Tag Archives: project based education

Thoughts on Shelly Wright’s Blog ntitled “Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay” By Rick Davidson

I have just finished reading Shelly Wright’s blog entitled “Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay”. http://shelleywright.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/blogging-is-the-new-persuasive-essay/ The article suggests that many students lack effective writing skills because our educational system is not producing independent thinkers. Without the ability to articulate an informed opinion, it is difficulty to develop and defend a thesis statement. Ms. Wright’s thesis statement is the title of her blog entry. If blogging is indeed the new persuasive essay, it is yet another example of how technology is in the process of changing how we define literacy.

As a technology integrator in a middle school, I have spent a great deal of time pondering how to encourage our students to begin to function on the upper level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. http://www.uwsp.edu/education/lwilson/curric/newtaxonomy.htm This has been especially challenging given that the standardized testing movement stresses the lower two levels in the cognitive domain. The lowest being remembering retrieving and recalling. The next lowest being understanding. While we should not ignore these skills, the challenge of “21st Century Education” is to help our students develop the ability to apply knowledge, analyze concepts, evaluate information, and create a product. In other words our students need to become independent thinkers.

The traditional dictionary definition of literacy tends to look like the following:

literate – able to read and write

literate – versed in literature; dealing with literature

literate – knowledgeable and educated in one or several fields; “computer literate”
wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

The National Council of Teachers of English has developed the following guidelines for what is needed to be literate in the 21st Century:

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology

  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross culturally

  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes

  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information

  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multiple-media texts

  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by those complex environments”

http://www.ncte.org/governance/literacies I would suggest that visual media has become at least as important as written media.

The International Society for Technology in Education ISTE points out that “societies are changing, expectations are changing, teaching is changing and educators must lead”.

The ISTE student guidelines mirror the NCTE literacy guidelines:

“Demonstrate creativity and innovation

Communicate and collaborate

Conduct research and use information

Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions

Use technology effectively and productively”

http://www.iste.org/standards/nets-for-students.aspx

The teacher guidelines are”

“Facilitate and Inspire student learning and creativity

Design and develop digital-age learning experiences and assessments

Model digital-age work and learning

Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility

Engage in professional growth and leadership”

http://www.iste.org/standards/nets-for-teachers/nets-for-teachers-2008.aspx

The ability to read and understand is simply not enough to claim literacy in the modern world. Being versed in literature certainly adds to the quality of one’s life. It also helps us understand the human condition. My favorite English teacher was wont to point out the literature is the highest form of communication. It is still right up there, but technology has kicked opened so many new doors that all of us can access information that was only available to “experts” in the past. Many forms of publication that were only available to the highly trained are now accessible to everyone. Newspapers and magazines are no longer the sole purveyors of editorial content. Witness the proliferation of blogging. Would be movie makers can purchase high definition digital cameras for less than $1000. Inexpensive editing suites can do more than what Hollywood was able to do only a few years ago. Photography enthusiast can now create high quality images without needing a degree in photo technology. If the tools available to our students are to be used in a competent manner, the NCTE and ISTE guidelines need to be incorporated into all curriculum areas and into every level of education. Shelly Wright is absolutely right. Blogs are the new persuasive essay. They are the new editorial column. They provide the opportunity to reach a large audience. They provide me, as an educator, with a platform to attempt to convince others to accept the value of the new paradigm of cognitive learning. This will enable our students to became ethical independent thinkers capable of collaboration, expressing themselves, and creativity. If we can accomplish that, our place as a nation in the world, will take care of itself.

In spite of the fact that I am a published novelist, I wonder if I would use the written word to contemplate and persuade if I had to adhere to the formatting of traditional essays. The above ruminations are very effective way for me to keep my goals in mind. If I can convince others of the importance of these goals, so much the better.

Random Thoughts on Returning from the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in Manchester New Hampshire by Rick Davidson

Random Thoughts on Returning from the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference in Manchester New Hampshire

I have just returned from the three-day Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference.  I have been attending and presenting at this conference for a number of years and as has been the case in the past, I am experiencing the frustration of trying to reconcile the ideal with real.  The new paradigm espoused by experts from all over the world has been encouraging us, as teachers, to use technology to move away from the 19th century concept of the instructor centered talking head in front of the classroom in favor of a student based project oriented approach.  Back to actuality, I feel like the ride from Manchester was in fact time spent in a time machine.  The enthusiasm created by attending the conference is tempered by the reality that change takes time.

