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Ed Reform? Okay.

by Alfonso Gonzalez on October 17th, 2010

I’ve never been a fan of teaching to a state test. I don’t mind assessing my students and I think it’s all right if students take common assessments to see how they’re doing. When I start teaching in South Central Los Angeles back in 1991 students were taking the CTBS multiple choice test. Knowing that multiple choice tests aren’t all that effective at showing what students actually know CA tried a different test, the CLAS test where students wrote more to show what they knew. In WA I started teaching in 1996 when students were taking the CTBS and the ITBS. But those multiple choice tests gave way to the WASL, which had students write short and extended answers. Alas even that test gave way to the MSP where the extended response was done away with. Too difficult and expensive to score. No matter which test students were taking it’s all right for teachers to prepare students for the test. Maybe a day or two showing them how the test will be given and how they need to answer the questions is perfectly fine. But teaching to the test and designing curriculum to ensure students do well on the test is not the way to go. A test, any test, is one of many brief, snapshots of what students know or remember at the moment the test is given. It should be taken as only one measure of what students know or what students can do. Personally, I think narratives and portfolios are better than tests.

I don’t give many tests in my Science classes. Instead I have students create things to show what they are learning. I have students blog and respond to each other and self assess. Multiple ways to show what they learning and keeping samples of work done to reflect upon seems more effective to me. Students at my school lead their own student-led conferences where they share pieced of work they’ve reflected on to show their parents what and how they are learning. Our students are learning to take responsibility of their own education.  It’s brilliant!

I create learning experiences for my students by giving them options, using current tech tools, allowing for inquiry, and by giving them chances to reflect. I’ve learned a lot lately from three individuals who write books and give talks about education reform. What they say makes sense to me and gives me ideas for ways I can help my students become learners and think critically in my classes.

Alfie Kohn challenges us to rethink and question why we do things that no longer work the way used to such as giving homework and using traditional grading techniques. Here’s a short video of Alfie:

Because of Alfie Kohn’s writings I have made homework a student and family choice. I don’t assign homework but students can choose to do work at home that is meaningful to them or finish something at home that they need more time to complete. I’ve also stopped giving traditional letter grades almost completely. I still do standards-based grading and will use rubrics from time to time. Here are some older blogs posts I wrote after reading some of Alfie Kohn’s work:
How to Motivate Students?

Do Grades Help or Hinder Learning?
Reflections of 2009-10

Dani Pink’s works on motivation have been just amazing and eye-opening. Dan Pink’s work has helped me understand how trying to teach my students or motivate them or assess them the ways that I was taught or assessed just don’t work with what I want for them. I want my students to think critically and deeply and do and create meaningful work. Traditional methods of motivation such as incentives in the form of grades (what Alfie Kohn calls rewards and punishments) just don’t make sense! You’ve got to watch this (plus the drawing guy is sooo cool!):

And add to all of the above the works of Sir Ken Robinson and I start to get even more ideas to help my students practice creativity while learning Science. Innovation is something that Americans are still leading the way and yet according to Sir Ken schools are killing creativity in children. Watch this and tell me what you think:

And then there’s Yong Zhao whose book Catching Up or Leading the Way is helping us see that how we educate our children here in America is worthwhile and we don’t need to try to be like China or countries that are actually trying to change to be more like us. If anything it’s Finland who is doing great things with education. And what are we doing in this country that is not in our kids best interest? Too much standardized testing. Watch this:

I get ideas from the people I’ve mentioned here. I get ideas from many incredible educators who are part of a learning network I have to share and bounce around ideas to help our students. I know many teachers who work tirelessly to make a great experience for their students and to help their students reach their potentials and have successful, happy lives. This is the reality I live. So when I hear about Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere I can only hope that the public not give up on education in this country. If there are problems with your school or you are dissatisfied with your child’s education work with your school and your child’s teacher. Together we can educate all our children. So when I hear about education reform I say, “okay,” because I am doing that everyday.

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