What exactly do you mean, MY students?!

CommonCore-Worth_1050x700.jpg

High stakes standardized testing, how we all dread those words.  Most of our students aren’t overly fond of them either, no matter what incentives or snacks you throw at them, it is a time where they are evaluated on what they know in conditions that are so unlike their classroom it’s laughable to think that we attempt to measure student knowledge in this manner.

Sitting on committees of these tests and seeing proposed test questions and data from piloted questions is an interesting experience.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to do so, please do- your state and testing company needs to hear your input on what students are exposed to.  These tests mold students’ personalities over the years, it tells students if they are smart, or dumb, and it even tells them specifically what areas they fail in.  I realize I am being overly dramatic and negative right now, but I want that to sink in for those of you reading this.  No matter what we tell them about those scores, no matter how positive anyone is about testing, constant reminders of shortcomings and failures build up.

Most state education websites have a place for you to sign up for these advisory committees, and I would strongly suggest participating in at least one during your teaching career.  One reason I suggest this is: you get a great idea of beliefs of teachers, testing officials, your department of education, and how students are viewed at these meetings.  Most of that stuff is not pretty, at all as long as you don’t have your rose colored glasses on (like I did the first time I attended one).  I have been on three of these so far, and for some reason they keep calling me back- which is good for the students I work with because they have no voice at these meetings and are in no way represented or considered if I don’t.

This is where the problem happens.  For these committees, there are typically a small number of teachers representing different demographics of our state.  I represent a small school (less than 350 students) and teach a large number of Native American students.  Typically I find that other than small school connections, the other teachers really have no idea how my students approach or think about tests or test items.

lead_large.jpg

When we look at data, we get the problem, the answers, data about how students performed on that pilot problem, and rationale about why the answers were chosen for the problem (on multiple choice questions).  The biggest data they look at is a value that indicates how difficult a problem is. They also have an indicator on how “relevant” that difficulty score is- meaning is it just guessing or not.  The problem I have is that many of the other teachers in the group were fine with a lot of these questions, but I was not… here’s why.

  1. Many of the teachers I worked with were from privileged schools: middle to upper class white schools OR charter schools where enrollment is screened.  Coming from a background of teaching students of poverty or withing a juvenile justice center, viewpoints on students norms are vastly different.
  2. Many of the questions they considered “hard” or “cognitively difficult” were word problems.  This becomes a test question on a student’s language skills, not math skills or mathematical thinking.  When I stripped all of the language barriers out of these problems, they were not mathematically challenging to solve and I would estimate 80% of my students could easily find the correct solution.  So my question every time was: is there a better way we could ask this question?

I questioned many of these pilot questions for our testing.  They were not especially challenging math problems for students to contemplate; they were problems testing a student’s vocabulary skills, what background knowledge they had compared to the writer’s, and their ability to recognize what facts they needed for the problem and what they didn’t. 

That last statement I do feel is important, students need to be able to determine what they need for a problem and what is irrelevant.  That is a very crucial part of mathematical thinking and problem solving.  The problem I have is when it is shrouded in context that is not familiar or attainable for students.  There was never a time that all students lived in pleasantville, yet those contexts have been are are used for word problems that “relate to all students.”  This thinking needs to stop.  Many of my students don’t have the privilege of their own space to call home, a bed or even a meal to look forward to.  They can’t relate to problems based in context that is a fantasy world for them.

Pleasantville-Rice-Crispies.jpg

We, as a math community, need to figure out a way to present mathematically challenging problems to students without providing a language or reading barrier, because that is what we ultimately end up measuring- not their mathematical ability.  I kept getting the the statement thrown at me, “Well Bryan, how many of your students would actually see this problem?”  MY students?  Are you kidding?  They are OUR students, our schools, our communities, our country, our world.  We need to change our thinking about what experiences our students have, how we present problems, and what language we use.

videoamy-5mff-class-mgmt-01.jpg

They are my kids, and I need to stand up for them so they have the same opportunity to demonstrate their mathematical mastery as any other student that is taught in our country.

 

Summer is closing…

I know my twitter feed and blog has collected some cobwebs and dust this summer, and that’s a norm for me.  Summer is a time where I immerse myself in my favorite pass time- my family.  This summer has been extra crammed with the Master’s courses I have taken- just one more year, just one more year…

Things will be firing up here again soon, I hit the classroom the day after labor day.

See you all again soon.

Food for thought…

So I found this blog and this article got me thinking about the current direction of testing.

 

Kids Do Worse on Computers When Taking Tests

 

A growing number of studies conclude that students perform worse on tests when they take them online than when the questions are on paper.

A study published by MIT and conducted at the U.S. Military Academy found that the students who did not use computers scored significantly higher than those who did.

The researchers suggested that removing laptops and iPads from classes was the equivalent of improving the quality of teaching.

The study divided 726 undergraduates randomly into three groups in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years. The control group’s classrooms were “technology-free,” meaning students were not allowed to use laptops or tablets at their desk. Another group was allowed to use computers and other devices, and the third group had restricted access to tablets.

