This evening I listened in on a webinar with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), The Conversation Ignored for Too Long: Race and Racism in Education and Society with a remarkable panel including José Vilson, Liza Talusan, Cinnamon Kills First, and Tia Brown McNair. I joined late and my internet cut out partway into the webinar, so I missed a fair amount, but the webinar ended with a Lakota blessing sung by Cinnamon Kills First (who is Northern Cheyenne).
I decided to watch the embedded documentary called In the White Man’s Image about the Native American boarding schools. It pains me as an educator how often education is used as a colonizing weapon. When I think of all we have lost as a country to our individualistic culture, it makes me so frustrated and sad. At one moment in the documentary, Sid Byrd tells the story of returning home from his boarding school and finding he has lost his language and cannot communicate with the people he loves. He also explains that
In the Lakota way, you are responsible not to yourself but to the Oyate, to the group. Whereas in the school, you say you have to be your own person, you have to acquire an education, and you had to do that by yourself. You could not be responsible to the group. You are responsible, so you take care of number one, and you get to the top at the expense of others.
This statement struck me. If I could pinpoint one thing that gets in our way the most in this society, it’s that we take care of number one at the expense of others. We feel no responsibility to the group. Everything from climate change to not wearing masks during a pandemic (and mocking those who do as “sheep”) to racism to misogyny to school shootings stems from the fact that White American culture celebrates, maybe even worships individualism. It is one reason why we dehumanize certain groups of people. It is one reason why we scapegoat people. It is also at the heart of assimilationism. When we ask people to assimilate, we’re saying that their culture and background are unworthy and they should adopt a colonizing culture.
My students in Social Justice watched a documentary from PBS that was part of the series The American Experience. It’s a 3-DVD set called We Shall Remain. We watched the episode titled “Wounded Knee” about the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the occupation of Wounded Knee in the 1970s. My students found it all very interesting, and many of them were particularly struck by the stories of Native people made to attend boarding schools. This is a clip from that episode (PBS doesn’t offer embed code). Please click over and watch it. The whole series is well worth the investment to watch, and I highly recommend it.
Contemplate what we have all lost at the altar of individualism.
One of the many reasons I haven’t had much time to blog lately is the fact that I went back to grad school in September. I’m working on my doctorate at Northeastern University. Working full time and going to school has meant all the writing I’ve had time to do has mostly been for school, but it’s been a fantastic learning experience so far. I have learned so much from the reading and writing I have done. I can’t even compare my experience with earning my master’s degree to my experience working on my doctorate, and I’m only sorry I wasted so much tuition money and time on the master’s. Here I’m showing my ignorance, but I didn’t realize one could go right into a doctoral degree program with a bachelor’s degree.
My dissertation in practice is an action research investigation on grading and assessment practices. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it’s perhaps not a surprise, as assessment has been an interest of mine for a long time. I have come to the conclusion that grading impedes not only motivation but also learning, as students tend to focus on the grade at the expense of the learning. It’s true that some students don’t find grades to be a motivator, and those students tend to view them more as a stick than a carrot. Whether grades motivate students or not, however, they do encourage students to focus on the wrong thing, and even students who truly want to learn find grades demotivating. Students have told me they are afraid to take risks. They select “easier” options. They try to figure out what the teacher wants to hear and parrot it back rather than think for themselves. All of this is anecdotal—I’ve seen it many times over the years; however, I see no reason why students would be dishonest about their feelings regarding grades.
Going back to school has put me in the same position as my students. The anxiety I have experienced over my grades has been difficult to manage at times. Of course I want to learn, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to please my professors. Even though I’m actually studying the effects of grading and know exactly what is happening to me, I find myself unable to focus only on the learning. I want to earn good grades too badly. It’s utterly ironic on a few levels. I’m actually doing very well, for one thing, and for another, the research is quite clear that grades are subjective, demotivating, and even contribute to poor performance (Bloxham, et al., 2016; Brackett, et al., 2013; Cvencek, et al., 2018; Klapp, 2015). My hunch is it has to do with mindset. I noticed my students relaxed quite a bit once I instituted a liberal revision policy.
