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I have been going back and forth, trying to get this straight in my head and just had to do it this way – writing about it in my blog.  I know that my view on something as important as this,  matters very little, but it was important to me to get a handle on it, as it is a big topic of discussion on the internet and at my school.  As I wrote this post (which I started on Friday) I changed my mind several times on the direction I would take until I finished up a few minutes ago.  Even now I am torn about who is right and who is wrong?  It seems to me there is plenty of blame to go around.

Okay here goes. Let’s see how many people I rile up with this post?

I have been reading and listening to discussions about the firing of 88 teachers and the Administrative Staff at Central Falls High School by the School’s Board in Rhode Island with a great deal of interest with a 5-2 vote. From what I have been able to piece together, the school is in a high poverty area, it has been a failing school for several consecutive years, multiple changes in principals over the past 5-6 years, there were prolonged negotiations between the teacher’s union and the school with no agreement on the “how” of how to improve the school’s AYP, and just recently the Superintendent decided to recommend the nuclear option of firing all the teachers/administrators at this school. I think those are the facts in a nutshell (yes I know that what happened is a lot more complicated than the simplistic version above).
How bad were things at this school? By all reports I have read things were BAD.
It sounds like it was very difficult to teach there and even more difficult to be a student at CFHS based on the drop-out rates (somewhere around 50% dependent upon which source you read).  It seems like a variety of “things” were attempted to improve the school and little progress was made on “test scores” or more importantly to me – staying in school rates.  The Superintendent recommended to the board to fire everyone and got 5 board members to agree to that recommendation, inspite of the tremendous pressure that they knew they would face as a result of their decision, speaks very loudly regarding how negative things must have been in that school and how contentious the relationship between the union and the board had become.
Outsiders like me have to ask:
  • Was there a culture of failed leadership by administration?
  • Did administration fail to respect and incorporate the teachers and community into their plans to reform the school?
  • Was there a culture of some teachers having given up and negatively affecting their peers?
  • Did teacher’s support administration’s efforts to reform the negativity at the school or add to it?
  • Did teachers actively or by their inactions block changes that could have helped the school?
  • Was there a lack of support from the parents and community to improve the schools?
  • Was leadership provided by administration or teachers?  It seems there wasn’t enough from either.
Yes this is a poor school district, but it is not the poorest school district around and I agree that standardized testing sometimes is as much a reflection of socio-economic factors as it is poor teaching.  At the same time students were voting about how bad the school was with their feet – by dropping out.  Other low economic schools rural and urban are successful – what happened here?
I have a feeling that all the above and much more happened as is evidenced by the Superintendent and their version of the school board resorting to the “Nuclear option” of firing all teachers and the principal.  I cannot believe that this was a decision that was reached lightly or without a great deal of warning to the teachers and their union.  It is a decision that does not happen overnight and yet the way we are talking is that is like this just suddenly happened.  This is part of a long process that started quite a while ago and while it is not the end result that either side wanted, a decision was made.  Which was basically – blow up everything and start over.
I do not know the particulars of the negotiations prior to the decision to fire everyone and start over.  I am sure that there will be lawsuits and investigation by politicians attempting to make a name for themselves.  The finger pointing and blame game has already started.  But who really suffers?
The students?  Maybe?  Do they really suffer during this – not as much as many would have us believe, they are already leaving this school at an outrageous rate, that in itself shows that are tremendous issues and problems at CFHS.  There is going to be a lot of publicity and the negativity from teachers that are being fired is really going to make the rest of this school year suck.  Maybe this drastic action will eventually have a positive effect…for the students in the future, but I do feel sorry for this year’s seniors, they have quite a cross to bear.
The teachers?  Yes they will suffer and be branded as “failed” teachers coming from a school that used the nuclear option.  These teachers have to face the remainder of the school years as lame ducks and then go try to find another teaching position.  Many or most of those teachers who are not part of the returning 40-50% probably will not be able to find a comparable position, especially in today’s economy.  I would not want to be a teacher at this school through the next 4-5 months, it is going to get very ugly, as the morale that is already so low, sinks even lower.
The administration? Yes getting through to the end of the school year is going to be a nightmare!  Teachers will use up all of their sick time, student behaviors are going to be off-the-wall, teachers will be in-school but not invested, unless they believe that they will be part of the cadre that will be re-hired.  During the next year this school administration is going to be under tremendous pressure to hire quality teachers, incorporate a complete change in the climate and attitudes of the teacher/students and other stakeholders towards this school.  They are going to have to provide training and professional development to staff on a scale that was not considered in the past.  Finally, they are going to have to listen to the community and get the new/old teachers involved in the change they are attempting, because top-down management will not work in this situation.  Unfortunately, much of this is going to require additional funding, hopefully they will get those funds.
The community?  Initially there will be some “hard feelings” and negativity around this action, but in the long-run the actions that all this publicity has generated will hopefully positively impact  this high school.  Possibly the community will take a more vested view of “their” school, which will help in improving the school and possibly result in more students staying in school and graduating.  It sometimes takes a crisis like this to bring a community together to make the needed improvements?
There are so many more questions than there are answers to this sad situation.
This high school will probably hit bottom around June 2010, what will happen after that will be a combination of the efforts (or lack of) of the Administration, the Teachers and the Community.  I just hope that the end results, justify the means  and that Central Falls High School will become a reasonably performing high school in few years.
Was the Nuclear Option warranted?  I don’t really know but the genie (as they used to say) has been let out of the bottle, now we have to live with those consequences.
But I am very scared that as we go further into this, that this “nuclear option” will be used to break unions, not just improve failing schools, but that is a completely different post and I am sure that many others will do a much better job of discussing that issue.

