Sometimes we can offer a sigh of relief

Bird Droppings November 10, 2011
Sometimes we can offer a sigh of relief

“It is about learning not about teaching.”
Dr. Max Thompson

A semester is nearing the end and my daily journey for this semester will end. But it is a relief in some ways. While I have really enjoyed the classes, students and teachers I am working with it in many ways it is still a learning process for me. I have been working the past few days with a young man who is in our Early Childhood Education program. One of his projects is to write a philosophy of education which over the several years of graduate school I have done now several times. Each time it evolves and grows. I am hoping as I help this fellow finish his own philosophy he will gain an understanding of what education is all about. In my own defining I often look to Jean Piaget and his ideas on educating children. .

“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done — men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.” Jean Piaget

Maybe someday I will be famous too for studying my own kids or grandkids, yet out of that narrow window of research came some very insightful ideas on children and education. Something that intrigues me however is how much time Piaget spent with his children observing listening and I have always wondered if he interacted.

“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive.” John W. Gardner

Interesting how John Dewey who died in 1952 was making statements like this in 1914 John Garner was making this statement in

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” William Yeats

Several times as I have written I have borrowed from Sidney J. Harris who compared education to stuffing a sausage or finding a fine pearl, which would we prefer. Many so called teachers liken education to the bucket filler we only have this amount to put in and then it’s full in this confined space, limited space at that. I prefer to think that a child is like a vast field or forest and when applied correctly and in a manner appropriate fire can make that field grow and flourish, a controlled burn, years ago lightening would do it now with society so restrictive it is controlled. This is somehow so similar to education.

“Education is too important to be left solely to the educators.” Francis Keppel

We are each directly involved in our own education as well as the education of every person we come in contact with. We are teachers to friends, family and even our teachers, professors and even enemies. Education is something that occurs continually not simply in school or college but it is elemental to existence.

“Education, we see, is not merely gaining knowledge or skills helpful toward productive work, though certainly that is a part of it. Rather it is replenishment and an expansion of the natural thirst of the mind and soul. Learning is a gradual process of growth, each step building upon the other. It is a process whereby the learner organizes and integrates not only facts but attitudes and values. We have been told that we must open our minds and our hearts to learn. There is a Chinese proverb: Wisdom is as the moon rises, perceptible not in progress but in result. As our knowledge is converted to wisdom, the door to opportunity is unlocked.” Barbara W. Winder

So education is far more than the confines of school of a class it is a task we are participating in from the day we are born till the day we cease to function as human beings upon the earth.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese Proverb

For many years I had upon my wall a banner with this saying, a simple concept, but when you apply it to knowledge to education it becomes so much more powerful.

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.” John F. Kennedy

Dreams and aspirations can be achieved through education, we can and will fulfill our dreams if we continue to learn, to advance in our journey in life. It is those who halt who stagnant and flounder in the stream who never achieves their dreams. A movie title “What dreams may come?” Actually more about a concept of afterlife but as I look back life here now is what we make of it.

“Our dreams, and if we can think of it we can attain it” Frank E. Bird Jr.

My dad once told me that when I was a child and as I think back watching him putter with pieces of plastic, metal and such on the kitchen table, nearly fifty years ago. He was looking at various safety toe shoes as he puttered. I wasn’t sure what was going on but somewhere he had an idea a dream and eventually it became a metatarsal guard for heavy industry and reduced foot injuries and damage significantly. Dreams aided by education and we can accomplish anything.

“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.” Benjamin Disraeli

It is Thursday morning and a our week is over since tomorrow is a holiday and to finish off one last quote from nearly 3000 years ago and with that have a great week and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts.

“Only the educated are free.” Epictetus

A bit of editorializing – Sorry

Bird Droppings August 5, 2010
A bit of editorializing – Sorry

I was reading in the National Educators news letter several key articles both of which dealt with assessment. I have for many years tried to reflect on my own progression in terms of assessment. During the past eight years while studying under and with a group of professors who very much exemplify the values of education touted at several Georgia Universities and Colleges, is a rather interesting discourse. I have watched in my own views and attitude of what is effective and ineffective assessments grow and evolve especially in the past few months.
Trying to develop a concept of assessment and effective assessment has been in many ways an obsession. Since 1970 I have been thinking about and planning how to assess and evaluate teachers effectively. I have been trying to develop an assessment tool that could effectively measure and quantify the ability of an individual to coordinate and assimilate material to a group of students. In a seminar I got into a discussion with Max Thompson founder and CEO of Learning Focused Schools fame during a training session brought up this fact:

