Sunday, April 22, 2012

Is asking "What makes a good teacher" the right question?

Today's post was inspired by Mailbag: Readers define what's a good teacher.

Here are a few responses that came from this post:
A good teacher gives students the skills to think, create, explore, question and practice so that they can become productive members of society.
Probably the most important traits are compassion and patience.
A good teacher is one that enlightens a student to new areas of knowledge of which the student had no, or little, prior learning experience. 
The public schoolteachers’ role is to help all students achieve their potential.
...a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom can be directly related to a parent’s effectiveness in the home; a partnership between parent and teacher for the benefit of the student. 
 ...I can sum up what makes a good teacher in one word: support. 
 A good teacher knows when to put aside teaching the curriculum and teaches students how to relate to one another.
After reading this article, I felt compelled to interpret these definitions and explanations in terms of comparing US teachers with teachers working in Finland, albeit a debatable comparison by some. But Darling-Hammond (2010) argues that although no system from afar can be transported wholesale into another context, there is much to learn from the experiences of those who have addressed problems we also encounter.  The author points out two key points that I feel lead to greater, more specific differences between the two countries' educational systems:

Over the past 40 years, Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards.
In Finland each teacher receives three years of high-quality graduate level preparation completely at state expense - plus a major overhaul of the curriculum and assessment system designed to ensure access to a "thinking curriculum" for all students. 
This is big: Finland teachers have the flexibility in deciding how national standards are met by being able to decide at the local level how the written, taught, and tested curriculum is to be implemented.  And they are prepared to do so because each teacher receives training (i.e., Master's degree plus ongoing professional development) that ultimately creates a greater demand for professionals that exceed those in other well-respected fields such as medicine and law.

So what questions should we be asking?  I would argue that instead of asking What makes a good teacher?, we might ask,

What responsibility does each educational stakeholder have when cooperating towards higher student achievement?

A more complex question leads to a more networked solution to higher student achievement.  Defining a "good" or "bad" teacher is simply articulating the direct result of prior socio-technical relationships; let's ask questions that relate to contextual, holistic, learning trajectories that enable educators to become better over time.

What's your question?

Related articles:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Does a Shift From Numbers as Grades to Letter Grades Really Matter?

A colleague of mine sent me this article today (Calificaciones con letras, de vuelta).  Starting in August of this year, 27.6 million children in primary and secondary schools in Mexico will begin receiving letter grades (i.e., A, B, C, & D) instead of number grades (e.g., 10, 9, 8, 7, etc.).

As an American university educator working in Mexico, I admit that giving a grade as a number took awhile to get used to.  But reflecting back, I suppose I just automatically assessed student work and related number grades back to the letter grade descriptors that I've grown accustomed to: A=excellent, B=above average, C=average, etc. But if my understanding of the new grading system is correct, there still is a slight difference between what Mexico plans to implement later this year and what I've been used to growing up in the United States school system.

Mexico plans to convert letter grades as follows: "Excellent" work would be equivalent to a 10, and would receive an A; "satisfactory" work would be the equivalent to a 9 and 8, and would receive a B; "sufficient" work would be equivalent to a 7 and 6, and would receive a C; and "failing" would be equivalent to anything less than a 6, and would receive a D.

If grades (percentages) are rounded off, one possible interpretation for Mexico's new grading system might look like this:

A = 95% (9.5) - 100%
B = 75% - 94%
C = 60% - 74%
D = less than 59%

If grades are not rounded off, which seems unlikely, then the scale might look like this:

A = 100%
B = 80% - 99%
C = 60% - 79%
D = less than 59%

Contrast either scenario above with the grading scale I used as a child (oh so many years ago):

A = 90% - 100%
B = 80% - 89%
C = 70% - 79%
D = 60% - 69%
F =  less than 60%

or (if memory serves)

A+ = 96% - 100%
A- = 90% - 95%
B+ = 86% - 89%
B- = 80% - 85%
C+ = 76% - 79%
C- = 70% - 75%
D+ = 66% - 69%
D- = 60% - 65%
F =  less than 60%

Certainly, grading systems vary with each country (see here), but it's interesting to compare such systems and reflect on the impact each has on the learning process.

Do you think that shifting from a grading system of numbers to a grading system of letters will impact how students learn?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shifting to EduQuiki

I've made some decisions these last few weeks with regard to where I'll be making my contributions to open courseware, OERs, and my blog.  I left blogger about a year ago and went to WordPress, but now have decided to move back to blogger.  My WordPress site, called Collaborative Understandings, started to accumulate too many plugins which were required to have the website that I thought I wanted.  It got to a point that my website started to bog down along with generating memory errors due to issues with my host provider,  I was really trying to establish one website where I could house all of my work and reflections and still be able to share and potentially collaborate with others.  But it just became too much work.

So I've since made two changes in the way that I share and reflect on my teaching practice and research.  First, I moved back to Blogger and will discontinue my Collaborative Understandings WordPress website at the end of this semester.  Blogger has a simpler interface and I don't have to worry about SEO or making sure that there is no conflict with the rich-text edit bar, etc.  I can just post and be done with it.  Second, since I find myself working more and more in a wiki - WordPress has an average wiki plugin but is limited in its functionality - I decided to continue building the Wikispaces site which I started several years ago (formerly called Collaborative Understandings, but now is called EduQuiki).  Like Blogger, Wikispaces is extremely user-friendly and it just works.  I don't have to worry about my students complaining about losing information after having worked in the wiki for 30 minutes only to find out that the information didn't save or that the information is not accessible.  I'm done trying to configure stuff in order to get that "perfect" look, feel, and functionality.  I want something that has already been tested and will get the job done.  I don't mean that WordPress won't do it for you, but as I'm far from a technology guru, I've finally reached the decision that I need an easier work environment so that I can focus less on the technology and more on the message.

EduQuiki is the new website.  It's a wiki that anyone can join and will contain open courseware and open educational resources that stem from what I do every day.  It's an invitation into what and how I learn, and will forever be a work in progress.  I look forward to becoming more productive and having to worry less about technology working, and will continue to share my thoughts, experiences, and artifacts so that others are either encouraged to do the same or so that perhaps others might find some use in reusing, remixing, redistributing, or recopying what I've shared for their own purposes (attribution is required).  Goodbye Collaborative Understandings, hello EduQuiki!