One of my classmates mentioned that a professor I will have for a summer course is a hard grader. So naturally, I’ve already started worrying about a class I won’t start for nearly a month. It made me reflect a little bit on reputation. I don’t think I have a reputation for being a hard grader. One person told me my reputation was my expectations are “reasonable,” and I’ll take it. My students this year seemed to be happy in my classes, and my course surveys revealed they felt cared a for and that the choice and agency they had was important for their growth. I relaxed a lot on my own grading practices as a result of the research I have done and because of my own experiences as a student. I truly do not understand the need for a graduate program to use grades.
We know what to do about grading and assessment. I think one reason I was not accepted to another graduate program to which I applied is that my research does not examine a gap in the research. On the contrary, there is plenty of research on grading and assessment, and going all the way back to the 1800s, the research has been fairly clear. And yet, we keep reporting learning by using grades. So even though there is no gap in the research, it’s clear to me that classroom practices haven’t changed as a result of the research, and that’s what I’m interested in: change. We need to do right by our students and fix this problem that has plagued education for far too long.
Bloxham, S., den-Outer, B., Hudson, J., & Price, M. (2016). Let’s stop the pretence of consistent marking: Exploring the multiple limitations of assessment criteria. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(3), 466-481. doi:10.1080/02602938.2015.1024607
Brackett, M. A., Floman, J. L., Ashton-James, C., Cherkasskiy, L., & Salovey, P. (2013). The influence of teacher emotion on grading practices: A preliminary look at the evaluation of student writing. Teachers and Teaching, 19(6), 634-646. doi:10.1080/13540602.2013.827453
Cvencek, D., Fryberg, S. A., Covarrubias, R., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2018). Self‐concepts, self‐esteem, and academic achievement of minority and majority North American elementary school children. Child Development, 89(4), 1099-1109. doi:10.1111/cdev.12802
Klapp, A. (2015). Does grading affect educational attainment? A longitudinal study. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 22(3), 302-323. doi:10.1080/0969594X.2014.988121
First and foremost: From kindergarten on, students spend thousands of hours studying subjects irrelevant to the modern labor market. Why do English classes focus on literature and poetry instead of business and technical writing? Why do advanced-math classes bother with proofs almost no student can follow? When will the typical student use history? Trigonometry? Art? Music? Physics? Latin? The class clown who snarks “What does this have to do with real life?” is onto something.
One of the best compliments I ever received from a student (thank you, Tali!) was that my class was “relevant.” And she said it because we studied literature (poetry is, by the way, literature, so I’m unclear why the two were separated). We read The Bluest Eye, and Tali wrote an essay about how the novel reflected modern unrealistic notions about beauty standards. She researched the lengths people go to alter their appearance and the mental health effects of being unable to accept and love ourselves as we are. Don’t try to tell me literature isn’t relevant. It shows us who we are, and it shows us others who are not like us. It gives us an opportunity to understand our world. It is one thing for school to prepare us to make a living. It also needs to prepare us to make a life, which is a point Professor Caplan seems to have missed in his argument that the humanities, in particular, are irrelevant. I would challenge anyone in Professor Robin Bates’s English class to tell me what he teaches isn’t relevant.
I can’t understand anyone who would argue we don’t need to study history. A lack of understanding of history is precisely how we wound up in our current political situation. I suppose I want to know who the typical student is, also, because I would argue we should all be well-rounded. The content is not as important as wrestling with the ideas, developing critical thinking and communication skills, and having a greater understanding of our world and all the ways in which it works. It doesn’t make studying the content “useless.”
Caplan argues that “Every college student who does the least work required to get good grades silently endorses the theory [of educational signaling],” meaning that it doesn’t really matter what you study in college—you will exhibit certain traits employers are looking for just because you have done college work at a certain level. The first thing that’s wrong with the argument is doing work to get grades. People who are intrinsically interested in a topic will do the work regardless, but people who are doing the work for a grade are not intrinsically motivated. The work is a means to a different end. And that’s exactly what is wrong with school. Grades. We need to get rid of grading because it gets in the way of learning.
