Poor Math Scores – Should We Really Blame the Teacher?

I am listening to a rebroadcast of a CBC Ottawa interview on the Ontario Math curriculum with Mary Reid from OISE. This is one of a series of interviews and articles seeking to understand why students, especially in elementary school, are doing so poorly in math. You can hear the full interview here.

The interview was really nothing new until around the 5-minute mark when Mary Reid makes the classic argument that I always find misses the mark. At this point, Dr Reid dismisses any problem with EQAO and squarely puts the blame on teachers and their training for low math scores in Ontario.

Teachers, she says are not ready for inquiry-based learning. Teachers have high anxiety and low content knowledge when it comes to the inquiry approach. Professional development takes a ‘one size fits all approach’ whatever that means. So, because of the teacher’s high anxiety levels, we are failing at the inquiry-based approach.

These ‘highly anxious’ math teachers then pass this anxiety on to their students.

Then the argument takes on a bizarre note – research shows, according to Dr Reid that it really is the female teachers who are to blame. Female teachers especially pass on this anxiety to their female students, not the male students. This is what the ‘research’ shows. How do you even test for that?

We have been doing inquiry-based math in Ontario for a long time. Over the years, math results in grade 3 and 6 EQAO tests have steadily gone down. During this same period of time, teachers have been continually blamed for not being strong and skilled enough to effectively teach math.

The human factor always comes out – if you are really skilled and somehow ‘get’ the inquiry approach, your kids will do well. If not, your kids will do poorly. I only thank my lucky stars that I never had to teach math in such a poisoned atmosphere. How do elementary teachers do this when they are continually blamed by OISE professors and senior administrators for failing their students?

Why do we not look at the tests? Why do we not examine the curriculum or the inquiry approach?

As long as we see our teachers as lacking something we will continue to have problems when it comes to the math curriculum. It is now time to stop this fruitless blaming and look critically at EQAO and the curriculum.

We certainly need to look at how we assess learning in our schools. Today in the Globe and Mail, Sir Ken Robinson was interviewed and came much closer to a true assessment of our current system.

We need to recognize that children have a huge range of natural abilities and they all have them differently. Our education systems are designed to focus on a small band of those. If you have a narrow conception of ability, you end up with a very big conception of disability.

Sir Ken Robinson, Globe & Mail, September 8, 2017

The sooner we take a really creative approach to how we do education in Ontario the sooner we will be able to liberate our teachers and students to learn, live and grow in our schools. We really need to learn to stop blaming our frontline educators and move on to something much better.

 

Opening the Doors of Teacher Education – Learning in the Global South

I really enjoy working with the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. They are open to all sorts of new ideas and are always looking for opportunities to deepen the learning experience of their students.

This year, we are going to offer a unique volunteer opportunity for teacher candidates who will be completing their second year at the Faculty of Education.

All students have to complete a three-week volunteer placement before they finish their program. It is up to them to decide what they will do for their placement and students are offered a variety of opportunities to consider at the beginning of their second year.

This year we are offering students a placement in El Salvador where they will be able to learn something about what it is like to work as an educator  in the Global South. We have done these kinds of trips in the past for teachers, but what a wonderful opportunity to take part in a trip like this as part of the formative teacher education experience.

We can learn a great deal by talking to teachers in other countries. While the circumstances of teachers in El Salvador can be drastically different from what teachers experience in Canada, there are remarkable similarities as well. Teachers in both countries have to surmount the challenges of working in low-income areas and we all aspire to offer a holistic education for our students to prepare them for the world they will live in.

Having an opportunity to talk with teachers and students from the Global South can add a rich element to the teacher training we provide our teacher candidates with. Learning what it is like to live and struggle in a poor Southern country can add valuable life experience for teacher candidates preparing for a very challenging career.

We will be working with CIS –  Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) in El Salvador.

CIS aims to strengthen people-to-people solidarity and contribute to the construction of a new El Salvador. They have a great deal of experience working with delegations from the United States and Canada. They have put together a program that will be presented to students in September. Here are some of the highlights:

Proposed Objectives:

  •    Learn about the history of the El Salvador, and the root causes of war, migration and violence.
  •    Exchange ideas about the educational system and teaching methodology in El Salvador and Canada with Salvadoran teachers and students of education.
  •    Promote a culture of solidarity, of mutual support and global connections for social and economic justice.