Recently I watched the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, speak about innovation and education.  I believe that just about everyone believes in the importance of these two concepts. Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy creates the following hierarchy of applying knowledge.  Starting at the bottom, they are: remembering-understanding-applying-analysis-evaluating-creating.  While I agree with many of Mr. Duncan’s points, it baffles me that the initiative coming from the department of education seems to stress the lower applications of learning.  Because of the time spent preparing for lower level standardized testing, we are failing to provide our students with the opportunities to conduct authentic research, and to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and create.  Mr. Duncan speaks of the “dumbing down” of American students. We as educators need to consider that this implied “lowering of the bar” may be the result of our resistance to accept the fact that today’s young people are learning differently from students from past generations.  The modern world demands that its citizens be critical thinker.  Today’s students more than ever must learn how to learn.  They must be adaptable to change and understand and have a command of digital media.  The day of the solitary expert at the front of the room has passed. Access to the Internet is morphing today’s students into independent lifelong self- learners.  Top-down teaching and standardized curriculum is  reactionary. Citizens of the digital age don’t need to memorize information; they need to learn to differentiate between what information is reliable and valuable and what is not. It is difficult to see how NCLB and standardized testing is helping to promote this new paradigm of teaching. Standardization does not promote creativity. Do we really want all of our future citizens to be the same? Our greatness in the United States has been traditionally based in its diversity and its ingenuity.  Students need to be given the opportunity to collaborate and communicate with other students, teachers, professionals, and enthusiasts that share the students’ interests. Knowledge and tolerance of other cultures is not optional in Thomas Friedman’s “flat world”.

Change is taking place in my district.  The International Society for Technology Education guidelines have been accepted in all of our schools.  More and more of our teachers are integrating computer technology into their curricula.  We need to work on providing access to computers to all of our students all of the time.  Computers are today’s pencils.  The technology should be available when it is needed, not only when it has been planned. The greatest irony is that while schools all across the country and the globe are debating on how to use technology in the schools, some students are bypassing formal pedagogical institutions in favor of educating themselves on line.  I know because I am one of them.  Why should I pay thousands of dollars to listen to the “expert” at the front of the classroom when I can find anything and everything I need to know on the Internet? The real challenge in the 21st Century is to provide the opportunities for our students to be motivated to learn for themselves.

Links to Christa McAuliffe Conference Presenters and Keynote Speakers

Links to Christa McAuliffe Conference Keynote Speakers:

http://www.practicaltheory.org/serendipity/   Chris Lehmann

http://web.me.com/tammy.w/Tips/Tammys_Technology_Tips_for_Teachers.html

hhttp://wiki.wesfryer.com/Home/handouts/ipads-in-edu

http://wiki.wesfryer.com/Home/handouts/viral-video

http://wiki.wesfryer.com/Home/handouts/digitalleadership

Link to Christa McAuliffe Presenters handouts:

http://nhcmtc.org/Extensions/

Repost of Vista Project Reflections By Rick Davidson

Draft 5

In Search of the Ultimate Computer Technology Integrated Project

by Rick Davidson

How two seasoned teachers created one of the most exciting and effective teaching units of their careers.

I have spent the past 13 years involved with computer technology education. When I started, the challenge was to interest the students and teachers into coming into the computer lab at all. I came to my alma mater, Kennett High School in Conway, New Hampshire with two charges. Number one was to get the lab up and running. Number two was to facilitate the proper use of the lab. This was to have been a one year job as I was still active as a professional photographer and video maker. Even then I saw the handwriting on the wall. Imaging as I knew it was about to change. I didn’t know how long it would take but it was clear that digital photography was the wave of the future. After three years at Kennett, I took a new position as a computer teacher at Kingswood Regional Middle School in Wolfeboro, NH. While I was in a position to create my own curriculum, I found that incorporating photography and video making was not met with a lot of enthusiasm. Over the past ten years, my curriculum has evolved to include units on just about every aspect of computing including digital photography and video making. Unlike those early days in Conway when kids used to complain about spending time in the computer lab, now you can’t keep them out. Two years ago my job description changed. I became a computer technology integrator. I felt that I had accomplished a lot during the first year in my new capacity. Somehow, in spite of all the innovations and the fact that the computers in the building were being effectively used on a regular basis, I still hadn’t found an activity that I felt would be the paradigm of computer technology integration.