Caplan also mentions learning loss:
The conventional view—that education pays because students learn—assumes that the typical student acquires, and retains, a lot of knowledge. She doesn’t. Teachers often lament summer learning loss: Students know less at the end of summer than they did at the beginning.
What kind of learning are we talking about? Memorizing facts? Students will not forget what they apply and what they teach to others. Caplan adds that “Human beings have trouble retaining knowledge they rarely use.” True. What kind of knowledge are we talking about, though? If I can look it up or store it somewhere, I’m not going to stuff it in my brain somewhere because I have a lot going on, and I am not wasting space remembering what I can look up. That’s why, for example, if something I need to remember to do isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. We do need to make a compelling case for the relevance of what we teach students, or rather, what we ask students to learn. That does not mean college isn’t for everyone who wants to go.
Caplan truly reveals his hand when he remarks, “I’m cynical about students. The vast majority are philistines.”
Frankly, if this is your attitude, you should not be teaching because you do not love your students. It’s classist garbage.
Caplan maintains, “Those who believe that college is about learning how to learn should expect students who study science to absorb the scientific method, then habitually use it to analyze the world. This scarcely occurs.” Then the problem is the way college professors teach the scientific method (or whatever else you care to use as an example), right? It stands to reason we should at least examine that it is possible that college professors are not helping students apply what they are learning. After all, Caplan says, “Students who excel on exams frequently fail to apply their knowledge to the real world.” That’s because EXAMS ARE NOT APPLICATION. They are not good assessments if we want students to learn what we hope they will learn. They are easy to grade, but as I said before, grades don’t have a connection to learning. I haven’t given an exam in years, and I don’t anticipate ever giving an exam for the rest of my career. Why? Precisely because it teaches students to cram a lot of information into their heads, dump it out on the test, and then forget it. Just as Howard Gardner argues in a quote Caplan uses in the article:
Students who receive honor grades in college-level physics courses are frequently unable to solve basic problems and questions encountered in a form slightly different from that on which they have been formally instructed and tested.
Being “formally instructed and tested” on a topic doesn’t mean you’ve learned it. Are instructors asking students what they have learned? They might be surprised. So what is Caplan doing to change things? Not much. As he says, “I try to teach my students to connect lectures to the real world and daily life. My exams are designed to measure comprehension, not memorization.”
Caplan is expecting that because he lectures, students are learning. What is he asking his students to do to apply their understandings of economics? What research projects are they taking on? What sorts of research-based writing are they doing? What sorts of questions are they wrestling with in Socratic discussion?
Caplan adds, right after his remark about being cynical about students, that he’s “cynical about teachers. The vast majority are uninspiring.” I don’t disagree with Caplan here. I’m not sure if I think the vast majority are uninspiring, but I do think teachers who lecture and expect students will retain everything they say and then measure understanding with exams are probably uninspiring. And a large number of teachers do assess in this way.
Educators—at all levels, including and maybe especially college—need to take a hard look at themselves and understand how they teach affects the results they are hoping to achieve. They need to know who they are teaching. They need to stop shaming their students and blaming them for not learning, especially when the way they are teaching students results in the lack of learning and understanding that they decry in their students.
My thoughts in this blog post are incomplete, as I am still trying to figure out how to articulate what I am feeling about teaching in our current climate. I finished reading both Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time this week. Thinking about the implications for the future of education and for our country (and perhaps even the world) as a whole, I have realized that what we need in this political moment is radical love.