Possible activities:

  •    Testimony – History of the War and El Salvador.
  •    Hike ecological forest which was a guerrilla encampment during the war in Cinquera Cabañas.  Learn about History and the Environment.
Church in Cinquera, El Salvador
  •    Visit site of Guadalupe and Tenango massacre in the Department of Cuscatlán-Cabañas and learn how survivors have overcome
  •    Visit public school and exchange with students and teachers
  •    Exchange with CIS scholarship students studying education
  •    Visit historical sites in San Salvador:  The home of  Oscar Romero’s home and the chapel where he gave his life
view of the chapel where Oscar Romero was killed

 

  •    Visit the Jesuit University and site where 6 Priests and 2 women workers were massacred in 1989.
  •    Stay in a rural community:   visit homes, visit a school, do some exchanges with the community and /or school teachers; meet with women’s businesses, make tortillas.
  •    Stay in Urban Community:   Meet with teachers about special challenges of gangs in schools; understand the displacement of communities during the war and earthquakes and shanty town settlements; exchange with CIS art therapy course, and human rights committee.
  •    Workshops:  Participants will be asked to develop a workshop  or a series of workshops on one theme to share in the community depending on their skill set and interest – Some examples, that the community request  include education methodology,  different arts, marketing, computers, English,  gender, human rights, environment, culture of peace, communication, environment.
  •    Indigo – history, culture, cultivation and processing of dye and dying clothes by women’s groups.
Salvadorian Enterprises for Women collective in Suchitoto (an hour from San Salvador) where they raise, dye and make clothes from indigo.
  •    Exchange with CIS English and Spanish Teachers and popular education and language instruction.
  •    Spanish classes are available online or at CIS in El Salvador. www.cis-elsalvador.org.

For the sake of brevity, I have only included some of the objectives and activities that could be included as part of the three-week program.

This is a very rich and varied schedule and I know that teacher candidates taking part in this trip will learn lots.

Now it is really up to the students to decide if they will make this their volunteer option for 2018. I hope some of them do, it promises to be a rich learning experience.

with students from the school in San Jose las Flores

 

 

Globalizing Teacher Education

working with Salvadoran teachers on Scratch

Educating the next generation of teachers is very serious business.

Teacher candidates now spend two years to get their degree, during that time, they are spending more hours in the classroom and more time volunteering – this is wonderful, anything that gets teacher candidates into the classroom should be encouraged.

I think there is another step that we have not yet taken that needs to be considered. Is there a place for students to spend time learning first hand about education in other countries? Do our students need to develop a global perspective as they prepare for a career in our schools?

Students at an elementary school – San Jose las Flores, El Salvador

I would argue that this is really important and we should look for ways to make this happen.  A bit biased, I have been bringing students and teachers to different Latin American countries for over 20 years.

I have learned a great deal on these trips. I think the one thing that really sticks with me is that for students in Latin America, education is the way out of a cycle of poverty that in some cases stretches back centuries.

Popular education tradition in El Salvador – teaching children during the civil war

It is also really instructive to speak with the students in the countries we visit. We have done this on many trips and we find that many have the same goals as our own students with the caveat that they are very committed to bringing about positive change for their families and their country.

walking home for lunch

I think it is really important for educators just starting out to get this perspective. Societies can move out of poverty and the catalyst for this transformation is education.

There are parallels in our own schools. The last school that I worked at was in a poor section of Ottawa. Most of these families are trying to do the same thing as people in Latin America – improve their lives by taking advantage of what the education system offers.

There is so much more to learn, but this is a central point that can influence a career for a lifetime. Education is the key for so many people and teachers can change lives, here and in places we can’t even imagine.

Let’s find a way to open the world up to our future educators.

 

A Key Element for Authentic Teacher Inquiry – Assessing and Learning from Student Work.

I am really enjoying the #notabookstudy quad blogging experience. What is really wonderful is that we are encouraged to blog and then to comment on other posts. It is great to see the conversation continue beyond the original post. The questions allow the writer to extend their thinking on the topic – something that is hard to do in a single post. Here are excerpts of some of the comments I am getting along with my responses – what a wonderful, meaningful dialogue! Thanks everyone. (my answers are in italics)

Do you think it’s more difficult to be introduced to a new idea, tool or strategy if teachers direct their own PD?

No, I don’t think it is hard to be introduced a new tool if PD is self-directed. Most of the useful things I have learned have been through self-direct PD. This should include conferences that I have chosen to go to and edcamps. There are a number of very effective ways to direct your own learning and I think we should always take advantage to these when they come up. I took part in MADPD last weekend. I thought this was a really good way to offer PD to teachers, I just wish there had been more participants. This is where conferences may still win out. You need to make a time and financial commitment when you go to a conference and therefore you tend to get more buy-in. Flipping from session to session on Youtube may not lead to any significant increase in the knowledge base of the participant.

 

As an addition to earlier thoughts in this blog, I add the following for contemplation – How can we support educators to examine student assessment data on an ongoing basis and to use that student data to drive their own professional learning and changes to classroom practice – which in essence, if research based, will lead to improved learning outcomes for students?

