Wonderful Car (Day 235/365)

Yes, I finally got work done. I listened through Blake’s Wonderful Car Delivers Us Wonderfully Well and made a few tweaks. Pretty subtle, but they were necessary. I think it sounds marginally better.

In other work, I dug out my personality profile from when I was a student at GHP in 1970. I find that it is the Cattell 16PF Profile. We were given this test, and then called in by the counselor (Eddie Najjar, a theatre person actually, and kin to the Mansours here in Newnan) to discuss it. He would show us our score on each item, and then we got to choose which of the synonyms on that end of the scale we thought described us.

Looking at it now, I’m a little surprised to see that I was in the average range for Self-Assured. Geez, I was an insufferable little thing. I must have cheated on the test.

Anyway, I dug it out because I’m going to use its scales to give my little bloggers a handle on describing characters from their books. If they can see some contrasting personality traits, they can latch on to one or two to hang their writing on.

Another blog (Day 218/365)

No, never fear, I am not starting another blog. At least, not one for me, and not one that you will ever read. Today I worked on the Newnan Crossing 100 Book Club blog. We’ve been trying to get it up and running since October, and on Monday I decided that it was time to implement it whether it was exactly in the shape I wanted it or not. After all, it was ready for me to put students in as users, and they would each have their own blog.

I had originally wanted to use the multi-user version of WordPress, called WordPress MU, but apparently there were installation issues. (All the tech end of this is being handled by the school system’s IT people, specifically Mike. He’s been great.) So we switched to Drupal, with which I have been unfamiliar.

WordPress is a dedicated blogging software package. Drupal is a “content management system,” whatever that means. All I know is that it has a lot more buttons to push and boxes to check to make it do what you want it to do, and sometimes those boxes and buttons are distributed in non-intuitive ways.

Anyway, I got all the kids put in, with nifty passwords that look random but actually are rememberable for the kid. I got it to look like a nice place to be. And we’re ready to start training the 8-10 year-olds how to blog.

The idea is that they read a book from a preselected list of award-winners or starred reviews, then blog about their reading. I’ve trained them (although I have no doubt that training was shallow and noneffective in 80% of them) not to write about the book, but about their reading.

After they post, then I and the other Book Club members can comment on it. Lo, a conversation about reading occurs. Children, these are advanced readers, who otherwise would be zooming through “short books” and racking up AR™ points just to rack up AR™ points are now thinking about what they’re reading. They’re making predictions. They’re discussing an author’s use of language. They’re deciding what makes a book good. And they’re learning, most importantly, to write.

If this works, I shall be called blessed.

Out of our minds 2 (Day 115/365)

I read chapter two in Sir Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds, wherein he examines what he calls the septic focus in education and society on purely academic skills. He explains where our respect for this narrow set of human activity has come from and the impact (both positive and negative) it has had on the world.

He looks at IQ as a factor in academicism and at the (same) skills that particular number purports to measure. He also looks at the assumptions underlying England’s “eleven-plus” exam, which separates the sheep from the goats at the end of sixth form. All are found wanting.

Continue reading “Out of our minds 2 (Day 115/365)”

When Gwinnettians attack

Kevin demanded that I respond to this article:
Gwinnett teacher who refused to alter grade is fired | ajc.com


This is very messy, and everyone involved deserves a spanking.

The football player should be spanked (Let me! Let me!) for falling asleep in class. And also for not taking his lumps like a man. Little punk.

The teacher should be spanked for using academic grades as discipline. That’s a no-no, county policy or not. Is everybody listening? Grades are a poor reflection of the assessment of a student’s knowledge in your class, but that’s what they must be a reflection of. Not “effort,” not “notebook keeping,” and certainly not behavior.

If you want to teach students that behavior has consequences, then either use the regular disciplinary procedures of the institution or institute a “life skills” grade in your class, if that falls within board policy. But don’t alter the record of a student’s achievement in your class just to get back at him.