My AP Literature students just finished King Lear. I’m in the midst of reading papers. I actually assign them to write a “rumination paper.” I learned about these types of essays while at the Kenyon Writing Workshop for Teachers. It is part literary analysis and part personal narrative—an excellent way for students to connect with the literature they are reading. At least one of my students wrote about her admiration for Cordelia for refusing to flatter Lear in Act I, Scene 1, when she tells him she loves him “according to [her] bond, no more, no less” (1.1.102). The student sees Cordelia as speaking truth to power. She knows how her sisters feel about her father, and she is unable to lie as they do. She doesn’t see love as a business transaction. After Cordelia dies, Lear is inconsolable and can barely speak:
No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou ’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never. (5.3.369-72)
Lear does not say “I loved her.” But that is what he means. In her essay, my student connected Cordelia’s response to her father’s request to flatter him with her own response to a friend who lashed out against NFL players “disrespecting our flag.” Speaking up has cost my student her friendship, but she had to speak up, just as Cordelia did. Cordelia wavers for a moment, wondering what she will say when her father calls upon her to speak, but when he does, she stands firm, even in the face of his unfair treatment. When he gives her a chance to “mend [her] speech a little,” she refuses to retract her words (1.1.103). However, by the end of the play, Lear realizes he has wronged Cordelia and asks for her forgiveness, which she gives freely. It is an act of radical love for Cordelia to deal honestly with her father. It is an act of radical love for my student to help her friend understand why NFL players are taking a knee.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire argues that
The oppressor is solidary with the oppressed only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labor—when he stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love. (50)
Later in the text, Freire says, “If I do not love the world—if I do not love life—if I do not love people—I cannot enter into dialogue” (90). He adds that dialogue cannot exist without humility, faith, hope, and critical thinking (91-92). Freire says that “love is an act of courage, not of fear” and “love is commitment to others” (89).
Baldwin tells his nephew in The Fire Next Time that “To be loved, baby, hard, and at once, and forever” will “strengthen [him] against the loveless world” (7). However, the problem we encounter is that “When we were told to love everybody, I had thought that that meant everybody. But no. It applied only to those who believe as we did” (40).
I don’t understand a great deal of the hatred I have seen since the election. We have slipped into loving only those who believe as we do, and we have lost our way. If we are truly to understand one another, we have to engage in dialogue with them. And as Freire says, we cannot have dialogue without empathy and love.
This lack of love leads to oppression, as Freire and Baldwin describe in their books. However, oppression enslaves not just the oppressed but also the oppressor. As Baldwin says, “Whoever debases others is debasing himself” (83). Freire echoes this argument in claiming that in freeing themselves, the oppressed also “can free their oppressors” (56). Hating others is a way of imprisoning one’s self. One of the reasons we are seeing so much hatred and so much lack of understanding is that we as teachers we are still subscribing to what Freire describes as the “banking model” of education in which treat students like “‘containers,’ into ‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher” (72) rather than asking students to “investigate their thinking” (109) and teaching them to think for themselves and to listen to others, acknowledging that they may think differently, but that we can still engage in dialogue and try to understand each other. It’s perhaps the only way forward in our current moment.
Reading these two books back to back helped me understand why we are where we are—as educators, as citizens, as fellow human beings. Fear dominates our landscape. We are afraid of a group of people—any group you might consider the “other”—moving out of their “place.” As Freire says, “For the oppressors, ‘human beings’ refers only to themselves; other people are ‘things.’ For the oppressors, there exists only one right: their right to live in peace, over against the right, not always even recognized, but simply conceded, of the oppressed to survival” (57-58). We feel threatened by so many things at this moment: immigrants, people of other races, people of other religions, people with other political views, people of other genders, people of other sexual orientations. We find it impossible to enter into dialogue with others because we find it impossible to love them. We are so preoccupied with hating others that we are unable to view them as fellow human beings. I’m convinced that almost all the violence we perpetrate against others, whether physical or mental, is the result of not being able to view others as fully human, like ourselves. When we do not empathize with others, it’s much easier to hurt them. And in dehumanizing others, we dehumanize ourselves.
I wonder sometimes if we are in the last gasp of clinging to our fears and hatred before we embrace others in dialogue. I hope so. I’m not sure I believe it is so. Unlike Robert Frost, I’m afraid that ice might be quite a lot more dangerous than fire. As educators, then, we need to embrace radical love. Baldwin says that “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within” (95). We need to accept others as they are and meet them where they are. We need to love ourselves as we are. We need to talk with others so that we can understand them. We need to listen to them. We need to be open to each other. We need to love each other.