I often hear from adults, that kids know so much about computers. My experience says otherwise. While most kids are good at text messaging, using IM, and playing games, the vast majority of my incoming middle school students do not type well, do not know how to research, and can not discern between valid and invalid information on the Internet. Most have problems saving their work correctly. They have not had much experience working in teams nor do they understand the implications of publishing their work for an audience rather than for an individual teacher. Many seem to like the idea of using a video or a still camera but don’t want to be bothered with learning how to use the tools capably. I wanted to find a project that would require the students and the teachers to raise the bar. I wanted something that would require a combination of many of those skills that the students should be honing while at the middle school. I wanted something that the result of which, they would be proud to present to the public and something that would require a deeper awareness of local and world issues.. The activity should be self-directed enough that the teachers would serve as guides not as purveyors of information.

Enter Arthur Viens, team leader and social studies teacher for Team Vista at Kingswood Regional Middle School. Vista has always had a reputation for innovation but both Arthur and I had often discussed the fact that neither one of us had found that illusive ideal of computer technology integration. We agreed that video should probably be a part of it. We recognized that the subject matter would have to be something that the students would buy into and be interested in. We also wanted them to come away with an understanding of their chosen topic within the context of its importance on the world stage..

Serendipitously, we both received a flier for the C-Span Student Cam Competition. This appeared to be exactly what we were looking for. Was Arthur willing to go out on a limb and alter his curriculum in order to try something that looked like hard work but also appeared to be so promising? He was. Unfortunately, it became apparent that we would not be able do justice to this kind of unit in time to meet the contest deadline. We figured we could borrow the idea, create the curriculum and be ready to have our students participate in the C-Span contest next time around. We would have our own film festival this coming spring and show the final versions of the student videos there. We would also put them on the school website. The C-Span challenge was to create a video that each group of students felt was the most pressing issue that President Obama should address after taking office. Since we had started with this theme, we decided to stick with it.

First, we showed Arthur’s four classes the winners from past C-Span student entries. We discussed what video making techniques worked or didn’t work. We looked at the use of music to enhance the message. We showed the film “Stand By Me Playing For Change” as an example of this. We talked about the depth of research involved to create a compelling and coherent film. The students committed to subjects ranging from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to abortion, gun control, animal abuse, and the war on drugs. We told the students that they would need to understand their subject thoroughly in order to persuade the president that their point of view was worth his attention. Once again we viewed more C-Span student entries keeping in mind that certain techniques were more effective than others. We also stressed the importance of works cited appearing at the end of their respective videos. Any pictures used in the videos would need proper permission or Creative Commons attribution. Flickr is very good source for images and the photographers are very easy to contact. No one had a problem granting permission to the students. Students could use C-Span Student Camfootage as well as video segments on United Streaming. We also encouraged the students to create their own footage. Music was either created in GarageBand or culled from free music sites that fit fair use guidelines. The final videos were edited in Windows Movie Maker. Sound tracks were also created in Audacity or Windows Movie Maker. Note Taking and script writing was done in Open Office. Conversion issues were pretty much solved by using the free program, Any Video Converter. As we progressed, it became obvious that YouTube also had a wealth of potentially useful programming.. The students were allowed to use YouTube on the condition that they could receive permission to use footage and/or music. Some students even contacted major recording artists to seek permission to use clips for their work. Some students did receive the go ahead. Using YouTube also presented us with some teaching moments. Not all YouTube content is following fair use guidelines. In such cases, the students had to learn to differentiate between what they could and could not use. They needed to also find out who actually held the rights to the material and proceed from there. Using YouTube actually provided the opportunity to discuss in depth the implications of fair use. Had we spoon fed the students with only pre-approved sources, these opportunities would not have presented themselves.

Dealing with the issues of what constitutes good research was perhaps the most important pedagogical outcome of this undertaking. We used the www. martinlutherking.org and Institute for Historical Review to acquaint students with examples of website that might not be what they appear to be. I am convinced that most of the students now understand that they need to carefully read any information they find on the web. As obvious as it may sound, this alone is a major accomplishment on the middle school level. My next initiative will be to encourage all of our teams to include instruction based on what Arthur and I have learned from the evolution of this project. As it turned out, the actual video editing, was the easiest part. By the time they started to use Movie Maker, they had planned their video in Inspiration and Open Office, accumulated their information, video clips, music, and works cited. The students did indeed work very independently. Arthur and I were kept very busy with questions and we were able to take on the role of guides. The questions were surprisingly good and the creativity and depth of the research were both impressive.