Have you made a difference today?  How?

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This has been a really great week in the classroom.
On Tuesday, I had my gang of three ask if they could read for 5 more minutes and when I said yes, they actually went back to reading and read for the full 5 minutes. These are 3 very hyperactive boys who fought me tooth and nail about reading at the start of the year!!!!
We had a new student come into the mix and he appears fitting in pretty well. He changes the dynamics in the classroom, but so far, so good. Let’s see how he does after the honeymoon period is over.
Got to sit down and talk with my mentor student and got him caught up a bit more on his homework and school work. Actually he a pretty good kid, he just “has to” maintain his “street cred” with others.
We worked on learning Keynote, while I tied creating a presentation to the writing process. Basically I had the students use creating a slide show as the pre-write, which got all but a couple engaged in the hardest part of writing (planning), I think they had fun putting in music, transitions, etc. Next week we will put together a paper of varying lengths (dependent upon the student’s engagement and skill level).
I got to go to a presentation on interpreting and utilizing NWEA scoring. I have gone over my position on Standardized Testing several times in the past and I generally am not a proponent. The way that it was presented showed that it could be useful and possibly helpful. I also could read between the lines and could see the dark side to it. Overall, if it is used the way it was presented, it could help me as one of the tools in my classroom. I will take a wait and see attitude on this one.
So here’s to a great week – last week. Now to get to work on planning for next week…two PETs, a couple of meetings, classroom activities, Progress Notes close…just a normal week. 🙂

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THIS IS REPOSTED FROM (haroldshawjr.com) 10/30/10

From 2/25/10

I have decided stop using WordPress.com as my  blog host and will not be posting here for the foreseeable future, if at all. I will be using my original blog site over at Blogger:
Resource Room 220
I have enjoyed posting here, but am frustrated about some the limitations with WordPress.com and believe that returning to Blogger will meet my personal needs better.
If you have enjoyed reading my posting and want to continue following me, please update your links to my new/old blog.
Resource Room 220
Thank you.

