Friday, January 30, 2009

Philosophy of Homework

The other day I saw the following on twitter.

Having had the same thought on occasion as a teacher I responded with:

Being in a playful mood I included this at almost the exact same time Rob replied.

At least I hit enter before the 12 second Tweetdeck refresh rate showed the following comment from Rob. (I probably would have responded in similar fashion, judging from this earlier blog post):

I returned this logical thought:

Which was obviously familiar:

Now I do have some definite thoughts on homework. I know there are some who think homework is, if not useless than at the least it's importance is overblown. Such as this report by Dr. Marzano and this book The End of Homework: How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning by Etta Kralovac and The Case Against Homework by Bennet and Kalish.

I am in total agreement that homework given out as busy work is a waste of time. However, homework that promotes learning should be given out, not only as a supplement to classwork, but as a supplement to further education in general.

My favorite use of homework, and I can't find the article now (I'm pretty sure I even blogged about it before), was a couple of teachers who videoed their lectures and had the students watch them for homework. Then the next day in class everyone would work on what would normally be given out as homework. Allowing students to do the boring part at home and do the hard part at school, where the teachers were available for questions.

I also remember reading somewhere that the students who are most successful in school aren't the high ability students but rather the high achieving students. Meaning those who have good habit such as getting homework done well and on time tend to do better in school. And not just because homework is part of the grade. (I really have to remember where I learn these “Pearls of Wisdom” so I can cite them as real references.)

It's funny how serendipity works.

Here I was taking a break from this writing for a while when I read about the 9 goals of education for students in Saskatchewan. by Dean Shareski

  1. Basic Skills

  2. Life-Long Learning

  3. Understanding and Relating to Others

  4. Career and Consumer Decisions

  5. Growing with Change

  6. Membership in Society

  7. Self-Concept Development

  8. Positive Lifestyle

  9. Spiritual Development

As Dean mentions in his article we spend too much time working on goal one and not nearly enough time with the rest. It's goals 2 through 9 for the most part that high achieving students use to be successful in school.

Back to the point.

If high achieving students are more likely to achieve success, shouldn't we as educators at least stress the importance of these successful habits? Shouldn't we make these standards and make them as important for students to achieve, rather than letting some teachers use them and some not as they see fit? Shouldn't teachers give out homework not just as supplement for classroom learning but also as a step towards learning skills that will help them become successful?


Monday, January 26, 2009


I was up late the other night with a cranky 18 month old. He actually gets up way too often at around 3 in the morning. During this free time I usually catch up on my Daily Show, but sometimes I get to watch the news.

I don't much care for the TV news, if anything I might watch my local station, WGN, and not just because my cousin is a producer. At 3 AM though the news is limited to 24 hour networks. So I decided to switch between MSNBC and FOX. I figured if I watch the two most slanted newscasts I might find some sort of middle ground.

It didn't work. MSNBC had some Democratic congresswoman. She and the anchor spent the entire time I watched wondering if Kirsten Gillibrand were in the pocket of the NRA and speculating on what other secret right wing ties she might have. I guess they didn't realize that there used to be a time when it was ok for politicians to differ a bit from the strict party line.

Photo found on flickr creative commons search

FOX had three talking heads on and the drivel coming out was no better. They couldn't wait to tell us hew unsafe the country was because Obama singed an order to have Gitmo closed. After five minutes I was ready to buy steel shutters for my windows and erect a pill box on my roof.

In the end I switched to Sports Center. I haven't much cared about basketball since Michael Jordan retired (the first time), but at least it wasn't negative. I don't know who was playing and truthfully I didn't care. All that mattered was that they were showing highlights and talking about success instead of failure.

Reflecting back I don't think it is any wonder that most progressive educators tend towards encouragement and setting high standards. This is what works, this is what keeps students coming back each day and putting in the effort. While the model that tests students and only sets a line between success and failure sets the focus on low standards.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I suppose it works better if I actually include the essays.

Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.

An outstanding teaching is one who is knows the material he is teaching, knows how the material works in the real world, knows the skills that are necessary to learn the material, knows how the material fits into the next stage of learning, knows the most likely problems students will have, is ready to deal with those problems.
An outstanding teacher is predictable. Each unit will work along the same outline; each lesson will follow a basic outline. Students will know the objectives of each lesson and the objective will be reinforced throughout the lesson. Students will know that what they do in class and for homework will have a point.
An outstanding teacher will build knowledge. Students will start with the familiar and stretch towards the new. Students will build knowledge based on their own understanding first then connect their innate understanding to the formal skills they are learning.
An outstanding teacher will run a student-centered classroom, allowing students the time they need to explore. He will guide and mentor students using thinking time, writing time, and experimenting time until they can formalize their thoughts and observations into general principals.

How would you address a wide range of skills and abilities in your classroom?

There are too many ways to address a wide range of skills in the classroom to fit into one essay. I would start with cooperative groups. Use more real world logical problems. Allow students time to think. Use inquiry based education that allows students to build up skills. Use more manipulative. Build vocabulary. Have students talk, then write, then talk, and then edit what they wrote again and again. Allow students the opportunity to work with partners as often as possible, but requiring each to be accountable for their part of the work. Allow time for me to work with small groups or individually with students. Use real world projects or modeling that allows all ranges of students to show what they know. Spend some time each day with a formative assessment, short quiz, listening to groups, individual help, math journals, etc… Having students keep journals of what they learned what questions they have, and what they would like to learn.
Anything that helps me know as much as I can about each student so I can identify students who are struggling before they get too far behind. So I know what particular points they are struggling with and adjust for them. So I can group students better, at times it may be beneficial to group faster students together allow them to work deeper into a particular skill at other times it may be more advantageous to group different abilities together. Then again sometimes I might want to group students with different or similar learning styles together.
All students are expected to meet a minimum standard, but not all students will reach that standard at the same time. With a short teacher directed introduction most students can get started and begin working independently to explore the skill or concept for the day. For students who need more help this allows me to get to them and give them more individual time right away before they get bored and tune me out for the day. As some students or groups finish earlier I can show or ask leading questions that allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the skill or further the skill learned that day. As we close the class all student can write down in their journals what they learned and or answer a few quick questions, or participate in a discussion, or some other quick formative evaluation of the lesson of the day. I can then use this information to know which students I may need to spend more time with during class to make sure they understand and also which students I need to challenge more.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Writing, Blogs, and Applications

