Can We Re-Purpose Punishment?

I began thinking about punishment when I was notified yesterday that one of my students would need some work to do as he served in school suspension for two days.  I quickly grabbed an article, wrote down some questions and prompts for him and walked down to the ISS room.

I’m assuming most ISS rooms are the same…students sitting separated from one another, silent, staring at a blank wall or whiteboard.  Not being counseled, not allowed to talk, and not allowed to do much of anything other than work with paper and pencil or sit in silence.  It really made sad, more than anything else.

I understand teachers are busy, and that it isn’t always easy to get work down to the students serving their punishment.  What made me more upset is when I took a minute to talk to my student.  He is a bright kid and pleasant to speak to.  He is responsive and aware of his actions.  I asked him, straight out, why he landed in ISS.  His shy answer told me that he understands what he did was wrong and that he needs to serve the consequences of his actions.  I encouraged him, explained his assignment, and then promised to swing by and check on him during my plan period.

Honestly, I didn’t expect him to actually complete the work that I had left.  When I went back later in the day, he excitedly hopped up and showed me what he was able to get done.  I should also mention that he didn’t just do it…he did it well.  He showed depth of thought and explained his opinions well.  He answered each item fully and accurately.  He also reminded me that I cannot pigeon-hole students serving punishments into a group that doesn’t care.  Yes, he made a mistake, but he is still a learner that needs to be nurtured and encouraged.

I took some time to chat with him again about some more questions his responses could bring up.  He was thinking hard about what I was asking and he did it well and willingly.  I’m so, so proud of his work today, even if it was an isolated incident.

I really got thinking about what punishments learners serve in the school…and what result of their consequences might come around.  Is total segregation during the school day the best way to help these kids progress through their mistakes?  Shouldn’t we be talking and dialoguing with them about the reasons of their actions and the results of that decision?

I would love to see mediated sessions between teachers and students that land themselves in hot water.  Discuss where the tension is and we might, if we embrace cooperation and learning opportunities, be able to build better student-teacher relationships that will reach far beyond the school walls.

What are your thoughts?

Changing My Perspective

Our internet was out at school today (it’s okay, it came back on around lunchtime) and it gave me a chance to slow down a little bit during my plan period to re-arrange my thoughts and take a few deep breaths.  I met Jeff Utecht at a conference last March and at his workshop, he gave us a code to download a free copy of his book, Reach.  I had all of my lesson plans done and nothing to copy, so with no internet to browse or Twitter to lurk, I took the time to read the book that has been sitting on my desktop since March.

It’s a short book on building professional networks…only about 100 pages.  Most of it is about different types of social networking (ie Twitter vs Facebook or Wikis) and how each can play a role in our PLNs.  A lot of it I’ve already done, but there were still some good tidbits and thoughts about tools available to build and augment my learning network.

The part that really stood out to me was in Chapter 2 when he writes about building our communities and networks for learning.  He used three different terms: print literacy, digital literacy, and network literacy.  As I thought about it, I had realized that I knew the difference between print and digital literacy, but my continuum stopped there.  I had never thought about what each of those meant.  Jeff’s words:

By these definitions digital literacy looks at understanding technologies and their uses. It’’s everything from understanding folder structures on a computer to being able to successfully use e-mail to communicate with others (Reach p 29).

I had always thought digital literacy was so much more, but when I read that, it made a lot of sense that today’s kids are already digital literate.  They are probably more literate than me in most cases when it comes to new technology coming out.  The problems I see when we’re using the computers are definitely in the network literacy.  I’m even more glad now that  I decided to go with class blogs this year.  Again, Jeff’s words:

Networked literacy is what the web is about. It’’s about understanding how people and communication networks work. It’’s the understanding of how to find information and how to be found. It’’s about how to read hyperlinked text articles, and understand the connections that are made when you become ““friends”” or ““follow”” someone on a network. It’’s the understanding of how to stay safe and how to use the networked knowledge that is the World Wide Web. Networked Literacy is about understanding connections (Reach p. 30).

I am network literate.  I have learned how to use Twitter, Google+, blogs, and other tools to build my learning network into something personal and useful for my work.  This is what we need to be teaching kids now.  They know how to use a computer, but that doesn’t mean they know how to connect with a computer.