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I think that anyone who has read my blog over the past couple of years, knows that I am not a supporter or fan of Standardized Testing. I strongly believe that it does not measure student progress appropriately and using it to measure of schools or teachers is misuse of what the tools were originally designed for.
Unfortunately, the reality in the United States is that Standardized Testing is a fact of life in education whether you are a student, teacher, administrator, parent or politician. Right, wrong or indifferent Standardized Testing is how OUR Federal and most State Educational Leadership has chosen to measure progress in education. I am not going to get into the negativity (that has been done all too often) it has created in the classroom and other places, but instead look at the reality of the situation.
No Child Left Behind is a law, that was passed by our elected officials and it uses Standardized Testing to measure school progress and requires that almost all students be tested. Irregardless of whether you believe it is a good or bad law, it is the law and if it is not followed there will be consequences for the schools and everyone who is associated with them.
The present administration and their policies appear to reflect a continuation of Standardized Testing as their primary measurement tool and they will be in Office for at least 2 more years. Even if they were voted out in 2012, I do not believe that any significant changes in Educational policy would occur in a different Administration. I do not see the philosophies of Alfie Kohn or other opponents of Standardized Testing being selected for leadership positions in this Administration or any possible replacement.
So where does that leave us — with Standardized Testing being used as the primary measurement tool for the foreseeable future. Based on this reality bitching and whining about how bad Standardized Testing is not having any positive affect or making any changes to those policies. We have had 8 years of this and a change of Administrations without any affect on those policies.
Has/Is this negativity towards Standardized Testing (whether accurate or not), contributed to some of the low test scores whether we realize it or not? If we are negative about these tests in our classrooms and schools, don’t our students pick up on this negativity that we have provided given them?
What effect does our negativity have on test scores…I believe that it does have a negative affect on a student’s scores or whether they even show up (either physically or mentally during the test). We have complained about these tests with our “comments” so often that our students just blow them off as unimportant, when in fact they are important to the school, its reputation in today’s world and possible funding streams.
This negativity is unfair to our students and we need to look at ourselves to see if there is a way that we can positively spin the Standardized Testing into at least something that we are neutral about and loose some of the negative image we give these tests while at school.
Does this mean I will stop thinking that Standardized Testing is appropriate for the ways they are currently being used – NO and I will continue to work/discuss ways to change what I consider a bad policy, but I will do this outside of school.
In school I owe it to my students and yes to my administrators to support or at least not interfere (intentionally) with policies that are in place that they have to enforce (even if they often don’t support them either), to ensure that our students do the best they can on their mandated testing.
I know that this is not what I want to do, but sometimes when you can’t change “what is”, you need to change your approach, otherwise people stop listening and tune you out. I learned in the military that sometimes you have to make the best of the situation no matter how much you disagree with the policy. Like I tell my kids, sometimes, you just have to fake it until you make it.
I know that some will say I am co-opting my position, but to them I say I am facing reality that Standardized Testing is going to be around for the foreseeable future and we need to acknowledge that fact.

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This is a subject that I have given a lot of thought about and it is something that needs to be discussed. It is also an issue that we could write a book about, but I am going to only skim the surface of.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with another teacher about a student and it was evident that that teacher had given up on that student. To be blunt it pissed me off and I had to tightly control myself to maintain a collegial relationship with this other teacher who I have to work with almost daily. I have gone back and I have attempted to advocate for the student but the teacher had made up their mind and I believe there is not a lot I can do to change this situation. I have done some other things to support this student, but to me it simply was not acceptable and I still find it very frustrating that a teacher has given up on a student.
  • Do teachers give up on certain students in their classrooms, do whole schools give up on some students?
I believe that teachers and schools do give up on some students and that it is an unspoken epidemic in education. Look at the school drop-out rates that indicate that students give up on us, I have to believe that schools also gave up on them in many situations.
  • Are these students unteachable?
  • Are their behaviors such that they disrupt the learning of others?
  • Are their lack of interest in what is being taught so pervasive that it just causes the teacher to give up?
  • Have they intimidated the teacher into not trying to teach them?
Children have many reasons for acting the way they do in our schools, many of which are beyond a teacher’s or the school’s control, but negatively affect the students ability function in school. I don’t claim to have the answers for those questions or the reasons why students act badly in our classrooms, just like I don’t know all the reasons why a teacher finally gives up on a student.
The ramifications of teachers and schools giving up on students does affect them the remainder of their lives. We must make our classrooms and schools a safe haven for all students, we have to show them that they are respected and valued even if we don’t agree with them, and we must continue to extend our hand to help them up when they have fallen (even if it is countless times).
I know that many or even most teachers go above and beyond what could be expected to try to connect with students who don’t want to be in school and think that being there is a waste of time. Then there are more teachers than we want to admit who give up all to readily on students that do not meet their expectations of how or who students should be in “their” school.
We are paid professionals that are trained to teach all children, not just the ones who look like us or the one’s that like school and are good at it. I will admit that with some students it would be much easier to simply say “leave” and don’t bother to come back. What does that teach the student? Do we really know?
It takes a lot of time, effort, patience and yes often bravery to continue to work with some students. Those students will try every method they know to push you away up to and including violence if they believe you are getting too
close. It is much easier to give up and just let them walk away and yet we can’t in good faith continue to do that.
Does this mean we can “save” all of our students…unfortunately that is not reality, there are going to be some students who are too damaged, violent or disruptive to others that they can not be successful in our schools, but I do believe that in many instances that some schools and teachers give up too soon on some of their students. If we can “save” or salvage just a small number of these students, it will make a difference in many, many more lives than we can imagine.
I have to ask, but I don’t really expect an answer, except to yourself.
  • Have you ever given up on a student? Why?
  • Do you know how your choice affected that student?
  • Was someone else successful, did you look at what that person did? Did you talk about it or did you just let it go?
I have many more questions that I want to ask, but I am running out of space to ask them, but I will ask one more question on this topic.
  • What do we do when we see another teacher giving up on a student?
  • Do we jump in and try to help or do we just stand by and let it happen?
  • What do you do?
Our students have only one shot at being kids and it is our job to help them as much as we possibly can. Many of us do, but what can we do about those teachers who give up too easily or too soon on a student?

