this identity functions as my North Star, informing all my choices and interactions, to the best of my ability.

All of our courses taught the importance of community and challenged us to collaborate and share insights and strategies. My preference before the XXX Program was to work alone; today, collaboration is the key to my success with students, as I draw on the knowledge of other teachers, parents, and a multi-disciplinary team of psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and social workers, to name a few. I spend hours every week talking with my classroom partner, an incredible child and youth worker, about what worked, what failed to work, what we observed and learned about each student, and what steps to take next for each child going forward. I cannot imagine teaching any other way.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Teacher education programs provide the compass for beginning teachers. While I am satisfied with all that I learned in the XXX Program, I also recognize it is impossible to equip beginning teachers with every tool they will ever need for their journey. Teachers continually adapt to the ebb and flow as children come and go, new policies replace old, curriculum evolves, technology changes, and so on. So too, teacher education needs to reflect the current buzzwords and the shifting seas of the classroom. While teacher education programs are obliged to teach standard subjects, they also should to be flexible enough to address individual needs; teacher candidates may expect different levels of support to map out their professional goals. At present, more attention must be given to special education in teacher education, as general education teachers take on more responsibilities for exceptional students every day and often report feeling unprepared in my discussions with them. Practicum classrooms must be carefully selected to showcase best practices, in order to expose the teacher candidate to new horizons, leaving the bleak landscape of skill and drill classrooms behind them. Perhaps most importantly, teacher educators must allow students to explore and reconceptualise what it means to be a teacher and the qualities they wish to bring to this profession. Without these elements in the XXX Program, I would not have been ready to venture off into those uncharted waters in June 2011.

Seymour: An Introduction

I (Clare) saw the most amazing movie: Seymour: An Introduction11189925_ori

It got rave reviews so Clive and I went to see it. The movie was directed by Ethan Hawke (yes that Ethan Hawke) and talks about Seymour Bernstein — “a beloved pianist, teacher and true inspiration who shares eye-opening insights from an amazing life. Ethan Hawke helms this poignant guide to life.” Bernstein was a world class pianist who gave it all up because of stage fright and stress.”

He teaches piano and is a Master Teacher in NYC. This is a must see for teachers because the way he guides and supports his students is “masterful.” He is caring yet gives specific feedback. He is a master teacher.

During the first 10 –15 minutes of the movie I thought was is going on here? It does not follow a traditional narrative structure but rather jumps around through different parts of his life. (The editing is amazing and the music is gorgeous.) You see him teaching master classes, working with students individually, talking to friends, recalling being a soldier in the Korean war … By the 20th minute I was hooked. I so want to meet Bernstein because he is so wise, caring, compassionate, and interesting. I can truly understand why Ethan Hawke was so inspired by him that he wanted to tell the world about Seymour. Here is the link to the trailer for the movie:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2219650/?ref_=nv_sr_1

The movie is short – 84 minutes – and if you are like Clive and me, you will not be able to stop thinking and talking about this truly remarkable man.

The Edu-babble of Report Cards: Lost in Translation

Like many teachers, I (Clare) found writing report cards a very onerous task. I wanted to be Letter Ffair, encouraging, and accurate. The latest challenge for teachers (beyond time) is the pressure to be use “asset language.” HUH! There was a great article in the Toronto Star today about the “edu-babble” of report cards. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/02/26/consistently-writing-report-cards-with-random-logic.html

Catherine Porter describes the lost in translation situation:
If your kid was terribly scattered in class, would you want to know?
Or would you rather think he was “using planning skills with limited effectiveness.”
That’s how Ontario’s Ministry of Education suggests teachers write their report cards for kids getting D’s. They aren’t struggling, floundering, falling behind. They are “demonstrating limited understanding of content.”
I call this edu-speak. The ministry calls it a “positive tone.”

Porter has previously written about the impenetrable language of report cards. Her previous column on the indecipherable language of report cards led to an outpouring of highly emotional emails from teachers who are “required” to use the language of the Ontario Ministry of Education. She describes one scenario:

One Toronto public primary school teacher described his first “straightforward” report card comments returning to his desk from the principal’s office. “I was told to be more empathetic to how parents feel about their own children, to re-phrase my wordings to be increasingly diplomatic,” he wrote in an email.
So instead of telling parents their kid was disorganized and his desk was messy, the teacher now writes: “Johnny consistently places his materials inside his desk in a random order. He is highly encouraged to adopt a more streamlined organizational style, so that during in-class work periods he is able to locate his documents with greater ease.”

Gold StarPorter includes some examples from the comment bank teachers are required to use. I am an educator and I had NO idea what these mean. No wonder parents are confused and teachers are frustrated! A gold star to any reader who can figure out what these comments mean.

Five examples from Ontario report cards

  • “We will give further opportunities for Ruth to engage with a variety of children and to be honest about her activities.”
  • “With efforts from home and school, Shane will be encouraged to pay attention to his attendance and punctuality.”
  • “Conrad follows instructions with frequent assistance and supervision.”
  • “Farah is able to communicate ideas and informally orally in French using a variety of grade appropriate language strategies suited to the purpose and audience.”
  • “Jacqueline is encouraged to continue to demonstrate understanding and patience towards her classmates and to nurture a cooperative working environment with her team by demonstrating openness towards every student that may be part of her team.”