Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sitting on the Fence

I feel as though we are becoming more and more polarized in our country, especially in education. Often we find ourselves in discussions where it is either left or right and we can’t be in the middle for fear of being looked upon as apathetic. Everyone wants to think they are right and therefore that others are wrong. The more and more discussions like these I find myself in the more I think sitting on the fence is the best way to go.

Now there are certain things that we can never sit on the fence with. Students should always be treated fairly, with respect and dignity. However, there are many things within the educational realm with extremely polarized views.

Grades:
Some teachers swear by their grade books as an integral part of their teaching. They would think it blasphemy to hear the outrages claims of those saying we need to rid out schools of grades. On the other hand there are those that see no value in grades as a means of feedback and that our classrooms would be better off without them. I would rather sit in the middle and acknowledge most traditional grading practices are archaic and should be reflected upon and revised. If we are up front about what we grade, how it is graded, why it is graded, and detailed feedback on the grading process in our class it is ok. Myself, I use standards based grading as a middle ground. I am able to clearly communicate to students and parents progress made toward a set of learning standards. There is no guess work as to how the grades are determined or what goes into the “A”.

Standardized Testing:
This is one that I may get heat for but again, there is a middle ground here. The issue as I see it is the amount of money spent creating, preparing, administering and grading these assessments. In addition, the amount of class time spent preparing and taking these tests is at a great cost to learning opportunities. Can’t we use small tests to gather the same data? How accurate is this data if so much time is spent teaching to the test? The tests themselves are a greater indication of teacher preparedness rather than student learning progress. If we instead down play their role and use them as snap shots or basic skills only, they can have little use for us. With technology we can offer more solutions with less hindrance on the classrooms themselves.

Standards and Common Core:
This is a hot topic right now with the advent of the Common Core standards and their role in the future of education in many states. On one hand there are the advocates of strict standards and increased rigor as the only means of “saving” education in our country. Conversely there are those that would advocate for more student driven learning where students guide their learning in absence of standards. Can’t we have both? Is it possible to have a loose set of overarching standards to guide our learning progress while giving students a larger role in the process? Standards are not the issue as much as our overreliance on them both as a means to drive curriculum as well as attempt to hold teachers accountable.

Instructional Procedures:
There are many ways in which a teacher can deliver content to a group of students. As with a favorite sports team, many teachers become a staunch fan of one way and nothing else. Whether you are lecturing, using PBL, Flipped Model, small groups, or any of the other numerous models, they all have value. What works one day will not work the next. What works with one student will not necessarily work with another. We need to stop looking for that silver bullet of instructional methods and realize that bullet is flexibility and evolution. The teachers who succeed are those willing to change when needed for the sake of the student.

Technology Use:
Yes, there is certainly opposing views on the value of technology in education. Many see technology as a great tool with unending potential for improving student learning. However, there are also those that see it as a distraction or shiny object flashing in the eyes of our students. I tend to think they are both right. Technology can, has, and will transform learning in our schools. However, if not used properly, it can be a distraction and a waste of resources. Stand in the middle where you use technology to further learning but not just using it to be using it.

Too often we get wrapped up in our “side” that we fail to recognize the value in the other side. It is in this moment that we are unable to learn and move forward but instead get entrenched in our viewpoints at the detriment of all. Often times sitting on the fence is viewed as the easy way out or just being lazy. However, in most situations, it is the dichotomy within issue that breeds inaction and stagnation. Most of the discussions in education have two sides and the middle ground between both is where I see the greatest potential for growth. I encourage discourse, argument, and discussion as a means of growth but we must stay in the middle to a certain degree for the sake of any change happening. 
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