Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh Look! Shiny!

Oh Look!  Shiny!

I attended MACUL (Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning) annual conference, March 17 & 18 with Fruitport Community School’s Technology Team. We are in the midst of a district wide technology adoption that includes ‘smart carts’ for every classroom. There are five of us piloting a cart with different components in each of our five buildings.

While attending one of Leslie Fisher’s sessions, she talked about how easy it is to get lost in what you’re doing when working with technology on the web.  I think she called it AD-LS—attention deficit—Oh LOOK! SHINY! And, before you know it, you’ve navigated away from the page you were working on and are off looking at the next “shiny” site on the web.  I experience that routinely, so what a relief that I’m not alone!

Now that I’ve returned home, and am trying to synthesize my MACUL experience, it’s been one “Oh Look! Shiny” episode after another. For now, I’m going to post a rough list of the sessions I attended along with links to their websites.

Adam Garry
Link to other speaker handouts

Here’s the outcome of one of those Look Shiny! Moments--Simpsonized an Avatar for myself! And, I created a Wordle from text in this post (above).
Kathy's Simpsonized Avatar

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Teens With an Ax to Grind

In the spring of 2005, when my youngest son A.J. took our state’s high-stakes standardized test, the MEAP, (now the MME) he had an ax to grind. Unfortunately, no one really knew how angry he was until after he took the exam. I received a call from the principal requesting a meeting. It seems that my son had chosen to draw a very large and detailed fist with an extended middle finger where his science graph should have been. And, he chose to bubble in his multiple-choice answer sheet with “AC/DC” and “ABBA”, as well. The principal was quite distressed since my son’s unconventional test responses would most definitely effect the school’s test results and would reflect poorly on the district. So, why would he do this? It turned out that A.J. was upset about one of his teacher’s policies that he had tried unsuccessfully to address with the teacher and administration. Feeling he had not been heard, he took his revenge. I had assumed A.J.’s stunt was an isolated incident—until yesterday.
Fast-forward to March 9, 2011. A colleague who supervises pre-service teachers for a nearby university shared a disturbing conversation he overheard while he was visiting a high school classroom that morning.

At the beginning of the class, he was sitting near a group of four young ladies. As Juniors, they had just taken the Michigan Merit Exam (MME) and ACT last week. One of the other adults in the room asked these girls how the testing had gone. One said, “they’re so stupid, I paid attention for the first couple of pages, then I just started bubbling in randomly.” A second girl said, “Yeah, I couldn’t take it seriously, I don’t want (our school) to do well.” One of the other girls responded, “Yeah, if this was for us and they were still giving out the scholarships, I would have taken it seriously.”

What’s particularly interesting to me is that while A.J. decided to take his frustration out on the science exam, it was a foreign language teacher’s policy he was protesting. In addition, the comment above “I don’t want (our school) to do well,” didn’t target a particular teacher or subject area, but apparently the school in general.  

The standardized test movement is based on the assumption that students are actually going to take the test seriously, that the test will measure achievement and will measure teacher effectiveness. Neither A.J.’s performance on the science MEAP, nor that of the girls mentioned above meets those assumptions. This has me wondering, and it raises questions that I believe need to be addressed.

·      Is there any research about whether or not students actually take high-stakes standardized tests seriously?

·      How many teens out there have an ax to grind with the adults in their lives, particularly with their teachers and their schools?

·      How many angry teens would it take for testing results to be corrupted for a given school district?

·      How often does this happen?

·      Do students understand their teachers and school are being held accountable for how well they do on these exams?

Perhaps some understand it only too well. It’s entirely within a teen’s nature to subvert the adults and authorities in their lives. Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to put teacher’s careers and the viability of a school district in their hands?

ClipArt Courtesy FCIT

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Let the Learning Begin!

Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, Washinton, D.C. 10-30-10
Empowered. That’s how I felt at the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear in Washington, D. C. back in October, 2010. That feeling was there again while attending the Kent Intermediate School District’s (KISD) Literacy Coaches Network (LCN) last Monday. Spending the entire day with an incredible community of professional learners is a special treat for me and I left feeling hopeful and empowered.

The theme for the afternoon session was "empowerment". As we ended our day, we watched Chimamanda Adichie’s TEDTalk “The Danger of One Story”. She describes the critical unintended consequences when only one story is told, including rigid stereotyping. Unfortunately, we are all vulnerable when it comes to only knowing one story about others. However, when we understand that we all have more than one story, we are empowered to make a difference. After some discussion, the facilitators posed three questions:

When do you feel empowered?
What do you do to empower yourself?
How might you empower others?

As I reflected on the first question, the answer came quite quickly. In fact, I wondered if it was too obvious: I feel empowered when I’m part of a learning community and I have a voice that’s heard and valued. To be heard and valued doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with me, or adopts my point of view, although that would be nice, but not realistic! It’s when others truly listen and validate that I have something worth sharing that I feel stronger and more confident.

The second question, “How do you empower yourself?” was certainly serendipitous! Lately, with the negative national narrative surrounding U. S. public education in general, and teachers in particular, I’ve become increasingly frustrated. This narrative, started and promoted by corporations and billionaires, exemplifies “ The Danger of One Story.”  The risk of not knowing how to empower one’s self is to become a victim. I refuse to be a victim. So a couple of weeks ago, I turned to Twitter and blogging. Though this action may seem small, maybe even inconsequential, I feel liberated and more confident. I’m now connected to a Professional Learning Network that’s global. I have a voice and am taking action. Perhaps it will lead me to discover new ways to empower myself (and others).

As I think about the third question, “How might you empower others?” I’ve been reflecting on why I joined the LCN in the first place. After being trained as a Teacher Leader during the 2004-2005 school year, I had additional duties coaching teachers in my building for three years. That experience was empowering not only for those I coached, but also for me. In 2008, coaching was eliminated in my district for a variety of reasons, and I found myself really missing the interactions and community from that experience. So, I began working on an Education Specialist (Ed. S.) in Educational Leadership at Grand Valley State University. During one of my final classes this past fall (Data Based Decision Making) I learned that KISD was forming a LCN Beginning Cohort. I jumped at the opportunity to join this network.

Empowering others comes from listening and valuing their story. Providing positive encouragement to find their own voice helps to build agency and capacity, which in turn leads to empowerment. I shared with the LCN group (and several individuals) how these two social media tools have helped me find my voice and feel empowered. I hope the enthusiasm and passion that have come as a result were conveyed and will inspire others.

So, now I’m thinking empowerment is reciprocal. The synergy created by being in a learning community is life giving and empowering, both for the self and for the other. No longer is there just one story, but many intertwined stories.

“You’ve got to do and be the message you preach and ‘walk the walk’.”  Kelly S.

“Being willing to try something together, and not being afraid to fail.”  Susie M.