Thursday, February 25, 2010

Predicting Teacher Success

Fantastic article in The Atlantic about teacher evaluation and predicting teacher success.

I wonder if and when the ideas and principles found by Teach for America will come to Canada. One would hope that every Board of Education across the continent would be jumping at the chance to hire better teachers. However, there is so much junk entrenched in the bureaucracy of education and the union-board relationships that it will be years, probably decades before any of this gets applied.

Here's hoping that it will be sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Teaching Risk Assessment

The Ottawa Citizen today published this editorial calling for more teaching of the math of risk assessment in classrooms. The article even recognized that some other material would need to be removed from the currciulum to allow room for risk assessment.

I must say that I completely agree with this article. I would love to see more math in the classroom that deals with the reality of statistics and probability. The more literate our citizens are about statistics, the better will be the decisions that get made in every arena.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Do we need to memorize anything?

This blog entry by Steven Anderson says "no".

Now, looking at the comments posted in reply, it is clear that there is a big distinction between the question of "do you need to remember anything?" versus "do you need to memorize anything?". Obviously, we all need to remember many facts, skills, and other pieces of information. The question is: should we let that remembering happen naturally, or should we force everyone (at least every student) to memorize key facts.

I have to admit, I tend to agree with Anderson. My belief is that you will remember information if you use it and find it important. If you don't think it is important and you aren't using the information, then I think that it is probably a waste of time to memorize it.

Going back to the argument I made in this post, I think we need to find better ways to teach children in North America than stuffing them full of facts that "they will need later". Sticking with the usual way of doing things is just going to create a world where our children get buried by the massive number of Asians willing to do fact-based work more cheaply.

Teacher Merit Pay and Teacher Merit.

The Globe and Mail had an article about teacher merit pay in their Saturday edition this weekend. The article was similar in many respects to Malcolm Gladwell's article "Most Likely to Succeed", minus the football comparison.

The Globe article highlighted many problems with merit pay, and I won't repeat them here, since I have already blogged on that topic.

One point that I felt that the Globe article missed was that teacher merit is, in the end, about teacher merit. Which teachers are truly helping the majority of students learn and succeed? Those teachers need to be encouraged and rewarded (although not necessarily with money). Which teachers are failing to help and teach the majority of their students? Those teachers need to be helped so that they can improve, or, if they cannot improve enough, they should be gently removed from the profession.

The problem with the idea of teacher merit is that I don't think that a good definition of teacher merit in terms of measurable quantities currently exists. Gladwell and the Globe article discuss the idea of evaluating teacher performance by looking at standardized test results over several years, but there are no specifics. Between the lack of specifics, human inertia, and teacher union resistance, I suspect that a good definition of teacher merit through measurable values is several decades away.

So, until we have that definition, I fear that we are stuck with the status quo. Too bad. I, for one, would be happy to know whether I am actually doing a good job of teaching or whether I just think that I am doing a good job.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Acting without thinking

In late 2009 I read a book called Lost at School by Ross Greene. Greene espouses a management/discipline approach called Collaborative Problem solving. One of the points he makes is that standard discipline practices tend to revolve around the idea that "maybe Johnny will think twice before he does this again". However, our best evidence shows that students are not thinking when they act out, they are reacting to emotional and psychological triggers that they do not know how to handle in an acceptable manner.

Well, I added some evidence to support Greene's idea two weeks ago. Frustrated by events at school and home, I did something stupid and ended up with a broken hand. The thing is, I knew it was stupid before I did it, and I sure knew it was stupid after I did it, but in that moment my emotions were so piled up and tangled up that I could not stop myself from acting out. The good news is that I only hurt myself. The bad news is that the hand will be in a cast for another six weeks, drastically limiting my employability for that time.

And I'm an adult, turning 40 later this year, with all that experience and wisdom(?). Imagine how hard it is for a 15-year-old to do better.

So, when dealing with students or your children, remember that they do not have full control over their actions. It is better to keep an eye out for trigger situations and to try and disarm those triggers rather than punishing in the aftermath.