Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Teaching to the test.... and the ABC's of Teaching with Wonder

Thank you to Jenny D., who inspired this train of thought, and to Susan Ohanian, who provided real relief....

When, during the course of my daily blogging, I come upon the faithful who support the national testing blitz, I find I have less and less to argue about. When educators (like those who comment on Jenny D.'s site) stipulate that the tests to which teachers are teaching must be good ones, then I don't have a problem with teaching to the test. When good teachers use the "new accountability" as a means to reflection and improved instruction, then I can't have a problem with that either.

I do I get riled up when the argument is framed as such: ALL NCLB Testing:GOOD. Teachers who support NCLB: GOOD. Teachers who question NCLB: Complainers/BAD!

This interesting post by Susan Ohanian fits the same pattern, only with the reverse perspective . (I'm as guilty as anyone about generalizations.)

Ohanian says:

"Whenever you see these words connected to education, read carefully and resist much. You are in the presence of what George Orwell called "a catalogue of swindles and perversions."
• ALL students
• skills systematically developed
• measure student learning
• you can't manage what you don't measure
• scientifically-based research
• scientific methods
• proven education methods
• rapid, evidence-driven progress
• clear, honest, bold data
• schools, just like any business
• stronger accountability for results
• reward positive results
• clinical settings/practices
• enriched career advancement structures
• competitive compensation structures
• highly qualified teacher
• preparing students for 21st century/for global economy
• the knowledge supply chain
• education as struggle/battle/war
• education reform
• rigor
• stakeholders

Ask whoever uses the above terms why the following words are missing.

• Autonomy
• Bliss
• Curiosity
• Democracy
• Esteem
• Fun
• Generosity
• Heart
• Imagination
• Joy
• Kindness
• Laughter
• Meaning
• Neighborliness
• Opportunity
• Pride
• Quirkiness
• Respect
• Spirit
• Tolerance
• Uniqueness
• Virtue
• Whimsy
• Xanaduness
• Yumminess
• Zeal

Well, you gotta love the ABC format….. and reading her call to honor teaching for its highest principles feels great!

I'm inspired to rework the list to fit MY classroom!!

Applause, Becoming, Concentration, Differentiation, Energy, Focus, Gusto, Helpfulness, Ingenuity, Justice, KWL (Know/ Want to know/ Learned), Listening, Marvel, Needs met, Ovations, Persistence, Quest, Resilience, Synergy, Thinking, Understanding, Vision, Wellness, X-ploration, Yucks, Zippiness

yep.....zippiness! It may not be measurable, but you know it when you see it!!


Jenny D. said...

Hi Mrs. ris. You are right on many things. But I think you should reconsider some of Ohanian's ideas. SCientifically based research is a good thing. It's why we have antibiotics, it's why new psychological therapies for depression are effective (no not drugs, I mean talk therapy which is based on research), it's why automobiles are safer, and why advertising works. What scientifically based research means is that when you go to find out about something, to see whether it has effects, you make an effort to control for confounding variables and such. That's all.

Without it, you could make a case that some kids learn better by never going to school. Why? Because kids learn stuff everywhere. Without SBR, there's no way to counter that argument.

Here's another thing to consider: there is no one right way to treat high blood pressure. BUT...there are some really wrong ways to treat it. If Ohanian were a physician, would she advocate an "anything goes" approach to treating hypertension? Or might she footnote her assertion that no one thing is right with the idea that some things are better than others.

That's where people like me and Ohanian disagree. I think some things are better than others in education, in all cases, and I'm happy to let science help me figure out what those things might be.

Sairai_x said...

Perhaps it's just my cold-hearted conservative nature, but I'd rather assurance that our children can properly multiply than a high level of Xanaduness.

Robert said...

My son just finished first grade. He had a 'highly qualified teacher' - my phrase, not the school's. Should I be resisted
as a swindler, or as a pervert?

Also, she tended to reward positive results. For that matter, we (his parents) do the same thing. Call CPS!

Mike said...

Scientifically based research? I'm afraid Jenny D. is taking the concept a bit too far. Children are not test tubes and can't be easily mixed, measured and quantified. Unlike the chemicals we might combine to obtain a given reaction, human beings have the absolute ability, through the exercise of free will, to foil the best science by determining their own educational outcomes.

I don't suggest that we ignore rational research and methodology, but we must be careful about what passes for scientific research in education these days. An example? Glad you asked.

Not long ago, I suffered through a two day class on teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) kids. Only, it wasn't ESL anymore, the best research determined that it must be henceforth called "sheltered Instruction." The scientific principle involved was that if teachers--any discipline--used a "scientifically developed" lesson plan template, why, all language barriers would vanish.

Here are a few of the other brilliant, scientific concepts presented (and I am not kidding): Teachers can adapt in the classroom if they don't have scissors by actually tearing paper!(?) If you are working with students who don't speak English, be sure to speak slowly and loudly (WHY CAN'T YOU UNDERSTAND ME?). These were among the brighter concepts foisted upon a room full of teachers who had to frequently pick up their jaws from the floor. And while this was among the most foolish "research based" presentations I've survived, it was not the worst.

Jenny D. said...

Mike, I hear you. Some researchers have a firm grasp of the obvious. But even so, does that mean that research offers nothing? How do you explain advances in talk therapy based on scientific research? Talk therapy has become more effective in the last two decades, and more targeted, and more available. All because of SBR. And you'd have to agree that psychological patients are not chemicals, easily mixed and measured.

I think, though, that we are closer than we think. I'm arguing not to throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to SBR, and you are reminding us not to drown in the waters of SBR and lose sight of everything else. Both are valid.

mrs. ris, I finally added you to my blogroll. It took too long I know, but there it is.

Mrs. Ris said...

Hi again all...

I think the lesson isn't so much that we should reject things like "scientifically based research", because of course, that's just stupid. The lesson is to be wary of the buzzwords... keep asking questions even (especially) if you seem to be getting answers that sound like the up-to-date lingo.
The issues are just too important to accept anything wholesale without close examination.
Another lesson I've learned: that I can be highly qualified, use evidence-based teaching strategies, focus on student achievement..... and maintain a sense of whimsy and delight. I think the parents of my students can see the value of all of it... and appreciate that there are elements of running a classroom that are downright joyful. Of course, effective teaching methods and their subsequent improved student achievement are the starting point for all of it!

The day I give up going for the gusto... in search of my clear vision....which does include a strong sense of marvel .... at the inherent zippiness of the wonderful world around us....that's the day I need to finally retire!

Thanks to all for a spirited discussion!