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Barry Schwartz: The real crisis? We stopped being wise PDF Print E-mail

Barry Schwartz gives a thought-provoking, insightful, and inspiring speech at TED about the value of "practical wisdom."   He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.

The stories he shares are memorable, but his insight into the nature of incentives, empathy, and moral work are incredible.  You owe it to yourself to spend a few minutes watching this.  It has several direct benefits to our organizations and school systems.  We have gone wild with bureaucracy and have used rules to prevent disaster, but over-reliance on rules has unforseen consequences.

An excerpt:

Let me give you just a few examples first of “Rules and the War on Moral Skill”. The “Lemonade” story is one. Second, no doubt familiar to you, is the nature of modern American education—scripted, lock-stepped curricula. Here is an example from Chicago kindergarten.

Script for day 53.
Title: Reading and enjoying literature/words with “b”.
Text: “The Bath”
Lecture: Assemble students on the rug or reading area… Give students a warning about the dangers of hot water… Say, “Listen very quietly as I read the story
.”… Say, “Think of other pictures that make the same sound as the sound bath begins with.”…

Say 75 items in this script to teach a 25 page picture book all over Chicago in every kindergarten class in the city. Every teacher the same, the same words in the same way on the same day.

We know why these scripts are there—we don’t trust the judgement of teachers to let them loose on their own. Scripts like these are insurance policies against disaster. And they prevent disaster. But what they assure in its place is mediocracy.

Curriculum vs. Instruction PDF Print E-mail

I was speaking with Monica Lanier (my supervisor at FDRESA) about the difference between Curriculum and Instruction.  I had never really given it much thought because I assumed everyone understood the difference.  After a bit of conversation however, I realized that the difference is profound and we are not sure that many educators see the clear distinction.

Perhaps this disconnect is more harmful than we might think. I contend that we often confuse the two and that educators would do well to keep the differences clear in their minds.

Curriculum is WHAT your students are expected to learn and what you are expected to teach. It's the written standards and benchmarks that your students must pass.  Curriculum is generally NOT prescriptive.  It's a set of goals, a materials list, or possibly as set of "bare minimum" requirements for acceptable education.

Instruction is HOW you teach your content and how your students learn it. This is where the true artistry of teaching shines, and where the focus of our efforts should lie.  This is where each teacher and student will vary, where there is no magic bullet or right answer.  However, there are certain strategies, methods, and tools that are more likely to help than others.

Re-Inventing Our Classrooms? PDF Print E-mail

I want to apologize in advance for the length of this post, but it’s something I feel strongly about, and it’s something we need to really think about.

I was looking back to Time Magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2005.” It’s a great article, filled with amazing inventions in a wide range of fields, from the $3 Lifestraw to the iUnit to the Hybrid Assistive Limb. To see the other inventions, follow these links

These inventions really blew my mind - where do people come up with these things?

  • Then I had a disheartening thought: many of those inventions were not created by Americans.
  • Then I had another disheartening thought: how did these people become so creative and proficient in their fields at the same time?
  • Then I had an even more sobering thought: Where is creativity and mastery of subject taught? Where did they learn to do this?

Web 2.0 PDF Print E-mail

We've been hearing a lot about Web 2.0, but it hasn't made its way into the school systems much.  Web 2.0 is the concept that the web is becoming a read/write platform.  Before the year 2000, the web was very much a place for more technically minded people to produce content on, and for regular users to consume material.  It was "read-only" for many people.  You had to have some sort of skill or training to be an author.

Now, anyone can produce content on the web.  Blogs, wikis, MySpace, Facebook, message boards, chats - all of these new technologies are allowing the average user to produce content and post it online.  Even digital immigrants and technophobes are able to quickly snap a picture on their cell phone and have it posted online.  Services like Jott allow you to call a number and have your message transcribed into text and sent to your email or even posted as a blog entry online.

The web is not a fad.  It is ubiquitous.  It is quickly becoming as indispensable as the automobile and it's only 15 years old or thereabouts.  When are our schools going to start seriously embracing its read/write nature?  When are our kids going to start using the powerful tool that they will be expected to master when they enter the workforce?

Differentiated Instruction PDF Print E-mail

Differentiated instruction is, at a basic level, teaching with student differences in mind.  It means starting where the students are rather than using a standardized approach to teaching which tries to force all students to be the same as another.  Differentiated instruction is responsive teaching rather than a one-size-fits-all method of teaching.

Art seems to get this concept and has done so for years.  In a typical art class, each student is assessed and is subsequently graded on their progress, not their current ability level.  A good art class gives students choices and teaches concepts and techniques in varied ways in order to help each student understand key ideas. That's the key idea of differentiated classrooms - the students are regularly offered choices and students are matched with tasks compatible with their individual learner profiles.

Formative Assessment PDF Print E-mail

Formative assessment is a self-reflective, bidirectional process between teacher and student to enhance, recognise and respond to the learning.  With formative assessment, feedback from learning activities is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet the learner's needs.  Formative assessment is, put plainly, assessment of student progress.  Teachers can do this by observing students as they:

  • Respond to questions
  • Ask questions
  • Interact with other students during activities, etc.

As opposed to a summative assessments designed to make judgments about student performance and produce grades, the role of a formative assessment is to improve learning. As opposed to benchmark tests that are used to predict student performance on other tests (most often state assessments), formative assessments are intimately connected to instruction.

More after the jump...