Today in class, students were amazed that people from other countries had read some of the blogs.  To me, that’s totally normal because I have built that global perspective for myself.  The change in perspective is a good reminder that to accomplish my goals this year, I need to be teaching networks and not just focusing on the “digital.”

You can read more of Jeff’s thoughts on network literacy here.

Student Blogs: What I Learned

Today I finally had the chance to get my students their blogs.  After weeks of trial and error getting the site to work and email after email with IT people to allow my blog through the network, they were finally ready to go today.

A little about my blogs.  I had decided from the start that I wanted to host my own blogs on my domain.  I figure students already have enough login information to worry about, I might as well be the one with their blog information.  I also like that I can set parameters I want and be sure that each student is acting responsibly and appropriately.  I can also help them customize it more than the available options if they want.

I’ve got a few major take-aways from this experience that I think are important things to realize if you’re planning on using blogs.

  1. Take time during class to show them where major controls are.  Show them how to log in/out, how to change a password, etc.  Make sure they physically watch what you are doing or else you will be answering the same question multiple times. Once I got their eyes, I showed them those major portions, and everything went fine.

  2. Dialogue with students about the purpose.  I teach freshman and my class is definitely already using more technology than most of these students have ever used.  We talked about what the purpose of a blog is or what it should be, and I found that many of them just didn’t have the experience that I expected.  The majority of responses centered around the “fact” that blogs are just diaries.  Once they began to think outside the box, they began to take ownership a little bit more.

  3. Expect slow internet.  I tried doing this with 35 kids in my room at once.  My server was not happy with me nor was the wireless router in the room.  Try to find a way to do half of the class at a time to make sure you have their attention and that the internet is working relatively well.  Next time I sign kids up for a blog, we will definitely be doing it in groups rather than all at once.

  4. Let the students play.  Through the class, they kept on asking “what next?”, which is appropriate at times.  There was a sequence we needed to go through to get everything done correctly.  After that, however, they were a little afraid to do something “wrong.”  Take a minute to explain that while we will be using them for class projects, this is their space and it is up to them what it becomes in the long run.  I will be giving assignments, but those should not dictate what they use the site for.  The freedom scared some, but as they got on board, I saw more excitement than trepidation.  Hopefully, some will be posting more than when I ask them to.

I’ll be figuring out a way to post a directory for the blogs over the next week so you can check them out if you’re interested.  Feel free to ask if you have other thoughts and questions.

Diane Rehm on Education Reform

Today during my plan period I happened to see a tweet from @ThalesDream about today’s Diane Rehm Show being focused on charter schools and education reform.  I like the show and I feel like most of the time, it is balanced and includes many experts and good commentary.

Not today.

I was (I hope) one of the public teachers across the country that was trying to call in and e mail about the current state of education and the true effect charters and vouchers are having on education in America.  It was heartbreaking to hear an unbalanced, one-sided explanation of charter schools in American education.  I’ve tried to break my thoughts down into three parts.

  1. Charter schools are not the solution to the American education problems.  Charters are being heralded as the golden bullet for education with stories of soaring test scores and student achievement.  Let me say that there are good charter schools out there.  There are schools that are using innovative methods to teach every child and to teach those children that need different challenges to learn.  I am not against the idea.  What really irks me is that charters are never put in a bad light.  There are stories of schools that raise scores on tests by kicking the low-performers out.  Artificially raising grades is a disservice to students and parents and is probably the lowest form of education, if you ask me.  If you are funded by public funds, you must be public!  Test scores cannot be the basis for admittance and retention.  Charters were designed to give different opportunities…but not for limited times.
  2. Teachers do not have absolute job security with no evaluation process.  With the changing economy, I hear this more and more, and it made me extremely sad to hear it again this morning with no rebuttal.  I am evaluated every year.  It isn’t a union thing.  If I am not performing my job as required, I will be fired.  Teachers are under just as much pressure to perform to the best of their ability as much as the next guy.  There are limited situations where teachers “are completely safe, even though they are terrible.”  But, that is a very narrow window in the public education system.  States are evaluating teachers in a variety of ways, one of which (unfortunately) is leaning more and more on student test scores.  We are evaluated.  We do not have absolute security.
  3. Education and corporations are not the same and cannot be treated the same.  Education management has been shifting more and more toward a corporate model under the guise of “no-nonsense management” to improve schools.  The problem is that corporate goals and education goals are on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Corporations deliver products for profits.  Education is trying to produce learners that are independent and dynamic.  If we begin to produce products that think, talk, and work the same, our society is going to be even farther behind globally than we already are.  Schools need good management but from professionals that are educators.  Not former CEO’s that took their companies to the Fortune 500 level.  The goals are different and until that is realized, education will continue to struggle.
I know this is more of a rant, but I was really concerned about the discussion.  The author being interviewed, Steven Brill, has spent time in schools as an observer…not a teacher.  Without proper perspective, education will continue to be skewed.
You can go listen to the segment here.  I really encourage you to send an e mail to Diane about the episode and your thoughts as a teacher.  This is an issue teachers need to speak up on in order to show that we are here working our hardest to continue to provide students with a quality, dynamic, and meaningful education.

