Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bob Calfee- A Mentor

Robert Calfee 1933-2014
Bob died last night. Bob was my mentor, the kind that sticks in your head long after you moved out of state. I remember the first time Bob spoke inside my head. It was 1999 my first AERA in New Orleans. I went to a session about early reading acquisition. Mid presentation by one of the leading researchers in the field I heard Bob's voice and unique cadence "It's articulation stupid".

Bob has taught me to think about variance, his metaphor of variance as a sausage still lives whenever I teach a methods class. Probably more than anything else Bob showed me how you can manage multiple projects and ideas by switching mindset. I remember watching Bob make the switch. Our meeting time was 30 minutes and when the time was up Bob simply moved to the next thing. We were still there in his office finishing the last details but he has already moved on.

I never accounted really for just how much I've learned from Bob, his analytic approach, his passion, his ever present mentorship.
A colleague just wrote me a note saying we should have our mentors forever. My first thought was, we will.

Finally I remember Bob giving me and Sarah money for dinner at the Mission Inn on our anniversary in those day of graduate school poverty. I would say rest in peace, but that too was not Bob's way.
He voice will always be with me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Five ways that setting the bar too high can be a bad thing

A district I work with has been focusing on literacy especially reading in the last few years. In multiple ways the district keeps redefining what are can be accepted as grade level achievement. In essence they keep raising the bar. As I was reviewing some of the data fro the district it was clear that teachers across the district are struggling to help their students reach the new criteria bu are slowly making significant strides in their efforts. This is the dream of all those interested in education - successfully raising outcomes by increasing the expectations. It's hard to argue against success but I am going to do it anyway. I am not against raising the bar I just want everyone who goes down that road to be aware of the impact beyond that specific area.

1. Discouraging struggling students. Students who are already behind and struggle with the material as it is are even less likely to meet increased demands. The target seems even farther for them which as they become aware of the demands may actually discourage them from trying harder.

2. No teacher flexible time. If teachers are focusing on new and more challenging goals they will take any available time to make their students are making progress in that area. They will used the most comfortable "surefire" methods. That seems great except that it will prevent teacher from trying new things, whether supported by research or not. Teachers know that when you first try new things you waste time learning new ideas and finding "your groove" often it leads to a temporary drop in results. In a high expectation, high stakes environment they are much less likely to try new things.

3. Other subjects get "cannibalized". If you set a high bar in one area, say reading, teachers and administrators will cannibalize instructional time. They do not do away with other subjects they just give them less favorable times. For example unit studies tend to be pushed to the end of the day when kids are most restless and where the time spillover of the day is most felt. Officially science might have 25 minutes daily but in reality it is 15-18 minutes of actual instructional time. That may not sound like a big difference but over time we are losing a third of the instructional time.

4. New areas get no time whatsoever. You want to add future oriented skills like entrepreneurship? Coding? creativity? Engineering? It will not happen during school!

5. New pressures affect teachers in low performing schools disproportionately. If teachers give up on reaching standards with students at-risk they will move to other schools or leave the profession altogether. This is not because they are giving up on students but instead giving up on pleasing a system that seems hell bent on making sure they will fail even if students reach a grade-level standard.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Five Ways My Kids are Growing in a Different World

Some people always call for back to basics. Decoding memorizing facts and old technologies (for example cursive writing). As the day No Child Left Behind predicted will be the day of 100% of students at grade level have come and gone we are left to wonder if the effort was the right one. We cannot deny, however, that kids today are growing up in a world that is changing while their progress is still measured in very old ways.

Watching my kids and students in elementary schools I can immediately see the transformation:
1. They judge the environment by access to wireless bandwidth. My son was asked (10) what was his favorite place for vacation. He answered: "Israel" (we spent a month there this summer). "Why Israel?"I asked. "They have the best internet connection..."

2. Information and entertainment are on demand. One day my 8 year old Itai came back and saw his brother (10) watching an epic episode of Phineas & Ferb. "Are you watching TV?" he said incredelously. The answer was of course, no, it was Netflix. Kids are used to able to access information and entertainment on demand- as they need it and at a touch of a button. They are information privileged but that demands a whole new way to be in the world.

3. They are global. Kids play games with players look at websites from all around the world. They use social media of different kinds with kids next door (sometimes in the next seat) to those across the globe.

4. Their lives are often defined by information overload and not information scarcity. The new information age is not actually more about abundance than scarcity making the old economic rules less successful in describing reality.

5. Reading and writing are no longer limited to print on page. There are rich multi modal compositions that are accessible to all kids (in connected societies).

These differences make growing up today very different than any other period in history and requires us to reconsider many aspects of modern education. Not because it has failed but because using old ways of thinking will privilege the few that already have full access to this new world.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Note from the Minecraft Underground- Expertise, Mining and Music

  by  Andrew Beeston 
We had the TechEDGE 12 conference on campus two weeks ago. Rick Marlatt presented about Minecraft. He was excited about the presentation but I was secretly worried that very few will come to his presentation. Most of the participants teach or plan to teach in Elementary schools and I was not sure they will be excited about minecraft. Well I was utterly wrong. The session was full of faculty current and future teachers.

In conversations with my students afterwards I got the gist. For example M said "students talk about Minecraft all the time I have to at least find out what it is. They take turns reading the few Minecraft books we have".

Ann Brown called young students universal novices, at the same time we all strive for competency usually stemming from our areas of expertise be it football, brain science, or Harry Potter trivia. Minecraft provides a niche of expertise. Compared to most adults even fairly beginning Minecrafters have expertise. Minecraft has a rich vocabulary that includes complex words like bedrock, obsidian, and creepers to name a few. Jargon flies whenever students get together. And practice, practice, practice, hours of effort go into it.

This is very similar to what happens to students as they learn to play an instrument. They practice, get better, and with others get a sense of growing expertise. At the same time they watch others play with new eyes and new understanding. Slowly they learn new vocabulary and can communicate in ways that others not privee to this domain will not understand. Finally they get the experience of "being in the orchestra" a sense of collborating and sharing with your peers sensing a whole greater than the sum.

The worlds with their unique construction and opportunities allow students to become experts and learn not just about skill and  citizenship but also about what it feels like being an expert.