I am currently searching for a job. The first piece of advice when looking for a job is to make it your full time occupation. That means spending a lot of time on job search sites, Monster and Career Builder, but also McHenry and Lake County ROE sites, as well as going to a lot of school sites.

I like the McHenry ROE because all schools list openings on the site, one click to get to the application, and the same application can be used for all. If you haven't applied for a teaching position lately you may not realize how much work it can be just to fill out an application.

The average school requires two essays to be included with the application. Not bad really as it gives the school a bit more to look at than a basic resume. How different can teaching resumes be really? I have a college degree, I have or am expecting a certification. I use differentiation and a bunch of other buzz words on a regular basis.

Now think about it from the applicants point of view. I'm looking for a new teaching job, there are dozens of openings within driving distance, all have good reputations, I need to pay bills, so I'm going to apply to all of them and see what happens after that. Two essays for this school, three for that one, two for the next, soon I've written a dozen 300 word essays, mostly similar, but slightly different topics.

Thankfully today most districts, at least in this area, use a similar if not the same online application platform. This allows most of the details to be ported over and delivered to the particular school. For a while many different schools required different essays, but recently most seem to require just the same two essays. “Describe the skills or attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.” and “How would you address a wide range of skills and abilities in your classroom?”

I did write these essays about a year ago. I've printed them off and will look them over again, but they seem pretty good. Not perfect of course, but I think good enough for the application process. Why don't you take a look and give me your feedback.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's in a Standard

Chris Lehmann didn’t want to write a post.

I didn’t either, but I wrote a comment. I just need to clarify perhaps.

The idea of standards has been popping up a lot lately. I guess with the appointment of a new secretary of Education and the promise of putting more money into schools, everyone wants to restart the conversation of how to find some accountability with teachers.

My original comment.

David Warlick wrote a blog a few days ago.
A quote from the blog
"You operate these devices natively, by approaching it with a certain frame of mind, not by method. There is absolutely no harm in this."

This I think might be the problem with the philosophy of standards and many so called "reforms" that seem to be popular these days. The focus is on the method or process while many 21 Century schools focus more on concept, or owning knowledge.

As Dan Meyer says in his blog New teachers teach procedure better than concept. Procedure is important — you'll never hear me suggest otherwise — but procedural knowledge is a lot easier to teach than conceptual knowledge, which demands of the teacher both a broad and narrow understanding

I've read and worked with many state standards and I think for the most part they could be mapped to each other. Though most states would have some unique to themselves. The point is most of the standards focus on process and not concept.

I think the idea of standards keeps coming up because it seems natural if you have high quality goals you can write good tests to measure those goals.

I don’t think it is true.

First of all most state standards are mostly a collection of skills. Skills are relatively easy to measure with a test. The problem is it is also very easy for students to just memorize, regurgitate, then forget. I won’t even get into the fact that far too many standards lump several skills together.

Second, not all states have what are often called process standards, Those standards that actually attempt to ask for a measurement, or judgment of what a student is thinking or what strategies he/she is using.

I think if we are going to use standards states need to have two standards. We need two sets of standards the skill standards and the concept standards.

The skill standards have a good start, but they should be more organized. One set of high-level skills that are measured on common assessments and a set of lower level skills that are the building blocks of the higher-level skills.

The second set of standards, the concept standards, should be written in a similar manner. They should be written as a smaller number of specific higher-level skills with building blocks underneath. The difference is that concept skills cannot be measured with an end of unit common assessment. They must be measured though observation, but teachers, and or others who frequent the classroom. They can and should also be measured through writing or journals made by the student. Finally, they can also be measured through the use of portfolios.

This isn’t really new information of course; it is just more expensive than creating multiple-choice test that can be measured using machines.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

A New Beginning

I started this blog a while ago in the hopes of getting some writing done for a book that has been in my head for almost 20 years.

Years ago when I was a young man and thought I knew everything pearls of wisdom, as my dad would call them, would pop into my head. I thought I would start writing them down and publish a book. I was hitchhiking around Europe at the time hence Philosophy With Out A Home was born.

I find with age my memory has gone so I don’t remember many of the pearls of wisdom. The book may never get written, on the other hand I might just switch my focus from telling people how smart I am to something people might just want to read.

The most difficult part about writing for me, like most people, is the discipline necessary to writing. I’ve never been able to keep the habit of sitting and writing everyday. That is until I started blogging in my previous job. There I wrote and posted a blog article almost everyday for months. I’ve slacked since the holidays, but I was just starting to pick up again when the job decided my position was no longer necessary.

So I guess I’ll put that energy to good use and try to get some writing started. Yes, I will look for a job, and no I don’t plan on making a living with my amateur writing. Actually, I will probably start with writing some essays for a job application. I might even post a few here on the blog for comment.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Laid off today.

Here is a web page with my resume

email dendari at gmail if you have any leads or advice.