Sunday, April 30, 2017
Saturday, April 29, 2017
You’re teaching a class. You hear this little “twip, twip, twip, twip”, but you are not sure where it’s coming from. You look around, and notice the kids are spinning...something...in their hands, on their desks. They are riveted, utterly fixated on this whirling wonder. They’re even blowing on them to keep them twirling. Lesson over.
The Fidget Spinner is the latest fad spreading throughout America’s classrooms. It is a plastic pinwheel constructed with ball bearings that can spin between the thumb and forefinger, or on top of a desk. The difference between this craze and past ones such as Tamagotchis, Silly String, or Pokemon Go is that this one is billed as the panacea for distracted students. Fidget Spinners are touted-- mostly by the producers of the product-- as being able to alleviate anxiety, stress, and ADHD. They keep students focused, alright, but not on what you are trying to teach them.
Think back, over the years. What are some of the most distracting things that can happen in a classroom? Those phenomena that, when they occur, can destroy even the best of lessons. You know the scene: you’re cruising through a lesson. It’s going great. “Wow,” you’re thinking, “I’m a great teacher! I didn’t make a mistake going into this profession after all! I’m making a difference!” In my experience, there are two occurrences above all others that can completely derail a lesson regardless of subject, or grade level.
Bees and farts.
First: All teachers know that when a kid farts in class, the lesson is pretty much done. Kids start laughing; holding their noses; moving their seats; going into the hallway, or running to the windows. Half the time, so do we. Even the kid who actually farted is trying to get away. A teacher might be tempted to turn this disruption into a learning opportunity about manners or etiquette, but he or she would be a goner before even starting. I’ve just learned to keep some air freshener in my desk drawer for such an occasion. Worth its weight in gold. It appeases the kids, and maybe...maybe...you can finish the lesson. Is there a domain on the Danielson Rubric to rate this management technique? I rate it as “Highly Effective”.
Second: There’s a bee in the classroom!! Once again, chaos. The students scatter in all directions, diving on the floor as if a terrorist attack was underway. The room erupts into a high-pitched squeal of young girls. You know the sound-- not even the most talented mezzo soprano singer can hit that pitch. Kids panic. At least one starts crying. And of course, there’s always the one kid that decides he’s the second coming of Mariano Rivera and hurls the biggest textbook in the room at this little, helpless bee.
Now as the teacher, you of course attempt to maintain control of the room, but this is usually futile. It doesn’t help when security, or even the principal, come running to see what all the commotion is about, but when you tell them, “It’s a bee”, flee from the room themselves.
“Okay students, I’ll wait till you are finished,” we sometimes try. Yeah, as if. I usually try to point out, “Hey. Y’all are so tough. You’re afraid of a little bee?” Sometimes that actually works. Sometimes.
Yes, I know there are kids who are legitimately allergic to bee stings. But really, how many? I’ve met only a handful in my many years in the profession. And I am not a big believer in killing bees so I always try to open up the windows and shoo them back out. But it’s too late. The class is officially over. Because even when the bee is gone, there’s the inevitable debriefing about who did what when they saw it flying in, how far this one or that one dove out of the way, who threw the book the closest, and just what a horrible drama it all was.
We can’t control bees, or farts, or the fact that most students carry the biggest distraction of all in their pockets: the cell phone. But do we need to add Fidget Spinners into the equation? Yes, school kids sit in classrooms six or seven hours a day, and many schools are cutting recess in favor of test prep. Students have restless energy that needs to be channeled, especially after lunch. And yes, Fidget Spinners have the potential to do this. But, of course, it’s distracting to the student, and frustrating to the teacher who is trying to teach. Many schools are trying to remedy this by banning them. Remember, we have standardized exams and pop-in observations to worry about! Where do Fidget Spinners work into the Danielson Rubric??
Here’s an idea: let’s see if we can improve attention and address hyperactivity the old fashioned way. Bring back recess.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Monday, April 24, 2017
Today, I had the God-Awful job of informing my 8th graders of their STAAR results. Not all of them failed. Not all of them passed. Some passed one but not the other (Math and Reading.) But ALL of them tied their self-worth to this one, four-hour, ridiculous test!
Those that passed screamed in delight, and couldn't believe they were so "Lucky." Those that failed, cried; some crumbled to the floor, and couldn't go back to class because they felt so ashamed; all their hard work and tenacity was for naught. My heart broke.