Data Does Not Equal “Testing”

I’ve heard a lot of information in the last week, especially since moving to a new district. They had district-wide staff training for those of us that are new to the district. The meetings were fine, and the district really has a mindset to lead the state in utilizing and implementing 21st century learning techniques. I’m going to be able to continue using a flipped classroom and that involves re-writing the biology curriculum so we can roll it out school-wide (hopefully) during the 2012-2013 school year. It’s a long-range plan, but I’m happy and proud to be able to work with the district in moving classes forward.

One thing that stood out to me over the last week was the constant discussion of data and the collection of data in the classroom. Every example used had to do with student testing and performance, which in some situations, is completely appropriate. But, as the sessions moved on, the testing theme continued.

I know the state of the American education system right now is totally on testing and I’m working hard in my classes not to emulate that model in everything I do. Yes, I still teach the importance of “testing,” but it isn’t with a do-or-die mindset. Tests, when written correctly and designed to meet specific learning objectives, can give valuable information about learning and misconceptions. I am not against testing as a method of collecting data…I am against testing being the only method schools are using to collect data.

I was fortunate to be employed before this position, so I understand that data comes from a variety of sources, not just from test scores. But, there were also 70 brand new teachers in the room that don’t have that experience and the presentation they got was one side of the coin. We cannot pigeon-hole learners into a one-time performance. Allow me to use baseball as an example:

Ty Cobb is still credited with the highest ever batting average. He averaged 0.366 (or 0.367, depending on the source) with 11,429 (or 11,434 based on source) at bats. So, that means, for every 10 pitches he saw, he would hit almost 4 of them. That’s really good. But, he also had games where he didn’t have any hits at all. Looking at one game is not representative of his batting skill…we shouldn’t do the same thing to students by quantifying their entire learning experience on one day of testing.

The data we collect should be continuous and diverse. There is numeric data and there is emotional data; formal and informal.

I want to implore all of the veteran teachers that read this…please take time to talk to a new teacher in your building this year about collecting meaningful data from students. Don’t focus on testing alone…construct a base that is built in personal interaction and questioning, successes and failures, and then some testing. Let’s find balance in our learning spaces this fall.

Have a great first week of school!

Guest Post: Dan Spencer on Literacy in the Digital Age

Today’s post is actually from Dan Spencer, a technology coordinator in Michigan. Dan was recently asked to write an article for a local newspaper about student literacy in the digital age. Dan was kind enough to let me post this on my blog as well because it is that good.  This is longer than what I usually post, but please do take time to read the entire article.

Cit Pat article – “Are texting and social media sites harming our children’s literacy skills?”

Alright gang! Here’s my article for the Jackson Cit Pat.  It was supposed to only be 500 words (it’s currently close to 900) but I can’t think of what to cut without losing important details.  Please tell me what you think.