Have you made a difference today? How?

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I have been a MacBook Pro owner since the end of December. To say that I love my Mac would be an understatement. I was going to write about all the different things that I love about a Mac, but I have not decided that I am not going to repeat all the things that others have probably written and said about switching from a PC to a Mac.
All that I will say is my Mac just works and I don’t have to mess with it to keep it working the way I want it to!
Disclaimer: And you know Apple didn’t give me anything to write this review. 🙂

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This has been a great vacation week, I have taken part in several online discussions about education and attended several Webinars, the one’s with Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink being the standouts so far, tonight is going to be Clay Shirky, so we shall see. But I am starting to notice something that can be interpreted as either really great or very disturbing – the names at most of these activities are usually the same.
Most of the participants are teachers at some level, a few administrators, some consultants, but it seems that the names don’t really change that much from one session or activity to the next.
How many people are actively involved in the teaching/education professions? According to the following:

Teachers and Other School Personnel 6.8 million
Number of teachers in the United States. The bulk of them (2.6 million) teach at the elementary and middle school level. The remainder include those teaching at the postsecondary, secondary and preschool and kindergarten levels. (Source: Upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007)
Back to School: 2006-2007

I wonder how many of those 6.8 million in the U.S. are actively participating online? Perhaps there are 10,000 or even 20,000 people worldwide actively involved in EdTech online community in the U.S. (I would like find out just how many education personnel consider themselves active educationally online beyond using “search”, email or their school’s websites? Even if that number of people was 100,000 it would still be a small minority. I am sure that while many might agree with much of what we are saying, there are also many of those 6.8 million that would disagree with the EdTech communities’ vision of the future of education.
The more I listen to the conversations in here in my community, the more I think that many forget that we are not and do not appear to have the majority view regarding many of the discussions we are having. Our views and opinions of what the future of education should be, while seemingly common sense to us, is not common sense to many, many others.
Indeed they have very different visions of how education needs to be improved and how educational professionals need to be held accountable for the poor performance in many of America’s schools (the inability of graduates to read or write adequately, poor math skills, lack of background knowledge, poor work ethics, lack of job skills, etc. the problems are many), they are just as frustrated with education as we are.
The people who disagree with us and are actually making the changes that are being implemented are tired of the status quo and the lack of progress by educators and educational leaders and have taken what they have had success in and know – “the business world” and are attempting to use those methods to improve education. Are they wrong to try to change education for the better – no, but are their “business models” going to fit in education or should education change to fit their models or is there a hybrid model that would work better? Those are the real questions.
We in the EdTech community sometimes look for the ulterior motives or conspiracy theories of these other groups or individuals who are trying to improve education their way. We ask: “Are they trying to do away with public education?” “Do they actually know what is happening in the classroom?” “Don’t they realize how horrible standardized testing is for students and teachers?” and all the other comments that I have heard and said myself regarding the “outsiders” efforts to change education.
We in the EdTech online community pitch a fit over our perceptions of too much intervention from those “outsiders”, but what have we done to clean up our own house, so that the outsiders will leave us alone? In the 10 years since I have become an educator – nothing or very little that is readily apparent to me.