Most of the videos were very well done. Some followed our rubric more than others. The students can compare their video to the guidelines in the rubric to see where they succeeded and where they fell short. Evaluations did not stop there. Each class viewed their classmate’s work and, using the rubric, the students became film critics. Arthur and I also shared our thoughts in order to stimulate discussion. Some of the videos were of course better than others. What impressed us the most was that almost all the students were very engaged in the project. Most endeavored to truly increase their understanding of their chosen topic. Most used their creativity to give life to a multi-media presentation they could be proud of. The ability to design well-produced media may well be one of the most important skills that students can develop for future employment. In a recent article in the on line edition of “The Journal”, the results of a nationwide poll of registered voters was reported. Two out of three of the participants felt that students need to learn “computer and technology skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and teamwork and collaboration”. All of these were utilized in this assignment along with, reading, writing, organization, higher level thinking, and creativity. In fact, all of the thinking skills from Blooms Revised Taxonomy ranging from remembering, to understanding, to applying, to analyzing, to evaluating, to creating were used in the project. Aren’t these all abilities we should all be helping our students to cultivate?

Finally, we showed “Invisible Children” a very moving film on children soldiers in Northern Uganda. This was made by three amateur video-makers who were in their early twenties. Going to Africa and documenting the atrociousness that they witnessed was life changing for all three young men. The video progresses from an obvious niavite among the film makers into a highly moving series of interviews with the victims of daily violence in the Sudanese refugee camps. Our students were impressed both by the message of the video and by the fact that the boys, not all that much older than themselves, were able to create such an important piece of work. Judging from the student’s reflections, this film was life changing for many of them. They understood the power of visual media and they understood the need for involvement in global issues. Early on in the film, one of the video makers points out that,“media defines our lives and it shapes how we view life.” We will be doing a our students a great disservice if we do not provide them with the skills to understand and use technological media in an ethical, creative and meaningful way.

While watching the videos, I did pick up on two short comings. In some cases the students used acquired clips that should have been edited down. Perhaps next time we may need to consider putting a length limit on how long a clip should be. I also noticed that while the students were required to follow the MLA guidelines in creating a written works cited document, this information did not always appear as completely as it should have in the final credits in the video. There were occasional conflicts in the groups but in every case a solution was found and agreed upon.

Our final take. This project was worth the five weeks, off and on, that we devoted to it. The bar was raised and the students did themselves proud. It was hard work but this is what teaching and learning are all about. All of us, the students included, more than once lost track of time. That was because everyone was so engaged. We provided the tools and the time. The students took over from there. The ability to decipher and evaluate the vast amount of information on the Internet is crucial for success in the 21st Century. Last but not least, they now know how to save.

Equally important, video making, in this case, provided a hands-on, real world opportunity for the students to continue their mastery of social studies, language arts, and computer GLEs. Many of the skills stressed in those areas of study are needed in order to successfully complete a multimedia project such as this one. No less important is the mastery of visual literacy skills. As the film makers pointed out in “Invisible Children”, visual media is where we get much if not most of our information in the modern world. It also influences the way we think. In order to become informed citizens in the twenty first century students will need to know how to interpret and use visual media. The implementation of a combination of skills necessary to reach a desired goal or to create a desired product is as effective in increasing student abilities as teaching to the test. Probably more. It is certainly more real world and much more interesting. In the future, we will take advantage of ever-evolving on line opportunities for communication with other students around the world and as well as experts in many different fields.

“I would like to close with a quote from Dr. Tim Tyson at Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Georgia.

“Potentially, student work can be measured mainly on the value of the contribution it makes on the global stage. This has never before been possible: middle grades student performing on a global stage that can actually matter beyond the immediate classroom. If we truly value empowering young adolescents to live in a culture of personal best, we must find ways of using technology to allow student use of schoolwork to make the world a better place.”