You see, I am a special education teacher. Five of my 16 students are on a modified curriculum, which means they are not required, nor expected to, learn the entire curriculum for their grade level. Yet they are REQUIRED to take a state mandated test that covers ALL of the curriculum, even though their IEP SPECIFICALLY outlines what they are and are NOT supposed to be taught. The other 11 struggle with learning disabilities, autism, emotional disturbance, and ADHD. Have you ever sat with a child (or an adult, for that matter), with ADHD, for FOUR HOURS, in silence, sitting still, unable to move about, with the expectation they 'concentrate'? It is extremely hard for me, and I do not have a disability.
I tried to tell them, "This test does NOT define you! You are MORE than a once a year, four hour test." But that isn't true, is it? This one test determines their future, their graduation date (or if they even graduate at all), and the next several years of their life! Not to mention the next several weeks of intensive instruction, after school tutorials, and Saturday schools.
It DOES define them, but it shouldn't. My students are NOT defined by a four-hour, once a year test. They are kind, talented, athletic, and gifted in ways you cannot imagine.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
Starting next week, NYC teachers will begin to give our MOSL (Measure Of Student Learning) Assessments. Thanks to Governor Cuomo, the NYS Legislature, and the Board of Regents -- they now comprise 40% of our total evaluations under NY State’s APPR teacher evaluation system.
Since 2013, NYC teachers have been evaluated by a changing set of criteria every year. This year, the evaluation was changed again in January 2017, and went into effect March 7th. Each school’s MOSL committee had to finalize their selected methods and goals by April 7th, 2017 -- the same day NYC schools went on Spring break. MOSL tests begin as early as Monday, April 28th in some schools, yet no one really seems to know what form they will take, what skills they will test, or what content knowledge will be included. At this time, with two months left in the school year, most teachers do not have any idea about, or control of, over 40% of the content of their annual assessment.
Under the Danielson-based Advance system, a teacher observed with such a shoddily planned-out assessment for their students would rightly be given an Ineffective rating.
Now obviously what I have just described has no legal, or scientific legitimacy, and would be laughed out of any peer reviewed journal. These VAM based MOSL’s have as much credibility as alchemy, or phrenology. So of course, that method will be used to determine teacher proficiency and student achievement.
Besides the pressure these tests put on students, teachers’ careers are now being evaluated on short notice assessments, that no teacher has even seen, much less been able to prepare their students for. Teachers are educated professionals. I myself have a doctorate in education. We can all clearly see that this method of evaluation is a farce. The problem is, that school superintendents, administrators and the UFT leadership are going along with whatever nonsense emits from the DOE. They force-feed it to the teachers and students, and expect them to swallow it without complaint.
Perhaps the most egregious flaw in this year’s MOSL’s is that since they are based on student growth, and we only agreed on the assessments two weeks ago, there was no time to administer baselines to the students. Baselines are usually given at the beginning of the year to ascertain what level a student is performing at. The baseline assessment should be similar to the endline assessment. How do you measure growth if you do not have any idea where you started from?
Since the NYC DOE did not have the MOSL assessments ready in September, the city in its infinite wisdom, will be assigning students what amounts to composite “proxy” scores as their baselines. In other words, they are making up where each student should be, then giving a haphazardly compiled assessment tool, and comparing the actual student’s score to whatever algorithm they have created out of thin air. One fellow teacher asked: ”if they are making up a proxy baseline score, why not just make up a proxy endline score”?
The main reason for these last minute exams is that over the last three years New York has had almost a quarter of a million students opt out of the Common Core ELA and Math assessments for the third to eighth grades. With so many opt outs, Governor Cuomo had determined that this year, the tests could not be used for evaluative purposes for students or their teachers. The funny thing is, students can opt out of the MOSL’s as well.
Common branch teachers such as art, music or physical education etc. are linked to the performance of students in classes that they do not even teach. Teachers whose classes end in either a NYS Regents exam, the NYSESLAT, or an NYSAA will not have to give their students MOSL exams, as long as those classes make up 50% or more of their programs.
This Value Added Model of teacher effectiveness has continually been proven to be false, most recently in the case of teacher Sheri Lederman. VAM is junk science, and the MOSL’s that the NYC DOE has come up with are exactly that, junk.
The Department of Education may throw these incompetent assessments at us, and it is indeed insubordination not to comply with the directives, but we do not have to pretend there is any merit to it. And as soon as our final ratings are compiled, we all need to flood the legal system with lawsuits against this clearly erroneous method of evaluation. Our students, and teachers, deserve better than to be VAM-boozled like this.