I was blessed with a phenomenal English teacher in high school.  Mrs. Wilcox had a gift for pushing us beyond multiple-choice tests and regurgitating lines from Macbethor mindlessly churning out five-paragraph essays about For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Her focus was to have us take those works and create something that applied to our world.  The common medium of expression at that time was pen and paper, but we were content with that because it was all we knew.  Given the explosion of social media and other Web 2.0 tools available today, I wonder what Mrs. Wilcox would have inspired us to create to express our ideas if we had tools like podcasts, blogs, YouTube, and even Twitter or Facebook at our disposal.You see, many view literacy as simply being able to read and write, but it’s really much more.   At the very least, literacy means being able to communicate clearly regardless of the medium.  But in a world where effective communication is so vital, literacy should imply being able to take an idea or message and understand, critique, and explain how it effects you and your world.   However, with the recent boom in social media, the way we communicate with others is permanently recorded and available for all to see at any time.  Because of this, social media sites and texting are easy targets for those who want to label the rising generation as lazy, ignorant, or out-of-touch.  While examples of people (and not just students) using social media poorly are plentiful, we need to be very careful to not confuse “correlation” with “causation”.It would be foolish to suggest all students were mini-Hemmingways in waiting until Facebook, Twitter and texting wandered onto the scene and corrupted them.  Social media didn’t cause those deficiencies, but it does display them for all to see.  Those are the sites many students visit and interact when they aren’t in school.  Which is what makes the supposed tension between learning, literacy, and social media so intriguing.  The frustration many students express with school is that it doesn’t apply to their world.  In my opinion, schools have an obligation to make learning relevant to the real world.  If we choose to pretend that these forms of communication and media don’t exist or aren’t important to them, we force students into a dichotomy of choosing between “School World” or “Their World”.  If students have to pick one or the other, “their world” wins every time.  But why can’t educators find ways to promote literacy using the tools that are already shown to engage students?  Why can’t we help students see how “school” prepares them for the “real world” by using “their world” to engage them?  Now let me be blunt. There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use social media in schools just as there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to use a paper and pencil.  What I am advocating is using the social media tools available today in a monitored, educational setting to help make literacy relevant for students.

Here are a few examples of educators and students using social media tools the right way to promote literacy.

  • Texting in the Classroom
  • There are many free tools like which allow teachers to poll students during lessons through text messages. Rather than basing whether students understand or not on one person raising her hand and answering questions, this allows a teacher a glimpse at what the whole class understands in a matter of seconds.
  • Facebook in the Classroom
    • With parent permission, Michigan Center chemistry teacher Matt Withers set up a Facebook group for his chemistry class where they could go for information about the class after school.  The student-to-student collaboration and communication that resulted were great examples of how social media can be used the right way in education.
  • Sylvia’s Super Awesome-Maker Show
  • – Kids Teaching Kids
    • Want to see if a student really understands math? You could assign problems 1-25 at the end of the chapter or have them create a video (aka “screencast”) showing how to work out a math problem in their own words.  They can then post it on iTunes or a classroom blog so their classmates can access them whenever they need help outside of school. The 6th graders who originally began creating these tutorials struggled in math before they started doing this.  Now they pour their heart and soul into creating their mini-lessons outside of class because they know their work will be available for the entire world to see.
  • Shakespeare in 140 characters
    • Did you really understand Shakespeare?  You can’t paraphrase what you don’t understand.  Have students use Twitter to paraphrase what is happening in 140 characters or less.  You’ll be amazed by their increased interest, level of understanding and creativity when they get to use a social media site that is normally reserved only for outside of school.

    Can students learn to read, write and express their ideas without social media – of course!  But schools have an obligation to be relevant for students and social media is an important part of their world.  In the second decade of the 21st century there are amazing tools available that, when used the right way, can inspire students to see how their world really can prepare them for the real world.

    I saw this update from Dan today:

    [Sigh] CitPat “kindly” asked me to change the article they asked me to write for them on student literacy and social media to focus on the traditional definition of literacy (being able to read and write). I felt like I had made a great argument that with so many digital tools out there now for people to express their ideas that digital literacy is a type of literacy. Guess that wasn’t what they wanted.

    Personally, I think the newspaper is nuts and I’ll probably write the editor an e mail.  They’re missing the big picture and this is one of those things that really pushed my buttons.  I’ll post the editor’s contact information if you’d like to send a letter as well.