Now is not a time for teachers to be fainthearted. I know I’m afraid. It’s a difficult time to be an educator. In particular, it’s a difficult time for any educator who is taking risks that our test-driven culture does not cultivate or encourage. However, if we are to teach the next generation how to save the world, we need to be radical. As Freire says,”The pedagogy of the oppressed… is a task for radicals” (39). And we need to practice radical love.
I was recently asked which private schools in the Atlanta area had 1:1 laptop programs, and I honestly had no idea, so I contacted two colleagues, and I discovered that of the schools who have 1:1 programs, most use Macs. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a Mac fan. I wanted to upgrade to Lion as soon as it was released, but I discovered that several programs I run regularly don’t play well with Lion. This is probably no surprise, especially due to the fact that in Lion, Rosetta is discontinued. I advised my Mac-loving colleagues at work to hold off on an upgrade until I could find out when these programs would work with Lion. The main programs I’m concerned about are the following:
GradeQuick Web Plugin (not really a plugin, but a program). In my opinion, GradeQuick doesn’t work well even in Snow Leopard. It functions, but the UI is terrible, and it opens a different window for each class.
SMART Notebook 10.8. I only know of one teacher who regularly connects her SMARTBoard to her MacBook, but I am sure others use Notebook on their Macs to create files to use with their SMARTBoards.
Konica Bizhub copier drivers. We can print to our copiers using our Macs, but the Konica website doesn’t have a driver for 10.7 yet, and they have published no ETA for releasing one on their website.
I am going to an Edline/GradeQuick conference next week, and I hope to be able to find out more about when GradeQuick will work on Lion at that time. This email from Edline support to the LRSD Technology Center is the only information I’ve been able to find. The tone of the letter disturbs me because it sounds as if Edline is blaming Apple for the incompatibility. Apple switched to Intel-based processors some time ago, and Rosetta (at least to my understanding) was meant to be a way to transition from PowerPC-based to Intel-based processors. The announcement that Apple was making this change was made in 2005. Snow Leopard, which was introduced in 2009, was released as Intel-only and you had to download Rosetta in order to run PowerPC programs. To my way of thinking, software developers knew two years ago which way the wind was blowing, but because Apple was still supporting Rosetta, they effectively decided not to make any changes to their software until Apple forced them to. Education software is not always known to be the most proactive bunch, but given how many schools seem to be moving to 1:1 laptops and how many of those programs are using Apple, it just doesn’t make business sense to decide not to upgrade until you’re forced to. There are alternatives out there, and if you want to keep a school’s business, it seems logical to make sure your software runs on their hardware.
SMART is making the same mistake. A cursory glance at the SMARTBoard Revolution Ning reveals users are having a whole host of problems with Notebook 10.8 on Lion—actually, seems to be unstable with Macs in general. Take a look at this thread. The answer that the original poster was given when he asked when SMART would be resolving known issues with Macs and SMART Notebook? Not until next year when the next update is pushed out. So users need to downgrade to 10.7 if they wish to use Notebook on their Macs? When so many schools use Macs?
I tweeted Konica about the drivers for the bizhub copiers, and they replied that the new driver should be released next month, but that the driver for 10.6 would still work on Lion. That is good news for those of us who print from our Macs. Still no firm date, and “should work” doesn’t mean “will work,” but since I can’t upgrade due to issues with GradeQuick and SMART Notebook, I can’t test it.
I have decided that I want to install VMWare Fusion to run the programs in Windows on my Mac. I admit I feel frustrated. Would the software companies drag their feet like this on Windows software? Given the large number of Mac OS users in education, how can they justify dragging their feet on Mac software?
Do you know of any other programs educators might use that will not work in Lion? Please share in the comments. Also, feel free to share any other issues you’ve had with using Macs in school.
I went to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the theater the summer before I started ninth grade. We had just moved to Maryland Heights, MO, and I would be attending school at Parkway North High School in Crève Coeur in a few weeks. I didn’t know anyone. I remember feeling scared and stressed. How would I be expected to dress? How would I make friends? Why hadn’t my mother signed me up for band?