“The results from our randomised experiment suggest that computer devices have a substantial negative effect on academic performance,” the researchers concluded, suggesting that the distraction of an electronic device complete with internet access outweighed their use for note-taking or research during lessons.

The research had an unusual twist: the students involved were studying at the West Point academy in the US, where cadets are ruthlessly ranked by exam results, meaning they were motivated to perform well and may have been more disciplined than typical undergraduates.

But even for the cream of the US army’s future crop, the lure of the digital world appears to have been too much, and exam performance after a full course of studying economics was lower among those in classes allowed to use devices.


“Our results indicate that students perform worse when personal computing technology is available. It is quite possible that these harmful effects could be magnified in settings outside of West Point,” the researchers concluded.

The Hechinger Report reported that writing online essays may contribute to a widening of the achievement gap.

The U.S. Department of Education launched a study of fourth graders using computers for writing compared to fourth graders using paper and pencil.

High-performing students did substantially better on the computer than with pencil and paper. But the opposite was true for average and low-performing students. They crafted better sentences using pencil and paper than they did using the computer. Low-income and black and Hispanic students tended to be in this latter category.

“(T)he use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap,” concluded the working paper, “Performance of fourth-grade students in the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing pilot assessment.” If so, that has big implications as test makers, with the support of the Department of Education, move forward with their goal of moving almost all students to computerized assessments, which are more efficient and cheaper to grade.
In the study, high-performing students — the top 20 percent of the test takers — produced an average of 179 words per assignment on the computer, three times the number of words that the bottom 20 percent produced. They also used spellcheck, backspace and other editing tools far more often. The researchers found that these high-performing students were more likely to have access to a computer and the Internet at home.

But these high achievers were in the minority. More than two-thirds of fourth-graders’ responses received scores in the bottom half of a 6-point scoring scale that rated grammar and writing quality. Overall, the average fourth-grader typed a total of 110 words per assignment, far less than the 159-word average on the 2010 paper test.

In looking for explanations for the disparity in performance, it seems likely that the high-performing students are more familiar with computers than low-performing students or even those in the middle.

But it is also likely, at least to me, that it is easier to read and re-read a passage when it is on paper than to read it online. Some young children may have difficulty scrolling up and down the page.

And there may be a difference in recall associated with the medium. That requires further study.

Let me confess that I have tried and failed to read books on a Kindle or similar device. It is easy to lose your place; it is hard to find it again. Maybe the difficulty is age-related; after all, I have only been using a computer for 32 years and began using it as an adult. Children who grow up in the digital age may not have the same visual problem that I have in reading large blocs of text. But it will take more studies to figure out when it is beneficial to use the computer and when it is not. Unfortunately policymakers have rushed into online instruction and online assessments on the assumption (untested) that there are no downsides. They do this, as the Hechinger Report says, because the computer makes it easier and cheaper to grade tests. Standardization has some benefits. But it also has drawbacks. We should be aware of both.

 

MTBoS30- Day 26

Activating background knowledge…


My reading today really has me thinking about how casually I have thrown this statement around. Today I’m hoping this paragraph makes you think about your lesson more, like it did to me.

FullSizeRender.jpg

Echevarría, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2013). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model.  Pearson Education: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

#MTBoS30- Day 24

American students are lazy….

4bc6fe0bece8cb39af5ea8bbd43b7194bebb4a0bc3c33349be55a39430646e53.jpg

This is one statement I do not like, or even a teacher stating that “My kids are lazy.”  When we use the word lazy, we are making comparisons- and typically those comparisons are made against standards we hold (or held by the person making the statement).  Now I know what you’re thinking, “but I have expectations and rules for my class.”  I’m not talking about those, I’m talking about us having unjust conceptions of what is “normal” for our students.  The culture of the American student has drastically changed over the past years.  Trying to compare that culture to other countries’ teen culture is also unjust, and this is why (or, my takes on it at least).

American students are material, and its gradually getting worse.  This materialism is coupled with immediate satisfaction, which compounds the problem.  This is what I mean: Students want their “toys”, and will work extremely hard to attain them.  The modes of attainment are vast; some have jobs, some are extrinsic rewards, and some are attained by illegal means.

102701564-95469860.1910x1000.jpg

When students have jobs, they start them immediately after school.  When they are done with work, typically one of four things happen.  The first is that they go hang out with friends, fulfilling a social need.  The second is that they are too tired from work and go home and go to sleep (or they get home too late and have to go to bed).  The third is that they come home and attempt to do their homework in whatever time they have before turning in.  The last is that they purposefully do not do any homework (and I have yet to find a large percentage who truly fits into this last category).  In any of these cases, homework is not a priority and is hastily done without a lot of conscious effort (although there are a few exceptions- your top 5% students).  Does having and maintaining a job imply laziness?  I will go out on a limb and say no.

slide_18.jpg

When students earn things extrinsically, they also are not being lazy.  In fact, most of these students are extremely clever.  They know how to work within the system of rules their parents constructed for them, and how to use those rules to produce results that are desirable to them.  They know what they  are doing, know how to push those limits- and how to act when an external award is proposed for them to attain.  Is this lazy?  Once again I would say it’s far from it, they are constantly working to maintain a reality that produces outcomes that are favorable to themselves.  (This is my least favorite subject, I truly dislike external rewards.)