We historically do not get rid of teachers who should not be teaching and allow them to damage our profession’s status and creditability, not to mention the damage they do to students lives.

Teacher preparation programs do not realistically prepare teachers for the classrooms. Many are ill-prepared for the daily pressures of the classroom. Why are so many new teachers leaving 3-5 years after starting disillusioned and burnt out.

We change our educational philosophies like we change clothes, we something new that looks great and want to try that and don’t have the opportunity to become expert enough at any philosophy to make a difference.

We are divided on the use of technology in the classroom.
and a host of other problems.

In the online EdTech community we seriously discuss these issues and more, but the same discussions are repeated and repeated, the same things are talked about ad nauseum, but based on the repetitive nature of our discussions few changes are taking place in the classroom, policy making or at leadership levels.

As much I enjoy the conversations and other online activities, it seems that we have become the ECHO CHAMBER and don’t accomplish too much.

I know that the EdTech online community that I belong to, means well and wants to change the future of education in positive ways and the Personal Learning Network I am a part of are indispensable to me as a person and teacher.
But I have to ask are we doing enough to change education for the better or do we simply bitch about it and then do very little in our spheres of influence to make a difference in our schools or in education as a whole. Can we do more, should we do more?
I guess it comes down to whether we are an echo chamber or are we the leaders who are willing to provide the necessary leadership needed to improve education wherever we might be. It won’t be easy, but when is change ever easy?
Did you make a difference today? How?

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I just finished reading Dan Willingham’s “Why Don’t Students Like School”. I have to admit throughout the book, I just felt as though I was missing something and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.   Then as I reflected on the title “Why Don’t Students Like School”  and believe it was much more provocative than the content. In my opinion Dr. Willingham wrote about how to use what has been learned about cognitive psychology in practical ways, focusing on the educational aspects.  While he did briefly discuss why don’t students like school, it really was not the main idea of this book in my opinion.  I guess my perceived disconnect between the title and the content was what threw me.
I did enjoy reading and found many of the ideas and possible solutions that he discussed to be practical and useable.
Something that Dr. Willingham states that will stick with me is the following quote:

“Sometimes I think that we, as teachers, are so eager to get to the answers that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]

This is one of my problem areas, I try too hard to get the students to the answer that sometimes I do not give them enough to to think about what questions they should be asking. I understand that I should be slowing down more in the classroom and allow more time for reflective questioning. I may need to teach this skill as many of my students do not know how to do it, but it is an important part of the learning process.
Dr. Willingham discusses the importance of background knowledge

“I’ve listed four ways that background knowledge is important to reading comprehension: (1) it provides vocabulary; (2) it allows you to bridge logical gaps that writers leave; (3) it allows chunking, which increases room in working memory and thereby makes it easier to tie ideas together; and (4) it guides “the interpretation of ambiguous sentences.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]

I have alway understood the need for background knowledge but did not fully grasp how important it was for comprehension of any/all subjects and how the lack of it negatively impacted my students. This book has given me a great deal more insight into the need for background knowledge that I didn’t have before.

