Well… Maybe There is Such a Thing As a Stupid Question.

I recently came across an article by Alfie Kohn, on standardized tests. I was introduced to Kohn’s work in a course at the U of R, and ever since have been intrigued by his compelling discussions on educational issues. If you have never heard any of his discussions, I strongly suggest you do – I have linked to his website above. You can also follow him on twitter!

What first attracted me to this article was its title, “Whoever Said There’s No Such Thing As a Stupid Question, Never Looked Carefully at a Standardized Test.”  However, standardized tests is a topic that I will never get sick of discussing, I love to hear all of the varying opinions – they help me create what my own may be. In the article, Kohn questions the type of questions that we use to on tests for our students. He gave an example of math questions that essentially only assessing whether or not the student can follow a rule, not whether or not they are capable of doing math. Commonly, questions such as these –  in all subjects, influence the  students’ own perceptions as well as the teachers’ perceptions of how well the student understands the concept. However, more often than not this is a misleading perception.

After reading this article I began questioning my own beliefs. As I have previously discussed, I do not agree with standardized tests – for many reasons. However, I am now beginning to think that it is not the concept of standardized tests that I disagree with, but rather the tests that are created themselves. For, maybe it is not the tests as a whole that are the problem, but rather the questions. I  find myself wondering if there will ever be a time where teachers and students can free themselves of standardized tests from the government. Therefore, the question then becomes, how can we adapt these tests into positive learning experiences for the students? What kinds of questions could we use that would be beneficial for the students? Moreover what questions could we use that would benefit the teachers, seeing as though standardized tests are really created to benefit the teachers as well as education administrators. If we have to engage in standardized tests, we mine as well create ones that will actually demonstrate student knowledge.

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Taking a Stand Against Standardized Testing

Recently, some students and their schools have been taking a stand against standardized testing in the schools. They have been protesting outside of Pearson Headquarters, the publishers of many of the textbooks you would be familiar with. Even though this is an event which is occurring in the United States and not Canada, I still believe that the implications are relevant. I believe that it is important that the students and the teachers are the ones who stand up for themselves. Too many decisions regarding what goes on in schools are made by individuals who rarely step foot in schools. The only way to get support from the larger public is to make them aware of the consequences of standardized testing, so they too can understand that we need to be focusing on learning experiences that benefit the students – which is clearly not standardized testing. Important decisions regarding the government who will influence the decisions in our own province regarding testing and our students future are made during the election time. If those who are not a part of the school system are not aware of the consequences of testing on our students, how will they know not to vote for those who support it? We need to stand up for the students and make the public aware, just as these individuals are here!

Schools Boycott Latest Round Of Standardized Testing – YouTube.

Educating Our Obstacles

Two days ago, my blog post discussed the teacher in Alberta who was suspended for giving students zeros. The news article that I found, agreed with the teacher. It was indicated that by not giving students zeros, teachers are simply letting the students off the hook. Over my years as a pre-service teacher, I have been creating my own educational philosophy. Many influential and amazing professors at the University of Regina have helped in doing so, and influenced me for the better. There have been many times that my thoughts and beliefs have been challenged. Over the years this has influenced me to become very critical – over absolutely everything that I do, see, hear, and learn about. Although this sometimes gets me into trouble –  for the reason that I seem to have an opinion on everything, it also is what helps me continue to create my educational philosophy and understand what I believe my job to be as an educator.

In my opinion, there are many instances where teachers lose track of what and why they are engaging in assessment. This concept of testing students has become so “normalized” in schools that we don’t even think twice about it. What is its purpose? What are the benefits for the students? How is it going to help my students grow? I must be clear in that, I am not saying that I do not think that assessment is important. Assessment is the backbone to many aspects of teaching. However, what I am saying is that there are times that we have lost sight of why we are doing it. In my Assessment course that I took last semester, I had a professor, Dr. Marc Spooner, who made a comment about assessment that will always stick with me. He simply questioned our class to think about what we are trying to assess every time that we are assessing and evaluating a student. In regard to the handing out zeros policy, what was the teacher trying to assess? This is a very important question to consider when making a judgement about the situation. Was the teaching trying to assess the student’s ability to hand something in on time? Or, was he trying to assess the content of the work? From the reading that I have done, the teacher was trying to assess the content. Therefore, I do not agree with him giving the students’ zeros. What kind of learning does this provide for the student? Did the teacher take into consideration the context? What was going on in the students’ life that impacted whether or not that assignment was handed in? Now to these comments, you will hear many people say “in the real world you are not given second chances.” When I hear that comment, I have to beg to differ. When you are working in a work context and you have a deadline what do you do as an individual to meet that deadline? What are the indicating factors in your life that allow you to meet that deadline? Has not one person ever gone to a boss and said, “Things are crazy at home, the children are sick, I am sorry but I cannot meet the deadline.” Has there never been a University student who has emailed the professor with a reason as to why their work will not be handed in on time; and then when that professor responds by saying that there will be deductions made, I guarantee 90% of the time that student complains about how the professor does not realize that they “have a life.” I could go on and on with instances where someone in “real life” has been given a second chance, and I challenge you to think about if you have ever required one. Therefore, I must argue that it is not handing assignments in on time that is going to affect whether or not a student succeeds in their life however, I can bet that continually receiving zeros will.