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on the ideas in the blog and to contribute some thinking….I look forward to the continued conversation.

Thanks for your comments. This is a great question: “How can we support educators to examine student assessment data on an ongoing basis and to use that student data to drive their own professional learning and changes to classroom practice – which in essence, if research based, will lead to improved learning outcomes for students?”

There is always just so much you can get in one blog post. One point that I did not emphasize is teacher research. For really effective teacher inquiry to take place, teachers need to base their inquiry on what they see as the learning needs of their particular group of students. What I found while observing the teacher triads was that educators had a very good idea of the learning needs of their students. This may have happened simply through observation in combination with on-going assessment. The particular triad of teachers then agreed on what conclusions their observations were showing them. Then, and only then did they develop an inquiry question. For example, one group of junior math teachers decided, based on observations and data that their students had a poor understanding of the concept of zero. They then developed an inquiry to assist students to develop a better understanding of this concept. This process might seem pretty slow – the inquiry took several months to conclude, but it was certainly authentic and it had total teacher buy in as they had done the real work. I think we need to do more of this teacher-directed work and trust our teachers and administrators to come up with processes that puts educators in the driving seat when it comes to professional development.

Like you, I think the best PD for me has been the stuff that I have had a say in. When my colleagues and I can direct our learning, or when we arrive at a day without a written-in-stone agenda, I feel like I learn more!

Thanks for commenting Lisa. Very good to hear that your PD has been self-directed. I think you are very motivated and that is great to read about. I do think we need a cultural change where teachers are treated as real professionals and stay in control of their own learning. My experience as an administrator is that much of our PD is directed by others – we learn that this is the way and then we impose this on our teachers. That should not happen.

 

What Should Professional Learning for Educators Look Like?

Teachers are really busy people. I would say that 90% of their time if not more is taken up with teaching their students, duty, marking, reporting and following up with parents. Every teacher could add to this very basic list, but I would imagine that most would agree that they have very little spare time.

If you add to this the really important time teachers need to regenerate and connect with their families and the outside world, the amount of time teachers actually have to work on honing their professional skills is very low.

Still, teachers are very engaged in professional development and they are as a group, very motivated to learn new ways to engage and educate their students.

All this leads me to one important conclusion – how can we provide teachers with valuable PD. Teachers’ time is precious and we should never waste it with useless or irrelevant PD. Sadly, from what I have experienced, the sessions planned by education districts often fall into the category of irrelevant.

The reason for this is that there is little teacher choice involved in our PD models. Inevitably, consultants and other board officials make the decisions on what is essential for teachers to learn without asking the learners. When these decisions are made centrally, there is no teacher voice evident.

Within schools, teacher voice is still missing. Many principals seem to believe that they must be the arbiters of what is important for teachers to learn. The principal may not have taught in a classroom for years, but somehow they are experts on what a teacher needs to know.

This system needs to be turned on its head ie. teachers need to be asked what they need. Another thing we increasingly tell teachers is that to be a valued professional, they need to blog or tweet about what they do in their classroom. Again, another assumption made about time and individual preference. Not everyone needs to get on Twitter or start madly blogging. While this appeals to some educators, this needs to remain their choice. If it is imposed on them it falls into the same category as district-mandated professional training.

Choice needs to come first. Along with choice must come time. If we really believe that teachers are capable of making good decisions on what they need to learn, we must give them time during the school day to do this learning.

This can be done, but others have to become comfortable with giving up control. Once educators are given time and choice they make excellent decisions on what they need to focus on.

We have done this several times and the results have been great. Teachers are very happy to work with their colleagues and set their own professional agendas. Sadly, many say they have never been given the chance to do this before.

At one school, we ran a triad system where teachers from three schools worked together deciding who they were going to work with and what would be the focus of their study. As principals, we did ask them to have a plan and to report back to the group, but the rest was up to them. The results were wonderful. Teachers came up with their own inquiries and studied questions that we as principals would never have come up with.

Michael Fullan has done some work in this area, but it doesn’t seem to go far enough. In his video Learning is the Work below does mention that the ‘culture’ of learning has to change, but I never really saw this happen for teachers and I certainly never saw any change in how PD was delivered to principals.

The wonderful Ontario Capacity-Building Series has featured articles on choice in professional learning for years. In 2014, they published an article on principal collaborative inquiry. In 2010, they produced an excellent article on teacher collaborative inquiry that actually outlines the seven characteristics of effective teacher inquiry. Finally, again in 2014, an additional article was published on collaborative inquiry for educators. The article emphasized that everyone should be a learner and that the top-down model of PD was not effective.