(http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2539741) “Stand By Me For Change”

“The Journal”www.thejournal.com/the/21stcentryskills/skills/

http://www.invisiblechildren.com/home.php “Invisible Children”

Alfie Kohn’s Practical Strategies to Save Our Schools

Practical Strategies to Save Our Schools


Whenever something in the schools is amiss, it makes sense to work on two tracks at once: protect students from the worst effects in the short term and work to change or eliminate that policy in the long term. Let’s begin with some short-term responses where testing is concerned:

First, teachers should do what is necessary to prepare students for the tests — and then get back to the real learning. Never forget the difference between these two objectives. Be clear about it in your own mind, and whenever possible, help others to understand the distinction. For example, you might send a letter to parents explaining what you are doing and why. (“Before we can design rigorous and exciting experiments in class, which I hope will have the effect of helping your child learn to think like a scientist, we’re going to have to spend some time getting ready for the standardized tests being given next month. Hopefully we’ll be able to return before too long to what research suggests is a more effective kind of instruction.”) If you’re lucky, parents will call you, indignantly demanding to know why their kids aren’t able to pursue the more effective kind of instruction all the time. “Excellent question!” you’ll reply, as you hand over a sheet containing the addresses and phone numbers of the local school board, state board of education, legislators, and the governor.

Second, do no more test preparation than is absolutely necessary. Some experts have argued that a relatively short period of introducing students to the content and format of the tests is sufficient to produce scores equivalent to those obtained by students who have spent the entire year in test-prep mode.

Third, whatever time is spent on test preparation should be as creative and worthwhile as possible. Avoid traditional drilling whenever you can.

Fourth, administrators and other school officials should never brag about high (or rising) scores. To do so is not only misleading; it serves to legitimate the tests. In fact, people associated with high-scoring schools or districts have a unique opportunity to make an impact. It’s easy for critics to be dismissed with a “sour grapes” argument: You’re just opposed to standardized testing because it makes you look bad. But administrators and school board members in high-scoring areas can say, “Actually our students happen to do well on these tests, but that’s nothing to be proud of. We value great teaching and learning, which is precisely what suffers when people become preoccupied with scores. Please join us in phasing them out.”

A group of educators in Florida recently took advantage of their school’s privileged status to make a powerful statement. That state not only grades schools but then hands out money to those with the highest scores – in effect making the rich richer and the poor poorer. In a bold public protest, six teachers and their principal went to the state capital and handed back the bonuses. (Click here to read their statement.) In North Carolina, teachers pooled their bonuses to create a foundation that would provide funds to the schools that needed it most.

Finally, whatever your position on the food chain of American education, one of your primary obligations is to be a buffer – to absorb as much pressure as possible from those above you without passing it on to those below. If you are a superintendent or assistant superintendent facing school board members who want to see higher test scores, the most constructive thing you can do is protect principals from these ill-conceived demands to the best of your ability (without losing your job in the process). If you are a building administrator, on the receiving end of test-related missives from the central office, your challenge is to shield teachers from this pressure – and, indeed, to help them pursue meaningful learning in their classrooms. If you are a teacher unlucky enough to work for an administrator who hasn’t read this paragraph, your job is to minimize the impact on students. Try to educate those above you whenever it seems possible to do so, but cushion those below you every day. Otherwise you become part of the problem.

*

As important as I believe these suggestions to be, it is also critical to recognize their limits. There is only so much creativity that can be infused into preparing students for bad tests. There is only so much buffering that can be done in a high-stakes environment. These recommendations merely try to make the best of a bad thing. Ultimately we need to work to end that bad thing, to move beyond stopgap measures and take on the system itself.

Unfortunately, even some well-intentioned educators who understand the threat posed by testing never get to that point. Here are some of the justifications they offer for their inaction:

