Thursday, September 20, 2012

About "Enrichment"

We use the term "enrichment" from time to time in schools, and I hate it.

Sometimes it refers to the opportunities that our "gifted" students have above the regular curriculum to pursue research and projects that they care about.  Sometimes, it refers to opportunities given to all students after they finish their regular classroom work.  This supposed "enrichment" is meant to give them a "richer" educational experience..

Why should kids have to wait for boring test-prep based seat work to be over before they get a rich education?  Why is this rich education often only available to our students who are labeled "gifted"?  Doesn't every kid deserve the opportunity to see relevance in what they learn?  Shouldn't we be striving to allow all children the opportunity to become passionate about learning?

If "enrichment" is that extra stuff we do, what is the normal stuff we do?  Maybe we should classify it as "unrichment". 

I hate the term because enrichment shouldn't be the extra opportunity we give kids in schools.  It should be the focus of what we do in schools.

Then, we wouldn't have to call it "enrichment".  We could just call it learning.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Closing the Parent Communication Gap

I try and communicate regularly with parents, post tons of student work online, provide study guides and videos on our class wiki, and open my classroom to parents who want to come in and see what we're learning.  Every year I still get questions from parents who still are unaware of why we are using certain technologies and what resources are available.

To help close this communication gap, I did a few things differently this year. 

First, I am using Edomodo, a education social networking site that allows parent access, for the first time.  I'm hoping that this allows parents to have more insight into what we are doing in the classroom.

Next, I used Screencast-o-Matic to create this short video explaining some of the websites we are going to be using this year and how they can be used at home.  It's a great tool because it's unblocked by my school's filter, and it does not require anything to be downloaded.  I uploaded the video to a site called MyBrainShark, which I've come to like more than TeacherTube, SchoolTube, and Voicethread for video hosting.

Finally, I am going to have students share the products of their learning on both our class wiki and personal blogs this year using Kidblog.  I'm hoping that having an individual space of their own to showcase their learning will make students want to share more than in the past.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Don't Parents Appreciate "Reforms"?

We keep hearing over and over again that recent education "reforms" are good for children.  Proponents of this "reform" movement will say, "Sure, selfish teachers and those nasty unions hate what we're doing, but it's good for students and their parents."

I find that a bit curious.  In my 16 years of teaching I've never had a parent say any of the following things:

  • "I really wish my child had more students in their class.  She is getting too much attention from her teacher."
  • "My child is too engaged in your class and has too much fun learning.  Please do more test prep with him."
  • "I'm really upset that my child is becoming too well rounded.  I'd really appreciate if you stopped teaching her anything but reading and math."
  • "My child's school has too many resources, the facilities are too nice, and I hate that it's so easy to learn in that environment.  I wish they would let the place get run down a bit."
  • "Kindergarten was terrible for my child.  She would have been so much better off if it wasn't available.  My child would have been so much better prepared for first grade if there was no kindergarten."
  • "It would be so much better for my child if they eliminated all of those extracurricular activities."
  • "Instead of spending money on children, I wish the school would give more to companies that publish test-prep materials."
  • "All that learning time is bad for my child.  I wish you would spend less time letting them learn, and more time testing how much they learned."
  • "I love the stress my child feels during the three weeks the state tests are given."
You would think if these "reforms" were making our schools so much better that parents would be more aware of the great changes going on.  Maybe they just don't know what's good for their kids as well as legislators do.

I don't fight against high-stakes standardized testing, budget cuts, allowing for-profit charter school management companies to siphon public school funds, and the influence huge test-prep corporations have over legislators because I'm a member of a teacher's union or because I am worried about my job.  There's a much more important reason.

Like every other teacher I know, I chose my career because I wanted to help help kids find the potential inside themselves so that future generations are better than mine.  I want kids to love learning, and to develop their talents so that they have every opportunity to be successful in their lives.  Like every other parent I know, I want the same things for my own children. 

I fight because "reform" is stealing the future from our students and my children.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

If Testing is So Great for Kids...

