Archive for the ‘teacher education’ category

What Is Our District Offering?

February 26, 2008

Well, the latest discussion happening over on Will Richardson’s blog in conjunction with my prior blog post got me to thinking. What does our local school district offer in terms of professional development for my kids’ teachers? Are they learning about new spheres of practice, learning, communication, participation… Here is the list of what is being offered between February and June.

– IEP Open Lab

– SMART Boards for Beginners (X3)

– Social Emotional Learning Building Team Training

– Best Children’s Literature in the Classroom

– Adult CPR

– First Aid for Coaches

– Music: the Orff Express

– Web Portal Pages

– ESOL Inservice

– Para Support Group

– Implementing the District Lesson Plan Format (That sounds invigorating!)

– IEP Open Lab

– Excel Basics

– Mandarin Training Report Tool

– Building a Caring School Climate through Service Learning

– the Art of VideoStreaming

– Motivating hart to Reach, Uninterested, and Disruptive Students

– Building Circles of Support for Autistic students

– What Talented Readers Need

– Introduction to Computer Animation Basics (Art teachers only)

help.jpgAll of these topics have merit, of course. They are all important. But most are discipline specific and don’t have a wider audience appeal or relevancy. There are few general sessions that could benefit any and all teachers. But what I want to stress is that there are NO sessions dealing with Web 2.0 or any of its related technologies and certainly nothing on empowering teachers to connect, learn, contribute, participate… in larger communities of practice. So, do teachers know they can participate in such new forms of learning networks? Well, they are not learning about the possibilities in our district. So, I think Will Richardson’s estimate…

“But I would still venture to guess that 75% (maybe more) of educators in this country still don’t know that they can have this network.”

…is probably on target.

For those many teachers who can’t seem to make these after-school PD sessions for some very valid reasons (children, other jobs, other commitments or responsibilities, nothing relevant offered, no follow-up support,…), new on-line learning/networking opportunities would seem to make a great deal of sense. Do we just need to sit back and be patient in this regard? Will it come in good time… or too late?

Ch. 4 – The Typographic Mind

January 20, 2008

(Continuing with book club idea…)

In this chapter Postman deepens his argument by describing the impact of print information on 17th and 18th century minds. He describes the disciplined minds of the time as being able to sit and attend to 4-7 hour lectures – with relish. In addition, the people of the time were also able to both speak in and comprehend complex sentence structures. Postman contrasts this with what he calls, “people of television culture” who need “plain language” and who would struggle greatly to comprehend the complex text and oratories of the 18th century. I think in our time of information glut that we are in more need than ever for people who can do what Walter Ong called the “analytic management of knowledge.” Postman describes this well with the following words:

“To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weight ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another.”

I would have to agree that as technological progress has advanced, the ability of our students (who become the mature citizenry) to process complex information both in print and aurally has declined a great deal. Postman contrasts those individuals from the pulpit, from the courtroom, and from politics with the same today and comments that those today could not hold a candle to the typographic and oratorial skills of a few centuries ago.

Postman also observes that “the printed word had a monopoly on both attention and intellect, there being no other means, besides the oral tradition, to have access to public knowledge.” He begins to build his case that a major shift in thinking power has happened as we have moved from a word-centered culture to an image-centered one and a century he describes as the “Age of Show Business”.

Personally, this argument resounds true with me, as I see experience the numbing power of today’s media blitz on a daily basis. Even in schools we struggle to achieve such a basic level of performance and ability in all our students. We have become obsessed with assessment and accountability because of such low levels. We have all looked at the statistics regarding the way our youth spend their time “hooked up” to all varieties of media. Yet, I think we can all agree that most of that time spent is shallow and trivial. Why are we all so enamored by their proclivity to be social and remix content in the virtual sense? Even at the college level where I teach I experience the inability of students to think deeply, speak cogently, write powerfully, and read complex text. I have recognized that in myself at times and that is why I pick up books like this one to read. It is good mental discipline that is all too easily lost. I think such challenges as found in this book need to spur us all on to make sure that new technologies and forms of communication and discourse are used in powerful rather than trivial ways. Sometimes I think we are all too excited to see that students are blogging, creating wikis, developing digital stories, producing podcasts, developing semantic maps or webs – without examining the substance of their narratives, analyses, criticisms, and arguments. I also feel that we have become distracted by trying to get teachers to USE technology instead of teach powerfully with the help of new technologies. The “we have to start somewhere” argument really does not work. We need to start with powerful teaching and then harness all powerful tools at our disposal. I think if more teachers would spend time reading books like this new one called The Strategic Teacher we would see a much higher quality of teaching and student learning than what results from much of the focus being put on technology. That being said, I am one of the biggest techno-geeks out there and strong proponent of new technologies for teaching and learning. I guess I am being convicted as I read this book as well 🙂 I fear, as Postman does, that we are letting technology dictate what is most important more than we might like to admit at times.