We used to have attendance committees in this county, back when we were taking another stab at doing something about kids who didn’t come to school. Every semester, we’d meet and look at appeals from kids who had missed too many days of school and who were thereby automatically flunked. One young lady appealed her automatic failure in this one class, pointing to the A’s she made on all of that teacher’s exams. We gave her the grades: if she could miss half that teacher’s classes and still make A’s on the exam, somebody wasn’t doing their job, and it wasn’t the kid.

The teacher should also be spanked for not recognizing that insubordination is pretty cut and dried. You’re ordered to comply with well-established policy, you refuse, you’re fired. What a maroon. He should have done himself and his students a favor by knuckling under, then circling back around and gutting the football player another way.

The administration of Gwinnett County School System should be spanked, and probably for more reasons than this. Why did they allow this to get out of hand? Why did they expose themselves to the suspicion that after ten years of turning a blind eye to an outstanding teacher’s lameass grading policy, they suddenly pounce when a football player’s grades are in question? The article doesn’t say, but I’m betting that the episode threw the kid’s eligibility into jeopardy. And we all know that’s a no-no.

Above all, Gwinnett County, you don’t throw out perfectly good science teachers. You probably need them.

So, Kevin, spankings all ’round. And then after the spanking…

A moratorium

I hereby propose a moratorium on the word important in any GPS enduring understanding or essential question.

Today I attended a very good session for third grade teachers on “unpacking” a standard. When it got down to writing essential questions, it was amazing at the number of EQs that contained the word important. What got me to thinking about the issue was an EQ that my team wrote on the writing standard. We proposed, “Why is writing so hard?”, the idea being that we would tap into the students’ dislike/fear of writing and springboard into the various solutions as suggested by the elements of that standard.

The crowd reaction at first was one of excitement, but then it was suggested that the EQ was too “negative,” and the next thing we knew, the EQ had been amended to “Why is writing important?”


If the purpose of an essential question is to provoke discussion and exploration, and it is, then why in the name of all that’s engaging would we shy away from a provocative question like “Why is writing so hard?” and replace it with some teacher-talk like “Why is writing important?” There isn’t a kid on this planet who doesn’t see right through the “important” BS: it’s just a trap to enforce the student’s compliance with the teacher’s view of things. It is humbug of the most offensive sort.

I completely understand that not every teacher would want to lead off with such an in-your-face EQ, but honey, please. Most of the EQs were simply lesson plans in disguise. Do you really want to dig into whether “following the rules of grammar helps you understand written and oral communication?” ::yawn::

So we could have rewritten the question, “Are there ways to make writing easier for me?”, or “What can I do to make my writing better?”, or any other question that actually sounds like it might be asked by a student, preferably a question that produces some interest in seeing it answered.

Therefore, teachers, a new commandment: Thou shalt not write essential questions that merely embed thine unfiltered instructional agenda without any attempt to understand how a student in thy care might actually think.

Because that’s important.

GPS training

Yesterday, I got to go to a session presented by dedicated fellow professionals here in Coweta County, the purpose of which was to nudge our teachers one more step into getting ready for the GPS.

First, let me say that the information was spot on, very important stuff, and that our presenters were sharp and prepared.

Second, let me say why I think it was not enough.

The purpose of the session was simply to introduce the vocabulary of the new curriculum: performance standard, essential question, enduring understandings, task, elements, etc., etc., etc. This all fell squarely into our View #1 of learning, taxon memory, in which the brain is confronted with what appears to be random, non-contextualized information, and it very appropriately resists learning it.

So here we had a very large room of dedicated teachers, most of whom I wager have been dreaming of a curriculum like the one we’re getting, and yet most of whom I’d wager again left that room still without the basic vocabulary of that new curriculum. Again, not the fault of our presenters.

What would I do differently, if my wand still worked?

  • Smaller groups. Plenty of discussion and sharing. It’s too easy for 100 people to abdicate responsibility for the information when there are 150 people in the room.
  • Examples of implementation at every step. Sure, there’s ELA2R1, but what will it look like when I have to do it with students?
  • Recognition of concerns, rooting out of misconceptions, confirming understanding, you know, the very things we’re supposed to do with students

Sure, easy enough for me to say, but my wand doesn’t work and there’s not enough funding or staffing to do it this way. Ah well.