  • “Just teach well and the tests will take care of themselves.” This may be true in some subject areas, or in some states, or in some neighborhoods. But it is often a convenient delusion. Often, to prepare students for the tests in the most effective way is to teach badly – to fill them full of dates and definitions and cover a huge amount of material in a superficial fashion. Conversely, to teach in a way that helps students understand (and become enthusiastic about) ideas may actually lower their scores.
  • “This too shall pass.” Education has its fads, and standards on steroids may be one of them, but there is no guarantee that it will fade away on its own. Too much is invested by now; too many powerful interest groups are backing high-stakes testing for us to assume it will simply fall of its own weight. In any case, too many children will be sacrificed in the meantime if we don’t take action to expedite its demise.
  • “My job is to teach, not to get involved in political disputes.” When seven-year-olds can’t read good books because they are being drilled on what Jonathan Kozol calls “those obsessively enumerated particles of amputated skill associated with upcoming state exams,” the schools have already been politicized. The only question is whether we will become involved on the other side – that is, on the side of real learning. In particular, much depends on whether those teachers, administrators, and parents who already harbor (and privately acknowledge) concerns about testing are willing to go public, to take a stand, to say, “This is bad for kids.” To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good people keep silent.
  • “The standards and tests are here to stay; we might as well get used to them.” Here we have a sentiment diametrically opposed to “This too shall pass,” yet one that paradoxically leads to the identical inaction. Real children in real classrooms suffer from this kind of defeatism, which can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy: assume something is inevitable and it becomes so precisely because we have decided not to challenge it. The fact of the matter is that standardized tests are not like the weather, something to which we must resign ourselves. They haven’t always existed and they don’t exist in most parts of the world. What we are facing is not a force of nature but a force of politics, and political decisions can be questioned, challenged, and ultimately reversed.
  • Thus the need for us to organize in order to fight the tests themselves. Some states are already organized, even to the point of having websites. Check these out — or, if you live elsewhere, use them as models for constructing your own:

    CO: www.thecbe.org
    MA: www.parentscare.org
    MD: www.geocities.com/stophsa
    NC: www.geocities.com/nccds/index.html
    OH: www.stophighstakestests.org
    NY: www.timeoutfromtesting.org

    National websites:
    www.fairtest.org
    www.susanohanian.org
    www.pencilsdown.org
    www.nomoretests.com [student site]

    Together with other educators and parents, consider taking these actions:

  • Talk informally to friends and acquaintances — at the supermarket and the hair dresser, at dinner parties and kids’ birthday parties — about these issues. Help your neighbors understand that an emphasis on Tougher Standards and test scores makes it harder for children to learn and to care about learning. Suggest that if a school official brags about the latest scores, we ought to reply, “If this is what matters to you, then I’m worried about the quality of education my child is getting here.”
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper — or, better yet, an op-ed article. Three examples dealing with the MCAS test in Massachusetts are available: “Tougher Tests = Lower Standards,” offering a general analysis; “A Set-Up to Tell You You’re Stupid,” focusing on students whom the test has failed; and “Turning the Tables,” a satirical essay in the form of a test that state education officials would fail. For good measure, a sample is also included from the Greensboro [N. Carolina] News & Record titled “The Insanity of Testing Mania.”
  • Write to — or visit — your state legislators about the issue.
  • Attend — and speak out at — school board meetings and other community forums on education. If you are a parent who is concerned that too much time and attention are being focused on test preparation, make your views known to the principal and/or superintendent. (Click here for a sample letter.) Better yet, persuade administrators to refuse to let test preparation squeeze out real learning — and encourage them to make a public statement explaining why silly, test-based ratings may give the appearance of failure. (Read about a Virginia school that did just this.)
  • Communicate the same message to real estate brokers who sell neighborhoods on the basis of those scores. (Click here for an example of how to frame the message for this audience: a short article published in Realtor Magazine.)
  • Form a delegation of parents and educators and request a meeting with the top editors (and education reporters) of your local paper. Tell them, “Every time you publish a chart listing schools’ standardized test scores, you unwittingly make our schools a little bit worse. Here’s why…”
  • Challenge politicians, corporate executives, and others who talk piously about the need to “raise the bar,” impose “tougher standards,” ensure “accountability,” and so on to take the tests themselves — and, perhaps, even to allow their scores to be published in the newspaper. This is especially important in the case of high-stakes exit exams, which are increasingly being used to deny diplomas to students who don’t pass them, regardless of their academic records. The reality, of course, is that few adults could pass these tests. Therefore, public officials should be prepared to justify their demand that teenagers must do something that they, themselves, cannot. And if they refuse this challenge, they should be called upon to defend that.
  • Print up bumper stickers with slogans such as “STANDARDIZED TESTING IS DUMBING DOWN OUR SCHOOLS” or “SUPPORT BETTER EDUCATION: Boycott the [name of your state’s test].”
  • For every seminar or in-service telling teachers how to meet the new state standards (or boost kids’ scores on standardized tests), we should be offering three that talk about how to fight these standards and phase out these tests.
  • Parents need to become actively involved — and, fortunately, that has been happening in some states. For inspiration and practical ideas, take a look at how a grassroots parent group in Wisconsin managed to overturn a high-stakes testing plan. Other parent-led groups are mobilizing in Ohio, Virginia, Massachusetts, and other states.
  • Commission a survey and then release its results at a press conference. One group of researchers suggested including these questions:
  • “Do the tests improve students’ motivation? Do parents understand the results? Do teachers think that the tests measure the curriculum fairly? Do administrators use the results wisely? How much money is spent on assessment and related services? How much time do teachers spend preparing students for various tests? Do the media report the data accurately and thoroughly? Our surveys suggest that many districts will be shocked to discover the degree of dissatisfaction among stakeholders.” [Source: S. G. Paris, et al., “A Developmental Perspective on Standardized Achievement Testing.” Educational Researcher, June-July 1991, p. 17]

