Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oh, It's That Time of Year Again!

After a nice long summer we educators are to be well rested up and ready to enthusiastically welcome the new school year. Parents are going broke purchasing all their childrens' clothing and school supplies while the kids are excited about meeting their new teacher and classmates - maybe.

Yesterday I attended a workshop day that was required by contract. The first presentation concerned Differentiated Instruction. The presentation went well and there was quite a bit of dialogue amongst the participants. As I listened I realized that I could have been sitting in a workshop back in the nineties. Many of those present still maintained a competitive concept in grading their students on how well the students were able to regurgitate what they, the teacher, poured into them on a daily basis. Somewhere along the generations of teachers, the idea of teaching kids "how to learn" and "problem solve" has gotten lost.

Between government mandates and ridiculous textbooks' scope and sequences, kids' learning experiences are bottled and served on a silver platter. The kids get 40 minutes to absorb that information. This method goes on over a specific time period before the students have to regurgitate it on a piece of paper that many can't even read or want to read.

Fortunately there are some teachers who are renegades, always looking for unique and fun ways to serve their lessons but they are few and far apart. I was able to find a couple of this rare breed of educator and have some intelligent conversations with them about ways to teach their kids how to learn. This type of teacher searches for successful and experienced educators who understand how children learn; what children want to learn; and how to manage their classrooms.

They are able to fulfill the sharing of knowledge necessary to meet the mandates of State testing guidelines without resorting to the canned lessons provided within textbooks. They utilize alternative assessments to guide their lessons and alternative evaluations to measure their students' learning. They learn from their students thus are flexible and able to spontaneously change from one teaching technique to another within a lesson. They are continuously changing teaching strategies to keep their students alert and motivated. Kids love challenges and of course out maneuvering the system.

I guess my definition of a "Highly Qualified" teacher and the government's definition are certainly different. When I think of highly qualified, I think of someone who has extensive experience and has been successful utilizing multiple strategies and techniques in sharing their knowledge, not as someone who has taken a specified number of credits within a specialized field. Sure the government's highly qualified teacher has knowledge but that's not any good if they can't successfully share what they know.

I can tell you now that I am not the smartest person in the world by a long shot, but I do know how to learn about what I don't know and problem solve obstacles. These skills were sharpened when I went back for my MA as a Learning Consultant in the early 1990's. I was challenged by the "new" student. Technology advances, ADHD and of course the advanced curriculum that they were to learn became challenges to me.

I think part of my success when I returned to the classroom in the early 1990's, after raising my children, was because I myself was an average learner; probably would have been identified as ADHD if that had been around in the 1950's; and I never liked school because it was boring. Additionally, I found the perfect teaching position in a school with very progressive administrators where I was able to test my theories and sharpen my teaching strategies and techniques.

Now I am once more in a district that has progressive thinking towards teaching kids how to learn and problem solve but are still hindered with teachers pre-occupied with assigning grades, obsessed with homework, and ridding their classrooms of behavior problems. Now don't get me wrong, I am well aware of the extreme rudeness of students and the common excuse about the baggage they bring to school, gang backgrounds and the fact that some students just don't want to be in school. These issues are obstacles that need to be problem-solved.

As a born again teacher in the 90's I lived and died by Bloom's Taxonomy and rubrics. Bloom's Taxonomy helped guide my thinking and determine exactly what I wanted to see from my students. His levels for student learning has been revised and now starts at knowledge and proceeds through comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation and finally synthesis. He identified the power words for each level of learning which I used to develop the goals in my rubrics and the specific criteria to meet those goals. I have to admit developing rubrics is not an easy task.

I'm amazed by educators who are always searching the Internet for canned rubrics and expect to implement them within their classroom. Rubrics, however, are like teachers and very individualistic requiring fine tuning to meet the teacher's expectations and teaching styles. They make the teacher ask themselves just what is it I want my students to learn, how do I want my students to learn and when will I have them demonstrate what they have learned.

Rubrics make the educational world fair for all students to participate within a classroom or at least give them a better chance to succeed. They are a great communication device for parents to actually see the strength and weaknesses of their children. Rubrics keep teachers from watering down their curriculum therefore meeting the needs of all kids. Rubrics provide reasonable goals for students to achieve.

I've tried to stay away from serious posts in this Blog but because I find myself still battling old fashioned thinking, young teachers who want the perfect class, with perfect students and perfect parents, I had to rant.

Naturally I couldn't keep quiet during the Differentiated Instruction presentation but I don't believe I did an over kill. I did have to take a moment and point out that within the packet given at registration there was perhaps the most important item of a teacher's supplies for the year. Tucked safely in the back was a cardboard device, a Critical Thinking Wheel, that easily displays a revised Bloom's Taxonomy power words and questioning prompts for each level. I wish I had had this back when I was making rubrics on a daily basis.

Meanwhile I have found some sites with pretty good rubrics. They are in Word so they are easily customized to meet an individual's classroom needs. I also believe they provide a nice model of how and what should be included within a rubric.

Enjoy browsing the sites at Firecrackinmama.com. I keep saying that I'm going to add to the site but somehow I get side tracked and haven't maintained it as I would like.

Meanwhile I am still adding to my educational products page at Zazzle.

For now have a Firecrackin Great Day!!


1 comment:

Joops said...

lovely blog you have here..

I am now following your blog so I can come back for more.. Please sail by when you have time.. thanks!