“Children do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]

I really agree with his premise that intelligence can be increased and that it is not a static thing, especially in my working with Special Education students who can and do dramatically increase what they can accomplish. I don’t downplay their disabilities, but I do believe that sometimes a condition of learned helplessness exists and students don’t know their actual capacity, if they applied themselves much more i.e. put more effort into their work.
Dr. Willingham has the following comments regarding teaching and/or teachers:

“Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]
“First, we need to define practice. We’ve said that it’s more than engaging in the activity; you also have to try to improve. But how? First, practice entails getting feedback from knowledgeable people.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]

This is a huge item that many teachers do not understand or misunderstand that in order to continue to be a good teacher, but that we must practice in order improve our skills as teachers and I do like his definition of practice. I also believe very strongly that teachers need to stay current in both their content knowledge, but also in their pedagogy which from quickly looking into other teacher’s rooms may need some work as far as currency is concerned. What they did 10 years ago may not be as effective with today’s students.
There are many other items that Dr. Willingham discusses that are very pertinent to teaching and I recommend that other teachers read Dr. Willingham’s book. This book has a lot of great information in it and he cites a lot of research to support and defend his positions. I don’t know if I will take and/or use all of his ideas or suggestions, but there are quite a few that I will attempt to incorporate them into my teaching style and practice.
In closing I will leave you with the following quote from Dr. Willingham.

“Education is the passing on of the accumulated wisdom of generations to children, and we passionately believe in its importance because we know that it holds the promise of a “better life for each child, and for us all, collectively.”, [Willingham, Daniel T., Why Don’t Students Like School]

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Every so often I enjoy going to TweetCloud to quickly and visually review what I have been Tweeting about for three different time periods:  1 year, 3 months and the last week.  Looking at these quickly give me a general idea about what I have been talking about in Twitter.

For the past year

The first cloud is for the past 12 months, the second is for the last 3 months and the final one is for the last week.  The biggest thing that I notice is that the word “students” is prominent in all three.

It is pretty amazing to me – looking back; even though I wasn’t teaching last year at this time and didn’t until last October that my  TweetClouds has students, teach*** and school as making all of  my clouds.

I guess you should do what you talk most about.
I know that I am very happy to be back in teaching and despite the extra work it might entail, it is what I love to do.

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I had the pleasure of listening to Alfie Kohn speak and answer questions today. I wish that his philosophy on education was the direction we in the United States were heading. His views on Progressive Education would make a significant and positive difference to many of our students. He put into words for me many of my half-formed thoughts and articulated them in a manner that made it seem as though that is what we should be doing instead of where we are headed.
Most of his great ideas and progressive insights are not the present mainstream thought on education in the U.S. and it would take a monumental paradigm shift to achieve even half of what he advocates for changes in our educational system. Unfortunately, many of his views or ideas will not happen in today’s climate or in the future. Which to me is unfortunate and will negatively affect the future of many of our students.
Too many people in power, politics and edu-business would have to agree to give-up their control of their part of the educational system for Dr. Kohn’s ideas to succeed. We all know the chances of that happening – Zero.
What can we do? Start a quiet revolution?
What would happen if all the attendees who attended his presentation(s), simply stopped giving homework. Then discussed the results (positive and negative) with others in their building? It might make become like a giant snowball that people in power would have to at least acknowledge or get run over by it. I understand that it won’t happen because homework in education is too entrenched whether it is beneficial or not. But at least it is an idea that would cause some ripples in the water, when many want smooth sailing for their educational agenda (public, private or personal).
In most schools homework is not something that teachers have to get permission to give or not give, it is actually one of the few things that we have control over most of the time. Whether we assign homework or not.

Personally, I have not assigned any homework that a student has not requested since I got back to teaching (and that was for one so he could read and get out of evening chores 🙂 ). It has not had any negative impacts that I can see on my classroom or my student’s performance and definitely has reduced the anxiety that they have in my class. I get to see that anxiety when we discuss what it is like having homework or I help them with their homework from other classrooms.

I have whined and complained about us just whining and complaining, well here is one idea to bounce around and could actually be done at the classroom level by classroom teachers that probably would benefit our students immediately – just stop giving homework and see what happens.
My little contribution to subversion in education :).
Alfie Kohn is going to be at the Constructing Modern Knowledge Convention in Manchester, New Hampshire during July 12-15, and I am going to find a way to attend. I know that it will be out of my own pocket, but I want to hear more of Alfie Kohn has to say about education and what we can do to change it.
Am I a disciple of his ideas on education – nope. But from what I have read and heard so far they make a hell of a lot more sense than the direction we are going.
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