41BRls0w0IL._SY355_.jpg

When students have no other option, they attain their toys through illegal means.  These are the students I typically deal with on a daily basis.  They case the target, devise/review/revise a plan and execute that plan.  Once they attain the object they desire, they have to constantly be alert to not draw unwanted attention to the possession for fear of being caught.  Of the three possibilities, this is the one that actually requires the most mental load.  These students are on a 24/7 “fight or flight” status- causing them to be wired and hyper-alert.  These students are constantly balancing the status of their objects and what new objects are needed, they actually have no time to be lazy and let down their guard.

When we talk about being lazy students, we need to better define what that means.  Lazy to most teachers means not participating in class, completing assignments or showing any interest in the subject.  This is all comparisons that the TEACHER makes and reflects upon the student.  Teachers compare how these students act against the norm they have created, that norm typically follows what was expected of them as a student.  Times have changed, and those rules no longer apply- just as the rules for being a good educator no longer transcend both generations.

When foreign countries think of being lazy, once again they are viewing American students and holding them against their standard of achievement.  I am not sure how we can rationally do this when we all recognize that each student is a unique individual and has different needs.  The biggest issue here is the value that students across the world hold for education, and for American students that value is not immediate.  Instead of attacking our students, we should compare the ideals our countries and cultures hold for education, jobs, material possessions and social status.

electronicswebuy.jpg

Most of my students say they want to have a college degree, but most of them say that school has no impact on what they want to do once they get out.  They try to directly tie courses to jobs, a pitfall that many teachers have fallen into in the past decade.  As such, learning is not deemed important- while having cars, a job, cell phones, electronics, etc are important.  These things define a student’s social standing and status among their peers.

Teachers are well aware of student thoughts on the value of their education.  We plan and try to instill questioning, wonder and a need for learning.  There are many students we connect with, and many who just fill space in their chair.  The students we do push this year may or may not continue that growth dependent on their instructors next year.  We can’t do this alone.  We need help, and that help has to come from this country as a whole, our communities, families, parents.  We must make a statement that education is important, demand excellence (academic, personal and social) every day and hold ourselves accountable for those same standards.

Personally, when I see a student who I feel is being lazy in class I rarely blame them.  The reason they are being lazy in my class is that I haven’t created a need for knowledge- which is my job.  Identify why those actions are occurring, don’t lay blame solely upon the student.  Change your classroom environment, fix the “lazy” problem and get back to why you started this job in the first place- the passion for learning.

#MTBoS30- Day 23

Homework…

homework

noun home·work \ˈhōm-ˌwərk\

  • : work that a student is given to do at home
  • : research or reading done in order to prepare for something

Homework, the sleeping beast of the education system.  The biggest indicator of how our children’s focus and values have changed.  It is something every teacher acknowledges is beneficial, but is something that creates the biggest issue in instruction.  I have been thinking of getting rid of homework altogether (yes, I can still assign homework here), but have also been advocating changing your homework problems into something more like an Open Middle problem.

Currently I am casually researching some things about homework, and found a few bits I need to reflect on more.  The first:

Capture.PNG

There is a lot of inferences you can draw from here.  But be careful to make sure the ones you do draw are not discriminatory- that is too easily done.  Whatever answers you find, how can you address those to make all of your students more successful, regardless of their individual challenges?

 

The second quote is one that I did not immediately recognize:

Capture.PNG

Being honest, I know this to be true.  It is something that I can recognize, if I assign homework I KNOW which students will have it done.  What I didn’t consciously recognize is that it is creating a perpetual cycle, promoting an achievement gap between social classes.  I knew this but I didn’t want to admit it, I ‘m a teacher- that means I am working my best to help each of my students.  By allowing this to continue I am no longer helping each student, I’m enforcing a broken system of suppression.

The last quote is summing things up for me:

Capture.PNG

I don’t like assigning homework to students because I know of the success rate of completion.  Kids are more material now than they have been.  They have other focuses outside of school than homework, and typically don’t have an outside factor reminding them to complete it.  But homework is a factor in math achievement (according to our national testing data, and accountability issues that arise from it), and it appears that a lot of it is needed (unless you are in Finland).  This article also says that one of the authors of the study said that they weren’t advocating for adding more homework- that more than 4 hours a week isn’t particularly beneficial (which contradicts the Singapore example).

What type of practice to I assign as homework?  How much?  Do I assign any at all?  It is equitable?  These are things that are going through my head right now.  What are your thoughts?  Have you read other research?  Let me know, I would like to hear more.

 

PISA- Does homework perpetuate inequalities in education?