Obviously the larger message of the film was one calculated to appeal to people in my age group: the sort of carpe diem theme I would later visit in the poetry of Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell (and they were writing in the seventeenth century—there truly is nothing new under the sun). But there was also this notion of defying authority, represented in the movie by the dean of students, Mr. Rooney. Authority wants Ferris in school instead of out and about in Chicago, where he will actually learn important stuff about life. Perhaps no scene embodies the uselessness of school as well as Ben Stein’s famous economics lecture:
Despite the fact that this film turned 25 years old (yes! I checked Wikipedia!) this past summer, it still resonates. My students were talking about it, in fact, just this week. There is no doubt that it has become a pop culture icon, and it’s interesting to look at its critical reception. Richard Roeper is a big fan. His license plate even says “SVFRRIS.” He says the film is
[O]ne of my favorite movies of all time. It has one of the highest ‘repeatability’ factors of any film I’ve ever seen… I can watch it again and again. There’s also this, and I say it in all sincerity: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is something of a suicide prevention film, or at the very least a story about a young man trying to help his friend gain some measure of self-worth… Ferris has made it his mission to show Cameron that the whole world in front of him is passing him by, and that life can be pretty sweet if you wake up and embrace it. That’s the lasting message of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (Wikipedia)
Steve Almond says, it is “the most sophisticated teen movie [he has] ever seen” and added that it is “one film [he] would consider true art, [the] only one that reaches toward the ecstatic power of teendom and, at the same time, exposes the true, piercing woe of that age” (Wikipedia). National Review writer Mike Hemmingway says, “If there’s a better celluloid expression of ordinary American freedom than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I have yet to see it. If you could take one day and do absolutely anything, piling into a convertible with your best girl and your best friend and taking in a baseball game, an art museum, and a fine meal seems about as good as it gets” (Wikipedia). One of the film’s stars, Ben Stein, describes it as “the most life-affirming movie possibly of the entire post-war period” (Wikipedia). I found it interesting that such a diverse group as Wolf Blitzer, Dan Quayle, Michael Bublé, Simon Cowell, and Justin Timberlake call it their favorite film.
I remember the film resonating quite strongly with me and other members of my generation. It remains a cultural touchstone. We have all felt like taking a day off without permission, playing hookey, and getting away with it. But I was thinking quite a lot about the film’s message about school, particularly in light of Steve Jobs’s recent death. In his commencement address to Stanford in 2005, Jobs admits to dropping out of college after a semester and auditing classes he found interesting: famously, he credits one class he took in calligraphy for awakening an awareness of and interest in typefaces that would inform development of fonts on Apple computers. Neither Jobs or his sometime friend and rival Bill Gates graduated from college. I have heard them cited in arguments that college is unnecessary, and the message that school isn’t really necessary and actually can impede your real learning is a big part of Ferris Bueller. I’ve not necessarily heard either Jobs or Gates make that argument, but the fact is that both of them learned by taking a risk and jumping in, failing, then trying again. I’m not sure school could have taught them what they needed to know to do that, beyond the basic skills. Frankly, I have never heard anyone advance the argument that Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane would have spent their day better in school.
I don’t think it hurts us to examine whether what we’re teaching students—and the way we’re teaching them—is relevant to their lives, both in the present and the future. Sometimes I think we do a poor job of communicating the relevance of what we teach to our students. I overheard a disagreement about this issue the other day between a colleague and student, and the colleague walked away, while the student remained unconvinced. Listen, I am not sure I would have won that argument either, but I cringed a little when the “I’m the adult with the experience” card was played. Students will use math, science, art, literature, social studies, and all of the other subjects we teach. They might not know it, but they will. We can take this lesson from Ferris Bueller: we have a long way to go help students see school as compelling, and it starts with relevance. A student can’t give me a higher compliment than to tell me something I taught them was “relevant.”
Perhaps if Ferris’s teachers had thought about that issue, he and his friends wouldn’t have had to take the day off to learn.
