Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Learning From the Floor...not the chair.

My first memory of formal education in Canada involves being told to sit still. Most of my memories of formal education in Canada involve being told to sit still -- "like a good boy." My behaviour was corrected a lot over 12 years.

cc licensed flickr photo - shared by maja thurup

Yesterday, while I awaited my chiropractor, I watched my nearly 2 year-old playing with the toys in the waiting area. For nearly 10 minutes he tried to figure out the operation of a rather complicated toy garage with a neat little elevator.  He was clearly frustrated with the elevator's operation for a time and eventually lay on his side staring intently at the apparatus. 
Ignoring the silent pleas of a concerned mom, to pick up my child and admonish him for laying on the floor and exposing himself to germs, I watched his eyes methodically scanning the mystery toy from a new perspective.  After a short while, his hands began exploring a part of the toy that he had not seen while standing/squatting/sitting/bouncing/crouching.
He never did figure out the elevator, but he sure enjoyed the flap that allowed him to hold several toy cars at the top of a ramp before releasing them simultaneously.  This was especially enjoyable when he placed a small stack of blocks at the bottom of the ramp (carnage!).
Reflecting on the boy's experience, I find myself wondering how many discoveries I failed to discover because I was too busy trying to "sit still and learn," or cooling off in the principal's office.
Currently I teach teenagers who would likely burst into flame if they had to sit in a chair for 82 minutes, so I don't often expect silent or motionless learning in my classroom.  On the rare occasion that I've been evaluated, this lack of classroom management has been noted as a refreshing method of addressing hyperactivity (adolescence, as I call it), but earned me a lower score because it didn't fit the expectations of the evaluation format. 
As a "satisfactory" teacher whose students move around while they read or write or collaborate or explore, I offer this warning to the future teachers of my children: they're like their father and they're not going to sit still while they learn.  If you ever tell them to "sit down and shut up," or "sit still like a good boy," or "stop shaking like that," you will answer to me -- and, I will not sit still whilst I dress you down for believing that little boys should ever sit still in silence.  You want silence, you'd better captivate 'em; otherwise, get out of their way while they do their learnin' thing.
If you want my boys to excel in your classroom, you'd better get used to kids who learn by not sitting still, and don't do silent obedience very often.
Just saying,
Kabachia, who still doesn't sit still and ain't never gonna shut up about it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Future is Here...Again

My three year-old cannot operate the mouse on my desktop and remains mystified by the trackpad on any laptop he's seen. He has just begun, after a year, to operate the "mouse" on his "laptop" computer that introduces him to letters, numbers and words.

Give him a touch-screen, like an iPhone, and he's off to the races. Within a month of the iPhone's appearance in our home, he (at 2 years of age) was operating the apps downloaded for his enjoyment. It wasn't long before he was unlocking the phone, scrolling to "his" page and choosing his own games to play. With the introduction of OS 4 last spring, he quickly learned to open a folder to select his game as well.

Given that, in the last few years, CD-Rom has gone the way of the floppy, and flash memory is becoming obsolete to advances in cloud storage, does the mouse have any future in a world of multi-touch displays? Some of my students already lament the limited capabilities of the IWB in my class -- it only recognizes one touch and one cannot manipulate the display (rotation or zoom, for example) as on any smartphone of 2010.

By the time my 3 year-old enters school, will we lament the new generation that doesn't bring "basic computer skills" the way we lament the loss of writing skills like penmanship?

Kabachia...who's wondering if you're ready for computers to look different too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Meaningful Assessment

Anybody that works in my school has heard this lament before.  Why is it that, as a basketball referee, I'll be evaluated at least ten times during a season, but my teaching has been evaluated twice in 11 years?

This week, I'll write an officiating test (50 yes/no questions about rules of the game; I need over 85% to qualify for national tournaments, or something like that), but every referee knows the value of this test is limited -- anybody can pass a test by memorizing rules, but can they implement them fairly, accurately, and correctly while people are screaming at them about their genetic deficiencies?  That's why we're evaluated during games, repeatedly, by different people who bring different perspectives to the practice.  Immediately after each game, the evaluator(s) provided critical feedback, identifying perceived strengths as well as a couple of areas they would like to see improved (strategies for improvement are available upon request).  They will also complete an evaluation form that, hopefully, includes the same concepts discussed post-game, and their suggestions for advancement or remediation.

Screw the test, but can you imagine the effect on teaching if we knew we'd be evaluated 10 times in a school-year, by several different people who each stayed with our classes for entire periods (days even); then sat down with us to give immediate feedback about our strengths and weaknesses?  What if we had several written evaluations to compare at the end of the year, each of which examined our teaching from individual, professional perspectives?  Wouldn't it make the feedback and evaluation our students receive even more meaningful to them, if they saw us experiencing the same?  Imagine if the people giving us feedback weren't evaluators, but our peers (especially those in our own buildings) -- wouldn't it be neat to regularly share our teaching practices with our friends and compatriots, or would it make you uncomfortable to be critiqued by someone you respect and saw drunk at a staff party once?  Either way, aren't the benefits clear?

Too bad Education's an expense, not an investment, though.