Two blogkheads are better than one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Game of School

One of the blogs I read - - has been posting quotes from a book called The Game of School by Robert Fried. They are very thought provoking. Here are the ones he has posted so far:
There is quite likely no substitute for the experience of feeling empowered . . . if we hope for children to pursue learning enthusiastically within the structure of a classroom or a school. Learning and power are inextricably linked.
We have opted not to create schools as places where children’s curiosity, sensory awareness, power, and communication can flourish, but rather to erect temples of knowledge where we sit them down, tell them a lot of stuff we think is important, try to control their restless curiosity, and test them to see how well they’ve listened to us.
The place we call school or college, which should be our society’s most vital promoter of learning, too often instead creates the field on which we learn to play a game that demoralizes us even when we are winners (and can permanently scar us when we lose). In the daily course of attending school, as they do what their teachers ask and strive to earn good grades, our children unknowingly substitute lesser goals for an invaluable goal they were born with: the pursuit of learning for its own sake.
There is a simple test we can perform to find out whether or not our children are truly learning. We can ask them, not the usual question, “How was school today, Honey?” or “What did she teach you in your math class?” but rather, “Did you learn anything in school today that you really want to know more about?” If the answer is … usually no, you have cause for worry - even if your child brings home a good report card.
Far too much of the time our children spend in school is wasted ... Most of what they experience during school hours passes over them like the shadow of a cloud, or through them like an undigested seed. They may be present in the classroom, but they are not really there. Their pencils may be chugging away on the worksheets or the writing prompts or math problems laid out for them, but their intelligence is running on two cylinders at best. They pay some attention to what their teacher happens to be telling them, but their imagination has moved elsewhere... And, worst of all, by the time our kids have reached fourth or fifth grade, they think what they are experiencing in school is normal.
Amid all the accounts … of kids complaining to each other about how bored they are with many of their classes, why do we accept this so passively, without arguing for the right to be learning something of value.
Part of me says this is too harsh - that the author is not taking into account the myriad of difficulties we face. On the other hand, he points some things out from the view of the child - whose learning needs should be met regardless of our difficulties. It has got me thinking. I think I will pick up a copy.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

In The Learning Leader: How to Focus School Improvement for Better Results, Douglas Reeves sites studies that show that many current school improvement practices miss the mark. He goes on to show through studies that rigid adherence to school improvement plans may actually serve as an obstacle to improved student achievement. He calls this rigid adherence "the religion of documentarianism". He mentions that "ugly" improvement plans are often more effective than "pretty" ones.

I believe that the religion of "documentarianism" is rooted in external accountability. When we do our SIPs to satisfy the requirements of an external entity (make them pretty), those goals are almost guaranteed to be ineffective. I ran across the following quote from Dr. Richard Elmore of Harvard this summer:
"[I]nternal accountability precedes external accountability. That is, school personnel must share a coherent, explicit set of norms and expectations about what a good school looks like before they can use signals from the outside to improve student learning. Giving test results to an incoherent, atomized, badly run school doesn’t automatically make it a better school. The ability of a school to make improvements has to do with the beliefs, norms, expectations, and practices that people in the organization share, not with the kind of information they receive about their performance. Low-performing schools aren’t coherent enough to respond to external demands for accountability."
Because of this quote, I went about creating our school goals in a different way this year. Rather than starting with test data in hand - looking for deficiencies. I started with our shared beliefs, mission and vision. According to Jim Collins in Good to Great, our reason for existence, core values and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) should be aligned with each other and with the actions we take. This was far more difficult than writing the goals that I had written for the past 3 years (which were pretty but ineffective) - we had to come to a shared understanding of what our core beliefs are, do some visioning and revise our mission first. But, that was just the beginning of the increased difficulty that I encountered.

Next, knowing that our core beliefs, vision and mission were focused on dispositions as well as skills (life long learners, whole child, etc.) I struggled with figuring out how to balance the focus of our goal. In addition, I struggled with fitting my focus for our goals into the SMART format (a prettiness measure if you ask me). Specifically, I struggled with the measurability aspect of it.
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts" - Albert Einstein.
How do you measure dispositions? I decided to go with pre and post surveys. We are not really that happy with this form of measurement, but don't really know how else to make it measurable. I made our goals pretty for the requirements of an external source, but to us they have become ugly.
Good Lord Boyet, my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye,
Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues.
- Shakespeare - Love's Labours Lost, 1588