Another lesson we can draw from Jobs is to remember our “time is limited” and we shouldn’t “waste it living someone else’s life.” One can hear echoes of Ferris Bueller’s statement that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
I think it’s important that our students don’t feel time spent learning from us is time wasted. I hope instead that they feel it is preparing them for what they want to do and awakening their curiosity.
And we should feel it’s important and relevant work to spend our days teaching them.
I work in a private school and don’t have any plans to change that—certainly not anytime soon. I feel like I am on the sidelines in this great education debate. I see the comments on Twitter and read the blogs. But I have some questions.
If teachers’ unions are horrible organizations who protect bad teachers from being fired, why don’t all the students without teachers’ unions, including my own, outperform states with unions? One would think that if the unions are the problem, then states without them would have the best teachers in place, and therefore would have the highest test scores.
Why does everyone think charter schools are the answer? One where I interviewed some years ago wanted to pay me about $7,000 a year less than I was making at the time. Surely they’re not going to attract the best teachers if they will not pay the teachers a wage commensurate with what they could make elsewhere… right?
If testing kids is the answer for teacher accountability, why is it that my school’s students have managed to be as successful in college and work as students with this testing background when we only administer the PSAT and AP tests? (We encourage SAT and/or ACT.) I mean, shouldn’t it follow that my colleagues and I aren’t really being held accountable enough and that our students might somehow be slipping through the cracks?
I recently downloaded an app on my iPhone called Appsaurus. What this app does is recommend other apps based on your interests—a little bit like Apple’s Genius. I think it might be a bit buggy because I keep blocking some types of games apps, and I even turned off those types of app recommendations in my preferences, but I’m still seeing them. An app reviewer noted the same issue in her review. However, that issue aside, I have learned about some great apps through this app. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it is a pretty good list of apps that your students who have iPod Touches, iPhones, or iPads might find useful. Prices are accurate as of June 30, 2010, but are subject to change.
Homework and Planning
iHomework. iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Max OS X. This app bills itself as “the only app you need in order to stay organized in school.” iHomework allows users to add assignments, courses, and teachers. An interesting feature of this app is that it allows users to visit the course website or email the teacher. It allows students to keep track of grades, add repeating assignments (such as weekly quizzes), create to-do lists that can be used for non-educational activities, too, and sync between the OS X and the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. $1.99.
myHomework. iPhone, iPod Touch, and Mac OS X. This app is described as “a simple and easy to use iPhone and Mac application that allows you to keep track of your homework, classes, projects and tests while interacting with a really cool design.” It does indeed, have an attractive design. This app also has a sharing feature that allows students to “transfer homework or class entries to friends and email homework reminders.” I can’t tell from the website whether the iPhone/iPod Touch app will sync with the Mac OS X app. Free.
Things. iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Mac OS X. I use this app as a to-do list and grad school planner. It enables users to create repeating events and specify when they end. It syncs with the Mac OS X app. Things also allows users to create projects with multiple to-do steps, file goals as “Someday” items, which is handy if you want to do it but aren’t sure when you’ll get to it, and allows you to specify the number of days before the due date that the reminder will appear in Things. $9.99.
iStudiez Pro. iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. This app allows users to input flexible schedules and keep track of their grades. The app has a nice design. The calendar feature resembles Apple’s iCal app. You can try out a “lite” version of the app for free. $2.99.
Evernote. Mac OS X, Windows, Web, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Blackberry, Android, Palm Pre/Palm Pixi, Windows Mobile. This app “to save your ideas, things you see, and things you like. Then find them all on any computer, phone or device you use. For free.” The granddaddy of useful applications, Evernote allows users to take notes, clip web pages, take photos, take screen shots, and organize and tag items into different notebooks. Free.
Springpad. iPhone, iPad, Android, Web. This app allows users to bookmark sites, take notes, take pictures, and scan bar codes. You can integrate it with Twitter or Facebook, and email. Free.
Stick It. This sticky notes app allows users to take notes and put sticky notes on their lock screens and bump phones to transfer notes to other phones. $0.99.
I know there are a lot of wonderful iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad apps for education, and this list only discusses a few useful apps. Do you have a favorite? Please share in the comments.
