Monday, August 20, 2012

The ARIS Self-Assessments

Lord knows that ARIS has its shortcomings. There are too many to list or even consider.  I don't want to disappoint anyone with a lack of cynicism,  but I am one to think that if we do great work, the bastards will leave us alone (or at least look like schmucks if they come after us). To that end, there is one area in ARIS that actually has some potential benefit. It's called the "Teacher Competencies Self Assessment"  ("Learn" tab/ "Self Assessments" sub tab "Teacher Competencies").

It's a self-assessment designed around Charlotte Danielson's Framework For Effective Teaching. It gives teachers a chance to grade themselves along the Danielson rubric in the same manner a supervisor might do so in the future (same areas. Same rubric). Using the self-assessment, a teacher can decide for him or herself just how well (s)he would score on each part of the observation rubric. At the end of the self-assessment, the teacher gets a check list identifying what level of competency the teacher thinks he or she has.

I just want to give you three reasons why you should consider taking the self-assessment.

  1. It's a good way to shake off the summer cobwebs and get your brain ready for teaching. All of us have the shake the cobwebs at some point. While I used to wait until the first few days of actual teaching, I've found that if I get this process over with in the final days of August, the transition into a work-life is much easier. I'm much more easy going as I prep and the kids have a more engaging time with my first few lessons.
  2. It'll help prepare you for possible agreement on the upcoming teacher evals. While most folks think the new system won't kick in until the next Mayor gets here, there is still an outside chance that the city and the UFT will come to agreement (thanks in large part to the Governor's promise to withhold state aid for all districts that don't reach agreement by next January). IF (and it's a big if) this happens mid-year, the eval process for many of us might change -in the middle of the year! That would be chaos for any teacher who wasn't well versed in the Danielson observation rubric (and if you have a bad supervisor, not knowing about Danielson might make you extremely vulnerable to unfair observations). Taking this assessment might get you ready for that possibility (maybe even more ready than your AP or P is).  When you're done with the assessment, you can print the results and keep it in a file in your classroom (ever ready to show a supervisor that you've been thinking about this stuff in detail).
  3. It'll help any teacher who's keen on improvement. Most of the outstandingly good teachers I've worked alongside aren't into the whole improvement thing. While I don't think there's anything wrong with not embracing the whole "I  must always improve" mantra, I have to admit that I do and there are things in this rubric from which almost every teacher can glean understanding to help them improve. While the need for improvement may not be worth giving up part of your summer for a whole course, a few minutes taking this self-assessment may not be so bad.
So if you're ready to start thinking about work again, the self assessment tool in ARIS isn't such a bad place to start

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Authentic What?

If we do great work, the bastards will leave us alone.

Alright, they won't. But when they come for us, they'll look like real schmucks to the whole world! So as I begin prepping for September, here are just a few questions I have about my students' experiences in my class:

1) If we want our students in a professional environment, why are we asking them craft "A Letter To The Editor" or "A Letter Home From ..." in history class? Why not simulate a professional environment assignment, like "Write a memo addressing .." Or "Write out a formal email to ..."?

2) If we want 10th graders to learn geography, why not have them use Excel to create a chart showing data like population of temperature?

3) If we have them create Powerpoint, why aren't the rubrics very tight and reflective of good Powerpoints (few words, reliance on the oral presentation and not the slidesshow, use of advanced animations that would wow an audience in a professional setting)?

4) If we want them in an environment of peer review, why aren't we having them do a homework on a blog and making them grade each other? At least having them peer grade their homework (I need to write about this at a later point in time)

5) When did social studies teachers stop doing formal, in-class debates?

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Kid; the Born Teacher

I just wanted to share this completely true story. 

So I'm sitting in the theater with my four year old 15 minutes before the movie -Ice Age 4- is about to start  I'm eating popcorn, drinking soda and watching my daughter look around the theater. Suddenly, and almost out of nowhere, she proclaims a new rule.

"Dad. No more popcorn until the movie starts, ok?"

Huh? I didn't want to hear to that. There was nothing else to do until the movie started and the popcorn was all nice and warm and buttery. Besides, she's four! So I did what most adults do -I ignored her and kept eating.

After a few moments of this I heard her voice again "Um, dad. I said no more popcorn until the movie starts". Apparently, my kid was serious.

But she's also four years old and in my home, she is not the boss of me. Feeling a little indignant, I  grabbed another piece from the bucket and took a bite. Then comes the voice again. "Dad, last time, no more popcorn until the movie starts".

Ok, reset. This kid is four years old and telling ME no? If there is such a thing as angrily ignoring someone, I did it. But this time, in order to avoid confrontation, I waited until her head was turned before I ate another piece of popcorn.

Her response was to turn her head and look at me -long and hard- just to make sure that she had my full  attention before proclaiming; "Daaad, I've got my eye on you".

And then she kept staring.

It was a weird moment. She just kept starting at me (and I, at her). This kid is four years old and she was staring at me to make sure I didn't do something that I really wanted to do. And here I was -staring back.

A few silently intense moments like this passed before I -the forty year old educated man- reacted like a small child. I grabbed a fist full of popcorn, and stared at her as I took a big obnoxious bite -like I was  taking a bite of an apple. And then got right in her face while I munched on the whole thing.

It was a knee-jerk reaction, and regrettably, a very sincere one. One that, in hindsight, probably wasn't my finest hour as a parent, but I wanted to let her know that this is what I think of being told "no" by someone who doesn't have the right to tell me no.

Teachers face moments like these all the time as we manage our classrooms. Students, like adults, don't like to be told what to do.  They certainly don't like to be told "no". And they absolutely don't like being told "no" when they can't recognize any other (worthy) thing to do.

Hell, I'm forty and I still fell this way. But teachers avoid confrontations (like mine) by engaging students within the classroom experience that we offer (our lesson's activity or activities) and then managing their behavior toward the activity.

 In this context, "managing behavior" becomes a very small component of student engagement. That's why they are two different areas of the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching (that's the framework upon which our observations and teaching artifacts will be based if NYC ever agrees to the new teacher evaluation system).

And, apparently, my four year old daughter figured this all out.

Because instead of slapping the popcorn out of my hand, or lecturing me a little more, my child completely changed tact. She gently rubbed my ear, gave me a little kiss on my cheek and said, "It's ok, da-da. Look. Just read what's on the screen to me, ok? Because I don't know all the words"

I then proceeded to read the movie trivia questions and answers to her out loud. As I did, I wasn't able to eat any popcorn (because I can't read out loud with food in my mouth). And my daughter just kept rubbing my ear while I did (in an awesome sign of trust, she even let me keep the popcorn on my lap!) Before long, the lights dimmed, the trailers began and she actually fed me my first piece.

Apparently, engaging someone in an activity in order to achieve the desired behavior is a somewhat natural thing.

My kid, the born teacher.