I Am Right! A Follow-up To My Rant About Online Reading

The future of books
The future of books (Photo credit: Johan Larsson)

On Monday, I posted some thoughts regarding an article from last week’s Washington Post that was titled Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say.  I was excited to see a rebuttal to Michael Rosenwald’s perspective by his Washington Post colleague Valerie Strauss this week. 

In her article, Actually, online skimming probably hasn’t affected serious reading after all, Strauss notes the skepticism of Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist from the University of Virginia. Here is a bit of what Willingham had to say:

“… teachers aver that students can no longer read long novels. Well, if we’re swapping stories, I — and most of my classmates — had a hard time with Faulkner and Joyce back in the early ‘80s, when I was an English major.”

“A more plausible possibility is that we’re not less capable of reading complex prose, but less willing to put in the work. Our criterion for concluding, “this is boring, this is not paying off,” has been lowered because the Web makes it so easy to find something else to read, watch, or listen to…If I’m right, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that our brains are not being deep-fried by the Web; we can still read deeply and think carefully. The bad news is that we don’t want to.”

While I find Willingham’s feelings on online reading versus more traditional means more palatable than those cited in Rosenwald’s artilce, my conclusion is still the same. There is no one right answer! We need to embrace the struggle between reading online and reading from paper-based products. Forcing our students to do one or the other denies them the opportunity to see the benefits that each has to offer.  In addition, there needs to be an increased focus on the advantages of online tools so that students can meet more modern standards of literacy, like the ones below described by the National Council of Teachers of English in its Definition of 21st Century Literacies:

  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology; 
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought; 
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes; 
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; 
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts; 
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.


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    Don’t Miss This Month’s Parent Tech Night – Social Media And Our Children

    Social Media and Our Children
    Tuesday, February 26, 2013
    Marshall Simonds Middle School Learning Commons
    7-8 PM 

    As a parent of three, I am amazed at the role social media plays in the lives of my three children. While doing my best to keep tabs on my son Timothy who is a 9th grader and recently started a Facebook account and my daughter Bryn, a 7th grader who is an Instagram lover, I wonder sometimes whether I am doing enough to guide them in the appropriate use of these communication tools.  It can certainly be overwhelming! I can’t even imagine what is coming down the road for my first-grader (pictured above) who is taking it all in

    With this in mind, we invite parents to the February topic in our Technology Series For Parents – Social Media And Our Children.  Please join Burlington Public Schools Director of Instructional Technology and me as we discuss some of the most popular Social Media sources of our students. We will discuss how parents can keep tabs on their children and share best practices in appropriate use of these resources.
    We will also spend a little time discussing School Connect, a wonderful communication tool that the school district will be launching in March. 

    Finally, time during every Parent Tech Night session is also dedicated to technology related questions and support. All are welcome, so please feel free to bring a friend!
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    Testing, Testing, 1,2,3…

    Think outside the bubble
     (Photo credit: MrSchuReads)

    As I read through Marion Brady’s great article in The Answer Sheet titled A REAL Paradigm Shift, I can’t help thinking about how difficult it is to create an educational experience for our students that is vastly different than the one we experienced ourselves.  When we talk about redesigning our curriculum, we have to first consider origin of the word curriculum. 

    Curriculum came from the Latin word ‘Currere’ which means race course/ to run/ run way, referring to the course of deeds and experiences through which children grow to become mature adults (via Wikipedia).

    This is where we hit our biggest obstacle in changing the way we do school in our country.  The folks leading the way, the educators, have a tremendous hurdle to overcome in the fact that for most of us the “deeds and experiences” we have had do not mirror the experiences that we need to lead our current crop of students through.  As I make a disclaimer that I am one of those educators trying to unlearn my own formal education, I am not saying that this is an impossible task.

    The rub here is that while I believe in teachers and know that they would be up to the challenge of creating a new reality in our schools, we cannot begin to tackle this work in places where our present and future judges educators, students, schools, and communities on their latest round of standardized test scores.   For educators, this is a never-ending rat race that typically evolves into an environment of “test prep” that is equally unfulfilling for them and their students.  As our state begins a redesigned teacher evaluation process that links teachers to the test scores of their students, I can’t help thinking we are headed towards an infinite loop…    

    As Brady points out, as long as education reform efforts in our country continue to define accountability so narrowly, we are perpetuating a myth that there is something significant is happening or will happen.

    “Standardized tests are to accountability what a finger in the wind is to a weather station. What they measure — information stored in memory — is useful, but for kids facing an unknown future, that’s not nearly enough. They need to know how to create new knowledge. That knowledge will be original, and standardized tests can’t evaluate original, non-standard thought.”

    In this model, we may be able to ensure that certain things are being taught, but even this will not guarantee that significant learning is taking place.

    Anyone disagree?

    Related articles

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    What Are Standardized Tests Preparing Our Kids For?

    De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.
      (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Over the weekend, an interesting article titled A warning to college profs from a high school teacher ran in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet Column.  The article, which has generated well over 1,000 comments already, was written by award-winning high school teacher Kenneth Bernstein from Washington, D.C.  Despite the article’s title, Bernstein is really sending a warning to all of us about the current reality concerning our students and the climate of testing that has overtaken our educational system.  

    His concluding paragraph sums up his thoughts:

    “Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.”