CI (Collaborative Inquiry) requires a safe, inclusive environment built on trusting relationships. An open-to-learning stance is a condition of a collaborative learning environment. A culture of inclusivity must be part of the CI mindset when interpreting evidence and studying the student experience. CI promotes a democratic approach to shared leadership and joint responsibility (distributive leadership) for student learning.

To me, the key word here is democratic. This I don’t see. I do see teachers collaborating (not admin), but they still are not in charge of the inquiry – the focus is still carefully guarded by the district.

Both Fullan and the writers of the 2014 piece talk a lot about a change in culture. I agree that this is certainly needed in education. However, until there is true respect for the voice of the teacher in crafting professional development any talk of real cultural change is mute.

Make a Difference PD #MADPD – something new for Personalized Learning

Something new is happening this Sunday (May 7th). People from all over will be presenting live using Youtube and Google Hangouts to deliver a full day of excellent PD.

You can see who is presenting and participating here on this Google Map.

You can add yourself to this map as a presenter or participant. You can also participate live by asking to be included in the Google Hangout. I will be presenting on 1:1 implementation in schools and my live link is here. The idea is that you can click on this link around 3:00 PM this Sunday and you can participate live in my session – how cool is that!

Make a Difference PD – MADPD is the wonderful brainchild of Peter Cameron and Derek Rhodenizer, two great Ontario educators who are making names for themselves as great connectors through blogging, podcasting, twitter and now MADPD.

The schedule for the day is really impressive. We start at 8:00 AM and presentations continue to 8:00 PM. There are now over 60 presenters that will be communicating to the world through Google Hangouts during the day. A full explanation of the day can be found on Peter’s latest blog post.

This is really new PD. No one is telling you to take these sessions and you don’t need to sit through another talking head session that is someone else’s idea of what you need to know about. These sessions are structured in a way that will allow for maximum participation for those who show up. Presenters will do a 15-minute summary of their topic and the rest is up to participants. This is very much like a digital edcamp and I can’t wait to participate!

I hope this is the way of the future. Personalized PD is so important. Educators need to take control of their own learning and push away from the traditional practices regularly imposed on them by their school boards.

So, I urge you all to take control, sign on to MADPD this Sunday!

Should educators be connecting – of course!

Isn’t it wonderful when a writer poses a question, then answers it right in the title?  Why read on – you have your answer!

Well, I hope you will read more.  Of course, we should all be connecting and I would argue that we all do in an increasingly varied number of ways.  I would argue that educators need to reflect on how they are already connecting and how these connections are contributing to the development of their personal learning networks.

Here in Ottawa, we just spent two wonderful days of learning hosted by the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education and Discovery Education.  We had some excellent workshops on PLNs and new professional development.  Derek Rhodenizer presented a great workshop on Personalized PD.

what-works-for-you-pd-in-2016-by-derek-rhodenizer-on-prezi-clipular-1

He makes the excellent point that we all connect using a whole variety of methods, including podcasts – something that Derek does frequently. I never thought of using podcasts as a way of sharing learning, but it works for Derek.  For others, it might be blogging, Twitter, and more recently Instagram or SnapChat.

st-anthony-stanthonyocsb-instagram-photos-and-videos-clipular

Derek’s presentation is important.  He emphasizes that we are all connecting – even if we don’t know it.  We connect even when we have a conversation in the hallway after a long day – learning is going on all the time, we just need to acknowledge it and grow our networks.

The Ontario Ministry of Education in its excellent Capacity Building Series has several monograms on the importance of teachers making personal connections to advance their personal learning through collaborative inquiry – one in the series states that teacher inquiry is a critical part of teachers’  daily work. (pg. 1 Collaborative Teacher Inquiry September 2010)

In my presentation, I focused specifically on Twitter, Voxer and Discovery Education’s Educators’ Network called the DEN.  What I love about the DEN is that it focuses on the development of personal relationships through small, intimate  ‘Day of Discovery’ conferences, virtual conferences, summer institutes and a variety of social media tools.  The emphasis here is on the personal conversation which really makes it unique in this digital age.

2016-day-of-discovery-in-baltimore-md-discovery-education-clipular

Focusing on the human connection is becoming increasingly important.  One great, relatively new PLN tool is Voxer.  You can find me on Voxer at mcguirp – happy to connect!

We were able to display the power of personal connection through Voxer by inviting Donna Miller Fry to talk to us during one of the workshops.  Here is part of what she had to say to the workshop participants. 

Pretty amazing to have such an influential Ontario education contribute to our learning in Ottawa while she waited for the power to come back on in Thunder Bay!

So, we all connect in some fashion.  How do you connect? You are doing this – what is your next step?

the-world-is-your-oyster-developing-your-pln-google-slides-clipular