Enough said… Until next time

Leave the Laptop at Home?

October 5, 2007

Taking NotesHere is yet more news report of frustrated professors having a difficult time figuring out what to do when technology enters the classroom. Often, the ‘solution’ is to ban them from the classroom, as some professors at this particular university are doing. Other institutions have done the same thing. I struggle with this as well, as I teach college students, often in a computer lab full of computers. We talk about the arrangement and type of computers condusive to a collaborative community in the classrom. I like to be able to see everyone’s computer screen rather than have rows of monitors that serve as walls between me and the students. It just makes things easier for me. It also makes things easier for the students, who are able to share with their peers more easily and are able to group in flexible ways in the classroom. Laptops make this even easier to achieve. However, when desks are in rows and students are all facing the lecturer who is lecturing… and laptop screens are up, fingers are busy, and no eye contact is being made with the lecturer, I do think problems begin to emerge. Let’s be real here… there are so many distractions sitting on one’s desk with a laptop… IMing, emailing, shopping, browsing, games,…. If I was a bored student sitting in a boring lecture, then why not?

Eureka!

The proportion of distracted students drops off significantly when there is a challenging and engaging dialog going on as part of the lecture… when students are more than just scribes. The few that choose to tune out for whatever reason should experience fairly immediate natural reprecussions – bad grades. But, this is not a fair analysis when one is a lecturer in a hall of 100-200 students. Then what? Is it time to rethink this particular model of instruction? What drives it anyway? Is it economics and the dollar, or is it sound pedagogy? Why is it that somehow we can leave sound padagogy behind in higher education because ‘it has always been done that way’ or “I did just fine in my class of 150 students.” or “It separates those who can and those who can’t.”, or “It teaches discipline and memorization of your content.”, or is it some combination of all of the above? I have been thinking about this for some time now. Do we just accept that some institutions of higher education are businesses… Learning factories? Will students begin looking for other alternatives in the near future? And, if class size is not the issue here and laptops are not welcome in smaller classes, then what is the issue – really? If a lecturer wants a quality class discussion, free of clackity-clack on the keyboard, why not just say, “Close your lids.” Any thoughts?

Put technology where it can be best used… In the classroom!

September 21, 2007

After reading this article on why textbooks have not taken off in digital format as much as was projected, one line stuck out in my mind. It was this: “We have a lot of technology in our schools, but most is not in the classroom, where students are every day.” What a sad statement… but all too true, I’m afraid. I am struck every year as I teach my own preservice students about the fantastic opportunities and tools that technology and the Internet afford – that there is a digital divide within the school walls, not just out in the communities where students live. I am talking about the divide between what we show and teach as best practice when teaching and integrating technologies into the classroom context – and the reality that faces many of our beginning teachers when they actually get out into their own school and classroom – Filters, highly scheduled labs, few labs, poor tech support, aging computers, technology coordinator gods who feel that it is their job to “control” what teachers do with technology and in the end, limit their opportunities with red tape, slow reaction time, ‘it can’t be done’ mentality, few computers in the classroom… And this is not an exhaustive list by any means.

Now, I don’t want to come across as the pessimist here. I approach all of these opportunities with a high degree of optimism. But, this statement is just too true… that the very place technology needs to be – in the classroom – is often locked in rooms down the hall, locked to rolling carts, invested in district-wide infrastructure,… The ubiquity of technology in society is not often evident when students enter their classrooms. Some schools are more fortunate, of course. Many are not. We don’t require teachers to go down the hall to use textbooks in the ‘textbook lab’. Until we commonly see 1:1 computing in the classroom, I think our new teacher graduates will continue to experience this disparity and feel the frustration of unrealized learning potential.