    While Bernstein’s conclusion is very general, he also cites some concrete reasons for the state of the current crop of students heading out of our public high schools being ill-prepared for what is ahead of them.

    …most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure.

    According to Bernstein, these problems also carry over into Advanced Placement courses due to the nature of the AP Exams. As a teacher who spent time scoring the writing portion on the exams, he saw limitations in the scoring mechanism.

    “If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words.”

    Unfortunately, with PARCC testing due to commence in 2015 for our students, we are looking ahead to even more time spent on standardized testing and not less.

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    The End of Standardized Testing? Hey, A Guy Can Dream…

    No one I know takes standardize tests for a living
     (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)
    As many of us in education dream about a public education system that is not predicated on standardized test scores, there is actually movement in some places to put an end (or at least a pause) to the ridiculous rat race of “high-stakes testing” we have been involved in.  Sam Chaltain recently posted Has Testing Reached A Tipping Point  on his blog and it is a must read for those interested in this topic.  

    In the short video below, Chaltain describes schools in other nations where a student’s teachers “the ones who know a student best” design the most meaningful tests a student will take.  He advocates for school communities to answer the following questions:

    What are our measures of success for our students? How do we know we are being successful?

    http://www.hlntv.com/embed/57819
    While many are skeptical that anything dramatic will take place to change our nation’s plans to test students more often than any other country in the world, Chaltain notes some blips on the radar screen that he hopes will lead to more action for this important cause.

    “Consider three separate data points as evidence: Maryland, where the superintendent of the state’s largest district of schools has called for a three-year moratorium on standardized tests; Washington, where one school’s decision to boycott its state tests has spread to other schools and communities; and Texas, where a proposed Senate bill would significantly reduce the number of state standardized tests students must pass to graduate.”

    It would be interesting to see how a moratorium on testing would impact our students. I will continue to pray that we have an opportunity to see the day it happens!

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    Ramblings From My Reading (Edition 1)

    One of my favorite things to do is read about education. My main source of information is the numerous blogs that I follow through my Google Reader account. Last year I was pretty good about sharing some of the things that I found most interesting each week and now, since we are a few weeks into 2013, I am going to try to get back to sharing some of the most interesting items that I come across each week.

    The first item this week, is a clip from Sugata Mitra that comes from The 16th International Conference on Thinking in Wellington, New Zealand.  In the clip, Mitra makes a case for the long-overdue change in the focus of our schools to prepare students for success in the world that they will need to navigate when they end their formal education.

    Mitra advocates for a curricular focus on the following three areas:

    1. reading comprehension
    2. information search and retrieval skills
    3. teach them how to believe – (What’s the machine that allows students?) Some people call this “crap-detection”
    The clip ends with Mitra making the following statement:

    “The biggest job (we have) is to give the child an armor against doctrine just like we did in another generation by teaching them to fight with a sword and ride a horse.”

    Another thing that has me continuing to question the relevance of our focus in traditional classrooms is a post from Ryan Bretag, titled Grade Focused Students. Ryan, an educator in Illinois,   wrote an intriguing post after reading a story from The Globe and Mail titled An A+ Student Regrets His Grades.

    The post began with the following quote from The Globe and Mail article:

    “The system teaches us that if you get ‘As’ across the board, you’ll be successful. And if you fail a course, you’ll be labelled incompetent or hopeless. These pressures force students to regard education as a mere schooling tenure where the goal is to input a sufficient amount of work to output the highest possible grades. We sacrifice learning for schooling.”

    Ryan wondered if this pressure was real or imagined on the part of students. But whichever is the case, he is spot on with his final thoughts:

    “schools are filled with grade focused students with grade grubbing, fixed mindsets when we should have schools filled with learning focused learners with growth mindsets. “

    My own concerns centers around the same feelings and whether or not a focus on attaining high marks assures anything down the road for our students.  I left the following comment on the blog in reference to my own son’s first semester in high school:

    “I have been struggling with this same thought for quite sometime as an administrator, but the level of discomfort has become even greater as my own son has reached high school. Being a competitive person, he has his sights set on what it will take to get into competitive colleges and sadly, for him, that means getting A’s. He has already figured out what it will take to achieve this mark with each of his teachers. In some classes, he can pull this off with minimal effort while in a couple of others he has to spend a good deal of time. However, there is no instance where I see him being engaged in a course because of a love of the content and the authentic learning tasks that he is involved in. He is simply “playing the game of school” and I am not sure what this will accomplish in the end.

    Thanks To Ms. Hayes and Her Class For A Great Morning!

    Thanks to Ms. Hayes and her fourth grade class for inviting me to morning meeting today and sharing so many of the exciting things that they have bee up to lately.  The visit started with all of us in a circle greeting each other by saying good morning to the people sitting immediately to our right and left.  The sense of community and caring was evident from the minute I stepped in the class and heard students share their insights on different topics. 
    In addition, the students were so excited to share their iMovie videos that they made their parents for Back-To-School Night last month. A few of the students even agreed to write a blog post about it for our Learning Every Day Blog.  I also received a number of e-mails from the students after I left thanking me for visiting and sharing more reflections about their learning. 
    It was a great way to end the week and it reinforced the fact that I need to be spending a lot more time in Burlington classrooms. It is so much more fun learning with our students than it is sitting in Central Office. Thanks again to Ms. Hayes and her class for the reminder! I will definitely be seeing them again soon!