Give students a place to air grievances

A good piece by John Warner about methods he uses to give students a place and time within his classroom to air their issues with the course, the process, the assignments, even the grading structure. When students have a say in the process, they are much more invested.

More importantly, this kind of teacher-student dialogue builds trust if the teacher is willing to listen and change. That takes humility – always a good trait.

The Airing of the Grievances (Inside Higher Ed)


Link: Students Are Increasingly Anxious, but We Can Help Them | Just Visiting | InsideHigherEd

Good piece about the anxiety that writing courses often produce in students, and what we can do about that.  Written for higher ed, but absolutely applicable to K-12 educators as well.

Grades, however, tend to be not very good incentives for writing well. I believe that ultimately, writing must come from an internal, rather than external drive. Why can’t I do that same coaching I claim to value without the cudgel of grades?

via Students Are Increasingly Anxious, but We Can Help Them | Just Visiting | InsideHigherEd.

Info on the new SAT

If you’re a high school (now senior) planning for college, a parent of a rising senior, or someone who works with high school students, you need to learn about the redesigned SAT.

So far, I like what I’m seeing. Or to put it another way, the new SAT is a whole lot more like the ACT, which I always thought was a better test anyway.

The new SAT debuts in March. You will not be able to “mix” scores from the current test and the redesigned test for college admissions, so plan carefully for the upcoming admissions cycle.

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift

Wish List: Piecing Together an Ideal School From the Ground Up | MindShift.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! This is a great, short piece at Mind/Shift about inquiry learning, interdisciplinary teaching, trusting students as active participants in their learning process, assessing through multiple means, investing in teachers through professional development, and not locking in too quickly on how to use technology in a classroom.


“Your children deserve better than this” (Washington Post)

An excellent open letter by two outstanding 1st grade teachers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, defending their decision to stop giving two of the state-mandated assessments to their students.

This is one of the most concise, understandable, realistic explanations of the “on the ground” effects of high-stakes testing on the classroom environment.  The drive to assess! test! measure! quantify! is driving excellent teachers from the classroom who cannot, in good conscience, grind their students down under practices like this.

If you care at all about the education system, whether you have kids in the public schools or not, I urge you to read this, do your own research, and start making some noise.
–Send a copy to your legislators (both state and federal).
–Call the school board members for your district and encourage them to lobby for change at the district and state levels.
–Support teachers in your area who choose to buck the high-stakes testing pressures. They could lose their jobs, but with vocal parent support, they have a chance.
–Insist that your state pay teachers well.  This is a profession that demands a master’s degree, a high level of skill and training, and countless hours of work.  When school is out, teachers are still working. Reward good teachers.

Kids feel like school is a prison.  We aren’t creating 21st century innovators and critical thinkers; we’re destroying kids’ will to learn by testing them to death. We’re reducing teachers to mindless drones, stripped of any autonomy or professional standing.

OK, I’ll stop ranting. Seriously though — read the entire piece not just my excerpt (it’s not long) and then DO something.

We understand the need for assessments. We want to progress monitor our students in order to meet their differentiated teaching needs. We value data. However, we went to college for an understanding on how to do this. We both build in-depth, all-encompassing portfolios that are a TRUE picture of the growth of our students. These portfolios do not just show math and literacy, they also show growth in cognitive development, writing, understandings of every state standard, art, identity of self, science, social studies, social-emotional development, and more. We do these portfolios so that we can have an accurate measure of each child across every domain. We have authentic assessments, off-the-shelf scholarly assessments, summative assessments, and formative assessments; all of which are paired with some sort of work sample or media documentation. Believe us, we know where our students are.

via Your children deserve better than this, first-grade teachers tell parents – The Washington Post.

The Inherent Problem with Education focused on Grades, Success, or Achievement

In his article “The Cost of Overemphasizing Achievement,” Alfie Kohn offers a well-written, sharply-clear explanation of why a focus on achievement, test scores, or even just “good grades” tends to be counterproductive in the classroom.

Specifically, research indicates that the use of traditional letter or number grades is reliably associated with three consequences.
First, students tend to lose interest in whatever they’re learning. As motivation to get good grades goes up, motivation to explore ideas tends to go down. Second, students try to avoid challenging tasks whenever possible. More difficult assignments, after all, would be seen as an impediment to getting a top grade. Finally, the quality of students’ thinking is less impressive. One study after another shows that creativity and even long-term recall of facts are adversely affected by the use of traditional grades.

 I can say that my 9 years of middle/high school classroom experience lines up exactly with Kohn’s critique of a grades-driven educational system.  Nothing annoys me more than hearing, “Mrs Ramey, will this be on the test?” as the prelude question to every lecture, discussion, discovery, or investigation.

As Kohn points out, kids are too smart to thirst for knowledge when their educational landscape is ruled by quantifiable expectations, benchmarks, percentage grades, and the like. I watch very smart students every day choose the easy way out because they see no reason to jeopardize their God-given leg-up in the achievement game.  As a rule, I use a vast mix of assessments in my classroom if possible, and different kinds of projects or test quesions offer each student either challenge or relief once in a while.  But it’s tough to come up with great ideas all the time.

Parents and teachers must work together to combat the educational culture that ranks “achievement” and “success as measured by a number” as more important than effort, real learning, challenge, and curiosity. The most influential and effective agents of cultural change down through history have rarely been “good students.”

Read Kohn’s article. It’s relatively short, and you don’t have to be an education expert to grasp his point.

Cross-posted to Xanga