On Student Achievement

The following is the text from an assignment I did for my current grad class. We were asked to read the Introduction and chapters 1 and 2 from Larry Cuban’s Teachers and Machines as well as Chapter 3 from John Hattie’s Visible Learning.

In Visible Learning, Hattie lays out six areas technology can influence: the teacher, child, home, school, curriculum, and pedagogy. I responded to areas of greatest influence, least influence, most potential, and most challenging. Because we were asked to reply to the text directly, the citations are limited to the two texts.

Student achievement is a dangerous topic. The world, including teachers and schools, are looking for easy solutions (single solutions) for a very complex idea. Oftentimes, technology is the go-to solution for achievement issues that can be better served by focusing on improvement in other areas. That being said, technology, when used as a resource rather than a means to an end, can be extremely powerful in improving both teaching and learning.

Hattie (2008) makes it clear that “learning is a very personal journey for the teacher and [emphasis added] the student” (p. 23) and that the two need to work together in order to be successful. Technology can impact the learning process in many ways, and I would like to argue that the Teacher and Approaches (Pedagogy) have the highest potential to be powerfully affected.

The teacher cannot improve without reflecting on pedagogy, and pedagogical growth cannot occur without a reflective teacher.

I am linking these two factors because “[The act of teaching] involves an experienced teacher (individual) who knows a range of learning strategies (pedagogy)…” (p. 23). A significant part of the expectation of the teacher to both “learn from the success or otherwise” (p. 24) of strategies used in teaching and learning. This involves an intimate knowledge of how to provide meaningful and effective feedback as well as evaluation of the methods or pedagogical approach used. Technology can not only help teachers give timely and meaningful feedback to students, it can also help teachers reflect meaningfully on their practice. The teacher cannot improve without reflecting on pedagogy, and pedagogical growth cannot occur without a reflective teacher. The teacher has direct influence over both areas, meaning technology should have the greatest impact when applied purposefully.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the School is the factor least affected (in a direct manner) by technology, mainly because Hattie’s definition includes, “the climate of the classroom” and “peer influences” (p. 33). For technology to influence the school, it requires the intentional application of the tools by teachers and students. Cuban (1986) defines technology as “any device available to teachers for use in instructing students in a more efficient and stimulating manner” (p. 4), so a compelling argument could be made that technology should not be included with Hattie’s classroom climate.

In any case, the Student stands to benefit the most from any intentional use of technology. Student growth requires four actions: quality experiences, difficult yet specific goals, meaningful feedback, and the awareness of a teacher. Technology can have an immediate impact particularly with meaningful feedback and teacher awareness by eliminating time and communication barriers. Hattie (2008) even says, “[teachers] provide students with multiple opportunities and alternatives for developing learning strategies” (p. 22). This is a significant step in pushing students through the realms of knowledge and thinking about those facts and into construction, which is “the major legacy of teaching” (p. 26).

The Home is the factor least addressed by Hattie, which in turn, makes it stand out as the most problematic for schools. One of the major concerns is that parents do not know how to “speak the language of schooling” (p. 33). The burden of proof is entirely on schools. In conjunction with access issues for some students, technology can appear to widen an achievement gap. Technology can surely help with the communication and we’ve already seen how it can benefit students, but the challenge schools face is to show those benefits clearly and concisely to parents.

Cuban, L. 1986. Teachers and machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hattie, J. 2008. Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Straddling the Line

“Walk the line” could work, too, but I’m no Johnny Cash.

I moved to TechSmith nearly a year ago from teaching. All I ever wanted to do since starting college was teach. I never changed my major, and I never held a job (except for summer work) prior to jumping into my own classroom in 2009. I also managed to work in public, private, and charter schools since I began teaching. I’ve added to my license as well as added to my interests. Last winter was the first time I seriously considered, and subsequently acted on, leaving the classroom.

When I left, I had a real identity crisis. What was my focus? How do I identify myself? To be honest, my first instinct is still to say, “Hi, I’m Brian, and I’m a teacher.” That’s how I feel, but it’s strange to not have that be the truth anymore.

It’s something I think about a lot today. Most of my friends are teachers. All of my contextual references for how to handle certain situations come from teaching. Nearly all of my favorite stories to tell about “work” come from teaching. I understand that most of my professional life was in the classroom, so the number of references are to be expected, but those memories feel more crisp…more alive.

I feel like I can’t talk to some people the way I used to. I’m someone else now, on the other side of the glass, looking in. I relish stories of students doing great things, of teachers having major wins and major fails. I feel the pain in the struggle and I feel awkward when I realize I don’t have to think about the politics anymore. But I also feel like a cop out when that happens, so I make sure to stay informed.