A peer of mine linked as a comment on my initial blog post a Facebook comments thread of many thoughts regarding this topic. Some very scary comments are made here, I suggest you check them out. When I first read these comments, I was shocked. I was shocked by the amount of people negatively commenting about the teachers and how they are the reason that the up and coming generation is “lazy.” However, I had to contain myself and put myself in those people’s shoes. What type of education have these individuals making these comments had? Have they had the opportunity to have an education as I have been so fortunate to, with some amazing professors who have directly impacted my ways of thinking and helped me to be the pre-service teacher that I am? I question myself these things, and try to put myself in these other individuals shoes because I wonder if I had not gone through this education program what my opinion would be? Everyone is in titled to an opinion. What our job is as future educators, is to educate our own obstacles (individuals)  about our beliefs. Sometimes that is all it will take, is those individuals being able to see the other side to a situation, being able to see why giving students zeros is not  the best decision. Many people will not have their opinions changed, just as I do not think that my own opinion on this topic will change. However, we must try. In addition, think of all your future students that you will be teaching. If you can affect them, then maybe when they are older, the kind of comments that we will be seeing regarding a topic such as this will be significantly different.

Another blogger who I have become very fond of reading their posts, has their opinions on this topic as well. I suggest you check them out, some very insightful points made by this gentleman. As always I love to hear thoughts and opinions, especially if they are contradicting. How do you think that we should go forth with this understanding that there are many individuals in society who believe that zeros should be handed out?

Robo-Graders?

As a pre-service teacher, I often hear comments from teachers regarding the long tedious hours spent marking and grading. As a teacher, one must question the value of the time they spend doing so for the students. An interesting article in the New York times discussed a “Robo-Grader” that can grade multiple papers in seconds. Is this the future of our education system? What value is there for the students to have their work not even looked at by the teacher, but rather graded  by a robot all in an attempt to save time. When reading this article, I go back to a question that I discussed in my podacst of “what is the purpose of education, and what is ones job as a teacher?” If one uses a robot to grade their students’ work, what message does this send to the students about how their teacher values their work? As a result, how much effort will the students feel that they need to put into their work if their teachers are not even going to mark them themselves? There are many questions that this article has brought up for me regarding the value of education for our students in our society. I have attached a link below of the article. What are your thoughts on the “Robo-Grader?”

Robo-Readers Used to Grade Test Essays – NYTimes.com.

Aboriginal Culture Woven Into Curriculum

As treaty education has become mandatory in Saskatchewan schools, teachers are always working towards finding new and innovative ways to incorporate Aboriginal content into their curriculum. Another challenge that teachers face is trying to find ways to make the learning for the students cross curricular. Below I have put a link to an article of an example of how doing both is quite possible – an added bonus is that it is happening with professionals from our very own University of Regina!

Aboriginal culture woven into curriculum | Communications, University of Regina.

BBC News – SIM card to help parents protect children from bullying

What do you think? Should parents be able to have 100% control over their children’s activity on their mobile cell phones? Honestly, it almost saddens me. I do think that this could be a very useful product seeing as though there is a whole other level of bullying going on with children and teenagers today that was not around when I was in school. Bullying that it is being done so in a way that is very hard for adults to monitor and attempt to contain. However, with that being said, to me it is sad that we have come to this point where parents are having to use devices such as this to monitor their children’s activity. I must be clear here, this is not saying that this bullying is by any way the fault of the parents, what I am sad about is how as a society it has gotten this far. What can we do to help our future students see the harm and severity of online bullying – and bullying in general, so that it does not have to come down to this?

BBC News – SIM card to help parents protect children from bullying.