And I will say this: Backwards design begins at home. Yo, State Department of Education, before we can design instruction that will fulfill these standards, before we can do our performance task, we have to know what the assessment is going to be! I can have all kinds of evidence of understanding on the part of our third graders about the travails of Frederick Douglass and the dynamics of slavery, but what is the CRCT going to ask about?

A thought re: taxon vs. locale memory

Here’s a thought I had while writing about taxon and locale memory but didn’t include: the popular computer game The Sims is nothing more than humans without locale memory. You have to teach them everything, and the only way they can learn it is through constant repetition. Even the worst blockhead who ever walked through the doors of the media center doesn’t have to be shown the way out, but that’s the way we’d be without locale memory.

And we want to teach using taxon memory? What is wrong with us?

Curriculum and the two views

If we’ve agreed that curriculum is that structure we think will cause learning, and I guess we have, since no one has left any comments to the contrary on my previous posts, then it should be pretty clear where our two views of learning, our two systems of memory, fit into the picture.

If we think that learning is a basic set of facts to memorize, then the structure of our learning will be long compilations of all the things we need to know. Actually, let’s call it the things we think children need to know. Quick, what’s the valence of carbon? What, you don’t know that? I bet you learned it. Why don’t you know it?

If we think that learning is a construction process, then our curriculum ought to be a set of knowledge goals centered around providing opportunities to construct that knowledge.

Clearly, of course, our curriculum must be a combination of these two views. There are some things we just have to know: the alphabet, addition facts, the names of the states, etc., etc. Where it breaks down is when we have to agree on the limits of that knowledge. This breakdown is what leads to all kinds of compromise and to 23-year curricula like the QCC. I mean, if we don’t teach them the causes and effects of the Alien and Sedition Acts (or, as my son refers to them, “Patriot Act 1.0”), then how will they know it? I can feel the panic rising even as we think about it.

One of the goals of the GPS was to simplify, to reduce the sheer number of things we had to make sure the children memorized, to try get the curriculum down to the thirteen years we actually have the children captive.

Another of its goals, if I understand it correctly, is to provide a structure for students to begin to construct actual knowledge that is deep, meaningful, accurate, and longlasting.

So… does it do that? And if it does, what does that mean for media specialists?

So #2 is better?

If we think that knowledge/learning is a process, a construction of information by the learner, and I do, then can we defend it as being better than rote memorization of discrete bunches of facts?

Not really. As I said a couple of posts ago, the world is divided, and this where agreement on how to teach the children falls apart.

However, the difference between taxon memory and locale memory should give us all pause before casting our lot with the memorization crowd. Here’s a quick question: what did you have for supper last night? Most people have little problem answering that question (unless it was a fifth of Johnny Walker), and yet none of us sat down and memorized that fact for retrieval today. How do we do it?

The answer is locale memory, which is one of our built-in learning systems. It’s survival-based and map-oriented, and it’s omnipresent. We don’t have to work at it. It works through all our senses as well as our emotions to sort information into sensible patterns that will help us live to the next meal.

Our locale memory forms its maps fairly instantaneously. Can you imagine how hard it would be to survive if every time you went into a new room you had to use trial and error to figure out how to get back out? That’s what makes the characters in the computer game The Sims so hysterical: they have no locale memory, it’s all taxon. Before they can learn the simplest things, like how to get out of bed, they have to do it over and over and over.

Complex maps take time to construct however. You have to live in an area for a while before you know all the “back ways” to get to where you want to go. If you’re learning a new piece of software, you now how frustrating it is to be tied to the manual or a Dummies book every time you want to accomplish something. But after a while, you know all the keyboard shortcuts and what all the tools are for and what’s hidden in all the submenus and palettes.

So what’s all this got to do with curriculum in general and with our new GPS curriculum in particular? Good question.