I feel the shift when I say, “I used to be in the classroom.” Is it a loss of respect? Of appreciation? I’m not sure. Probably not. But it’s still there.

I also get looks from the other end…looks from teachers who wish they were in my position. Longing for something…release? Relief? Just a chance to get out while they still have their sanity? Those unsettle me the most.

Switching gears is really, really hard. I don’t feel like I’ve escaped the inescapable system. I also don’t feel like I’ve given up on public education. In fact, I feel stronger about it now than I ever have before. But, and this might get me in trouble, being on the other side of the line, I see how much mistrust there is when it comes to education. I don’t know what else to call it. I’m also guilty of the same judgements.

How many lines do we all straddle? Who’s burden is it to manage the dissonance? Can (should?) we favor one side over the other?

I think I’m learning that the value in relationships come from our experiences walking our lines. Playing the teacher on one side, and the parent/professional/author/athlete/astronaut/whatever on the other three or four sides. Life isn’t black and white, so how can out self-identifications be?

I know that before I left, I was a teacher. My lines have become irreversibly intertwined, but that isn’t a detriment. I’m thankful for my time in the classroom. I’m thankful for my time (so far) at TechSmith. I’m looking forward to getting even more tangled up every day.

Argument in 140 – Part 2

I updated the original post, but I thought it would be worth having a brand new item for reference. As I said earlier, the @StopSBG account has been unsuspended, and they are now tweeting again. I haven’t been paying much attention to the ongoing conversation so I can do other things, like eat and sleep. But, what I have done, is used Martin Hawksey’s amazing Google Docs-driven Twitter archive script to automatically archive the tweets.

View the archive

I can only look back seven days at a time, so unfortunately, the initial conversation is lost, unless you use another service, like topsy.com to search for yourself. But, this spreadsheet is probably the most complete archive of the entire 5,000+ exchange happening. The archive will update every couple of hours and add a new tab at the bottom of the page for convenience. Take a look at the short video below on how to manage the massive amount of data on the sheet.

Arguments In 140

Update 8:00 AM Jan 7, 2013 – The @StopSBG account is now active again. Change is reflected below.

Over the past 10 days, Twitter saw one of the most epic, twisting, and riveting arguments ever. It started with someone called @StopSBG (account is now suspended, so no link) and Frank Noschese. Presumably, the account was run by a concerned parent opposed to their district’s decision to move to Standards Based Grading. When I first saw the exchange, this individual was writing about how much extra work teachers would have to do to report under SBG rather than a traditional grading scheme. Frank hopped in, being one of my favorite go-to persons for SBG matters, offering to help. Well, then, the Twitters exploded.

I’m not going to recount the entire debate. I did manage to grab an archive which is so convoluted and branched, that it’s practically unreadable right now. Maybe I’ll get to it and try to sort through it all someday. Over the course of 10 days or so, over 50 teachers, education researchers, and assessment professionals joined in the conversation.

As I watched, it really stood out to me that Twitter is probably the worst place to hold a rational debate. The character limit is hard to work around. Only being able to write in snippets dilutes points and counterpoints and also drives some really inventive shorthand which requires even more explanation. Because of the nature of the timeline, it’s hard to finish a point before someone jumps in and changes the direction.

I’m convinced that if this discussion had happened at a coffee shop, a public forum, Branch, or even a Google Hangout, it would have ended much more amicably. So what ended up happening? Supporters are still supporting SBG, opponents are still opposed. I don’t think any minds were changed, and again, the StopSBG account is mysteriously suspended. We looped and circled, ultimately, going nowhere with the original group.

There was some collateral damage, though.

The debate was engaging, and maybe that’s what we should take away from this experience. People who wouldn’t normally get pulled into philosophical discussions about grading practiced jumped in. Articles were shared. Experts weighed in. It seems like the people least involved in the debate were the ones who learnt the most. I think that’s the biggest shift for me: I started wanting StopSBG to realize that we were “right.” Having 18 hours or so to think about it since the “end” of the conversation has changed my mind. Sure, debates are fun, and this one definitely had its moments. The real power in this whole thing is the fact that it happened in an open space where anyone could watch and chime in.

So, what do we want to fight over next?

Major, major props to Frank, Jen Borgioli, David Knuffke, Rick Wormeli, and many, many others who remained rational, polite, and to the point with this discussion. I’m glad you are all willing to lead when reason flies out the window.