“In Georgia a teacher could teach to an empty room and still have an excellent score on GTAP, the Georgia assessment for teachers.” Max Thompson

Why because you are only in this assessment tool measuring delivery not affect or results of the teaching. In assessing students how often are we doing this? Literally all the time we do this with students as well.
In being a student as well as a teacher and currently looking at how I am assimilating information it is interesting to then apply that aspect to my own students. Many summers ago I would use mnemonics driving to Athens to memorize definitions for a Reading course. I never read the book, which I should not say and since I was teaching summer school 7:30 – 2:30 and in class in graduate school 5:00 – 9:30 each and two hours of driving time each day I had little spare time. I would copy key words this was after knowing how the teacher tested and then write cards of definitions in mnemonics. On eight quizzes seven were prefect scores of one hundred percent, after doing mnemonics. Only one quiz was a lower a seventy five percent, which was the first quiz strictly from memory alone. Do I remember today that information probably not? So was the tool used to assess poor or were the students the issue.
A good point in looking at assessment is: When is the student the issue? I have spent the better part of ten years now in the classroom literally round the clock as a student and teaching. I have seen teacher’s assessments in all fields as I teach summer school and do some tutoring as well. As a teacher how do you blame the student for coming up with a good grade by innovative systems we actually teach them in class such as mnemonics? Are students the reason for problems in assessing? Students do not develop the tests, in most cases so how can they be the issue. Students are an issue if the teacher is unaware of their particular needs and abilities.

“Many times teachers are unaware of abilities through lack of training or simply not interested in finding out and students then suffer. With current trends in education and such terms as Inclusion teachers need to investigate and try and understand the student population they are teaching.” Exceptional Children 69, Barriers and facilitators to inclusive education

I have seen teachers frustrated because they will not make an effort to know their students. Many teachers look at the class through a card board tissue tube. Their view is so narrow it loses focus for its own focus. Sadly this is many teachers. Conversely then to compound the problem many students are looking back again through a card board tissue tube.

“Many teachers have lost their passion for teaching.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

I have discussed with teachers and have had numerous teachers tell me they design tests for failure. That intrigued me. Why would a teacher in designing only provide an assessment tool for failure? A tool to show how much of what wasn’t learned or taught as a test for a class you teach, the amazing logic somewhat eludes me in that case.

“The word assessment is a noun and goes back to 1534. It is defined as the act or instance of assessing or the amount assessed” Webster Dictionary

Defining the word assessment presents a similar issue to Thompson’s example of being evaluated for teaching on simply the process. Is assessment simply the act of assessing? Is the tool merely a process? Somewhere along the line I understood assessment a bit differently. Assessment is a tool a teaching tool. That tool can be used to show where weaknesses are in subject matter so far presented. It can be used to see what information has been exposed and evaluated and assimilated by students. It can be used as a tool to reinforce key ideas and information. Many years ago Mr. Frank E. Bird Jr., my father used the term FIDO as an acronym in teaching a subject.

“The FIDO principle, Frequency, Intensity, Duration and Over again provides a simple tool for teaching a subject.” Frank E. Bird Jr. and George L. Germain

Current trends in schools are being focused around assessments and many schools are focusing a staff member simply on testing as Federal and State mandates become stricter and tougher with the federal law, labeled “No child left behind”. Within our own school system we have been trained in Learning Focused Schools, a research based program.
Looking at assessment has become an interdependent aspect of each teachers planning. Developing a pre-test and post-test now is required. Georgia Graduation tests and even State mandated End of Course tests are a reality. Within local school systems federal and state authorities are labeling those systems poor schools that do not meet standards in assessments. A clear result as well is testing cheating by schools pointing at one hundred and nine schools in the Atlanta Schools district that have been now investigated for inappropriate testing issues.

“Assessments are being developed to evaluate schools and schools effectiveness in providing for the educational well being of students.” The United States Department of Education

Looking at the last quote are schools and teachers effectively being assessed by an end of course test. A test not developed by the teacher and the teacher is aware of what is on the test but not construction and actual questions. So in effect a teacher is attempting to teach students to take a test they are directly not involved in and will be evaluated on. Perhaps I am a bit overboard today as I sit and write. I was reading earlier an article about children in India, China and US and a movie made about them, Two Million Minutes. The movie was focused on these seniors in high school and their differing views of life and reality. As I think further how can we compare students in India, China and US, the differences in culture alone are a major factor. The apathy within the US in regards to education and the approach used by government to try and play catch up, mandating all children will be at grade level by 2014 according to NCLB is ludicrous. There is never a look at how our culture impacts motivation and learning. Perhaps that is an argument for another morning. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.