Imagine a situation in which you have the option to send your child to two schools.  Here are the two schools' mission statements:

School #1 - Our goal is to ensure each student in our school learns the standards that have been developed by our legislators, so we test them at every opportunity to measure their progress.  In order to prevent students from failing to meet these standards we eliminate music, art, physical education, and any other non-tested subject for students who don't test well in order to give them additional instruction on test preparation.  

School #2 - To meet the needs of an ever changing society and develop each student's natural potential, we strive to foster the unique talents of each individual through a comprehensive program of academic, cultural, and physical development.  Our collective goal is to develop life-long learners who can work cooperatively and collaboratively, respect and value the uniqueness of others, and think critically to meet the challenges they will face in their lives.

In which school would you enroll your child?  In which school would your child be more engaged?  Which would be more likely to provide an environment in which learning thrives?  Which would prepare them for their future better?  

Then why are we spending so much time and money trying to force our public schools to be more like school #1?  

If testing is so great for kids, why aren't the expensive private schools that legislators and CEOs send their kids to demanding more testing and changing their mission statements to be more like school #1 above?

Maybe it's because the standardized testing movement has nothing to do with what's best for kids.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Best Year Ever

This conversation took place in my classroom at the end of the day today when I was giving an overview of what we are going to be studying:

Student: "Are we going to be learning a foreign language this year?"

Me: "If you want to learn a foreign language this year, I will do everything I can to help you. I want this year to be about you learning whatever you want to learn."

Student: "I really want to learn how to 
speak Spanish and Chinese."

Me: "Great! We can use Google Translate, and I'll look for some other tools to help you. Just make sure you share what you learn with everyone else on our class wiki and your blog."

Student: "This is going to be the best year ever."

I hope it is the best year ever for her.  And all of my students.  
I really do love what I do for a living.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Here We Go Again: 5 Things I'm Looking Forward to This School Year

The school year officially starts tomorrow for me, and I'm pretty excited to get back to helping my students do and learn amazing things.  
The summer was a wonderful time for me, and I enjoyed pursuing passions I have outside of teaching.  I spent three amazing weeks touring Europe with my family and did a bit of travel blogging.  I started training for a half marathon that I'm going to run in November.  I enjoyed time with my wife and kids.

For the first summer in a long time, I took time away from teaching and education.  I didn't attend any conferences this summer or teach any graduate classes.  The books I read were all on subjects other than education (most were travel guides to places in Europe).  You may have noticed that I haven't posted on this blog for about two months.  

I needed that time away.  I wasn't feeling burned out by any means, but I was feeling frustrated.  So many of the trends in education are bad for our students, and I needed time away to accept that the change in direction I'm fighting for sometimes happens slower than I want.

Now, refreshed, I'm looking forward to a new school year and all of the amazing things that will happen in the next 9 months.  As a throwback to my previous "Friday's Five" posts, here are five things I'm really looking forward to this year:
  • Having my students blog regularly - I've done bits of blogging with my kids before, but not on any kind of regular basis.  This year, I'm going to have them start in the first week of school and post often.  While our class wiki has been a great place for students to post the amazing things they've done over the past 5 years, I want each student to also have a place on the web that is their own.  I want them to be able to share the incredible things they are doing with others, get feedback, and have pride in the product of their learning.
  • Giving students more freedom in what they read - Every year it seems that I learn new ways to ditch the reading textbook, give students more choice, and still teach all of the standards that my kids are supposed to learn.  I'm hoping to expand that even more this year and rely on the textbook even less.
  • Math class - I love teaching math.  I love that my students seem to love learning math.  I love that my admin collected all the math textbooks in trucks and sold them to some other school district.
  • Being an American History teacher during a presidential election.  Sure, there's the obvious benefits of it being an election year like the fact that it's much easier for kids to understand the electoral college.  There's also the less obvious benefits that students will disagree, argue, and debate more.  There will be ample opportunity to have them defend their positions, research why candidates do the things they do, and learn about bias.  
  • The unknown - Each year and each group of kids is so different than any other.  I love that the best lessons and the most meaningful interactions usually happen in moments of unplanned serendipity.  I can't wait to experience more of those moments with this year's group of students.