Several colleagues at work and I had a discussion today about whether it is acceptable to be friends with students on Facebook. I held the minority opinion that it was fine, but my colleagues’ fear is that being friends with students will potentially expose teachers to illegal or just plain stupid behavior on the part of students. What is the legal responsibility of a teacher who sees a photo of a student drinking on Facebook? I think it’s a murky area that hasn’t been tested well, and until a precedent-setting case is tried, I’m not sure there’s a clear answer. I do think that each teacher needs to decide paramaters for Facebook use.
I personally do not request friendship from students. If they connect with me on Facebook, I want it to be their choice. I personally feel that requesting friendship from students could put them in an awkward position: might they feel compelled to accept because you’re their teacher? What if they really don’t want to open their Facebook lives to you? On the other hand, if a student requests friendship with me, I accept. I do not reject some students and accept others. I don’t think that’s fair. Until they graduate, any student on my friends list can only see a limited profile.
One positive aspect of using Facebook is that nothing else is as quick in terms of communicating with students. I have often asked students to get together on Facebook and study or to spread a message I want to make sure they get. Because I am not friends with students who don’t request it, I can’t use it as a reliable method to contact all of my students. I created a Facebook page, and they can become fans of that page without being my friend, but again, it’s not something I feel comfortable requiring.
I think teachers need to be intelligent and remember that anything that is posted on Facebook should be something the teacher is comfortable sharing in a major newspaper or a billboard over the major city interstate highway. If it’s not, then don’t post it. Teachers can and have been fired over injudicious Facebook postings. I do not write about anything I think my students, parents, co-workers, or administrators would find objectionable, nor do I post pictures of the same.
We do have some way to go in terms of educating our students to behave as if Facebook were public. I personally don’t look at their pictures or profiles, even if they have given me that access, but they should understand that other people will.
Instructions for limiting your Facebook profile (these instructions came directly from Facebook Help files):
Login and click the “Create” link that appears beneath the filters on the left side of your home page or your Friends page. Or, click the “Create New List” button from the “All Friends” tab of the Friends page.
Type the title of your list and hit enter. I use the title “Students.”
Add friends to the list by typing their names into the “Add to List” field or selecting them from the list.
Select “Save List” to store your changes.
Mouse over “Settings” in the upper right hand corner.
A drop-down menu will appear. Click on “Privacy Settings.
Click on “Profile.”
For each area of your profile that you want to limit, click the drop-down menu.
Select “Edit Custom Settings,” which will open a field for Except these people.” Adding a friend or Friend List name here will hide the information in question from these people when they view your profile.
Select your “Students” list if you want to prevent them from seeing that part of your profile.
Bill Genereux has an interesting post about what he calls “The True Digital Divide.” He discusses in detail something I touched on in my presentation at GCTE. If we truly want students to engage with the technology and use the Web 2.0 tools available to them, we have to be leaders. We have to use the tools ourselves. If we want students to blog, we should be blogging. I think educators blogging could be a very positive form of transparency. In an age when people make a lot of assumptions about what is or is not happening in classrooms, often I think the teachers’ voices are missing, and blogging can be a positive platform to share what we are thinking and learning and doing. On the other hand, I think it has become for many teachers who blog a platform to complain. No doubt teaching is hard work, and sometimes it feels good to vent. I personally think blogging is a terrible platform for complaining. First, I don’t think most of us like to read it. Second, it’s just not wise; Regnef High School anyone? I am very interesting in posts and conversations that make me think. So yes, we need to be using the tools, for as Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach notes, “Technology will never replace teachers. However, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.” And of course, Alfie Kohn reminds us that sticking techy labels on tired or misguided practices isn’t the answer either. Still, I think we’re moving into a positive direction when parents and students (as well as other teachers) can gain insight into what teachers are thinking and doing. I have actually noticed something interesting: students joke about Googling me and finding lots of links. I admit it’s true that I am in a lot of places online. But I encourage them to read it and tell me what they think. And when they do, they share their observations. It can be a good thing when students, parents, and colleagues get a glimpse into a teacher’s mind and like what they see. Transparency can foster reassurance.