September in Review

October1

A whole month without a post about what I’ve seen around the Internet. Actually, it’s been longer than that, but since I wasn’t doing a lot of reading, there wasn’t a lot to write about. I’ve just gotten back into the habit of reading and commenting on blogs, so here it goes…

Lots of talk about school reform continuing, in spite of the huge column inches devoted to health care (where medical care is feeling the pinch of data driven reform), and the economy (making me wonder why if “market based solutions are still the answer for education, why were they so bad in the financial industry). I guess I’m just looking in all the right places to find stories. First, NPR is doing a series on what makes a teacher qualified. It’s interesting, pointing out that the only reason programs like TFA may show promise is because traditional teacher education programs are so bad. OUCH

In More Thoughtful: My Senator Died: What Ted Kennedy Meant to an Educator we go back in time to the era before NCLB to see what made it seem like such a good idea. It is important to remember that for urban school districts serving poor/minority students, there was no magic nirvana before NCLB, and there was a reason that it looked good. As dessert on this topic, Tom Hoffman does a beautiful job of summing up the history of alliances in urban school reform in a nice little post that says a lot in just a few words.

Some interesting reading on the policy front, The School Issue – Preschool – Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control? – NYTimes.com, which shows how the theories of Lev Vygotsky, a favorite in my school of ed, are being used to teach students life and school skills in the early years. I’ve taken Larry’s advice and started to follow some blogs at EdWeek, and inaugurated this by leaving comments at Learning the Language: Resource: Research Brief on RTI for ELLs, and Inside School Research: Making Education Policy: Is Research in the Mix?, where I opine on why many educators don’t have a lot of faith in research studies.

Two different ed bloggers on two very different topics at almost the opposite ends of the political spectrum had me scratching my head. Both used volume to make their point devoting a series of posts, some of them lengthy, to the topic at hand. I’m wondering if it hurt or helped their point.

First, Scott McLeod looked at research from Moe and Cubb on his blog Dangerously Irrelevant about implementing technology in education (pro), and some posts pointing out that teachers unions maybe slowing this process. By the last post, Larry Ferlazzo pointed out that the authors are well known for studies hostile to public education and in favor of vouchers. The conversation became interesting at that point. I understand why Scott did a whole series of posts, he does that when he is trying to feature a particular book, but I thought it was too much space on a topic that I tune out on. If I’m going to read something from someone I disagree with in general, at least make it short, and pithy.

Next, Tom Hoffiman did a whole series of posts on Common Core standards and how they did not compare well to international ones (which they were supposed to be benchmarked to). I get his point, but I’ll admit to skipping through a lot of those posts. I bring it up here, because Tom did solict  feedback on his approach. One of the things I love about reading Tom’s blog is how it goes from topic to topic, like useful tech info,  Tuttle SVC: How To Not Get Your Blog Hacked, to commentary on school reform, Tuttle SVC: The Wacky Broad Prize. This last one was really short and sweet. The length of his pieces also varies quite a bit. I normally love when he digs in on a topic, but this series was just too much for me in total.  I did have my favorites in the series which were the final summation, and a shorter one wickedly titled, Let’s Run this One Through the Deflavorizer.

Another interesting piece on so-called “learning styles” and how they are hogwash came from The Answer Sheet – Willingham: Student “Learning Styles” Theory Is Bunk in the Washington Post (which I got from Learning Styles Theory Is Bunk (Education – Change.org)). The comments were turned off there, but I’ll add my two-cents worth here.

The article is largely about what doesn’t work about “learning styles”, but Willingham’s comments seem to suggest that using what is often referred to as “multiple modalities” still may be a good idea (for a variety of other reasons). Summarizing:

1. There is no one to one correspondence of a student to one learning style, students have a variety of preferences that are influenced by a number of factors, like background, interest, etc.

2. Learning styles are promoted as celebrating differences, but instead attempt to place students into easily dealt with categories.

3. There is benefit to varying delivery of instruction

I think he did a good job in the article in making a potential difficult subject comprehensible to a lay person like myself. But, he got some really rude comments. I think this is because teachers prefer to read about “actionable” research, in other words, how does this work in my classroom. Because he was not clear until the comments section that delivery instruction in a variety of ways is still a good idea (for different reasons), reading the article alone, a teacher is left to ponder, “well, should I just do lecture and written tests then?” I think this is why learning styles became popular. It gave people a concrete approach, and all you needed to do was fit the kids in a pigeon hole. I know of a number of other reasons to use visual and auditory support in my class, over half my students are language learners (the sort of background issue alluded to). I also appreciate that this is a complex process that is not easily reduced to slotting students and going through a check list of activities.

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