  • Work with your state coordinator to sponsor a conference on these issues. Make sure to alert local reporters ahead of time to maximize press coverage. This can help you locate still more people in the area who are willing to become active.
  • Finally, both educators and parents can simply refuse to participate in state and district testing programs. Many states have opt-out provisions (though they’re not widely publicized) by which parents can request that their children be exempted from taking standardized tests. Investigate to see whether this is available where you live and, if so, do everything in your power to make that fact widely known. (Read a compelling statement by a Mom and Dad explaining “Why We Opt Out,” which contains the letter they submit to their daughter’s school politely insisting that she be “engaged in learning activities during testing times.”)
  • Some parents and students are, in effect, boycotting the tests even where opt-out provisions don’t exist. For example, two-thirds of all families with eighth graders in Scarsdale, NY refused to participate in the state’s middle school tests in the spring of 2001. (Read more about the Scarsdale boycott.)

    Teachers, too, might think about organizing acts of civil disobedience. In Japan, as Catherine Lewis reports in her book Educating Hearts and Minds, “Elementary achievement is high because Japanese teachers are free from the pressure to teach to standardized tests.” Until they get to high school, there are no such tests in Japan — and the reason there are no such tests is that teachers (through their union) simply refused to administer them because of their destructive educational effects. Boycotts have also been effective in England and Australia.

    Closer to home, Jim Bougas, a middle school teacher in a small town in Massachusetts, grew increasingly frustrated with how the state test was forcing instruction to become more superficial. He informed his principal in the spring of 1999 that he could not in good conscience take part in administering the test and was reassigned to the library during that period. The next year, following a denial of a similar request, he agonized about what to do. Finally, he decided that if the test was just as unfair and destructive in 2000 as it had been in 1999, his response could not be any different – even at the risk of suspension or dismissal. Besides, as he told a reporter, if the test continues, “I have no job because they’ve taken it away from me as long as I have to spend my time teaching to the test. I can’t do that anymore. So I have nothing to lose.”

    Don Perl, a teacher in Colorado, engaged in a similar act of conscience, commenting, according to a newspaper article, “I have to look at myself in the mirror, and I know these tests are wrong. Frankly, I’m not a teacher when I teach to a test like this, [or] when I administer a test like this.” Perl is no longer in the classroom but has been active in opposing his state’s test, collecting about 12,500 signatures in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to let voters decide in 2004 whether to get rid of the CSAP test, and then raising money to pay for ads on bus benches that invite parents to visit www.thecbe.org to obtain letters advising school officials that their children will not be taking the exam.

    In the fall of 2002, a dozen Chicago high school teachers got together and refused to administer the tests being used in that city. (Read more about the Chicago boycott.)

    Such protests are not only inspirational to many of us but an invitation to ponder the infinitely greater impact of collective action. Imagine, for example, that a teacher at any given school in your area quietly approached each person on the staff in turn and asked: “If ___ percent of the teachers at this school pledged to boycott the next round of testing, would you join them?” (The specific percentage would depend on what seemed realistic and yet signified sufficient participation to offer some protection for those involved.) Then, if the designated number was reached, each teacher would be invited to take part in what would be a powerful act of civil disobedience. Press coverage would likely be substantial, and despairing-but-cowed teachers in other schools might be encouraged to follow suit.

    Without question, this is a risky undertaking. Theoretically, even an entire school faculty could be fired. But the more who participate, and the more careful they are about soliciting support from parents and other members of the community beforehand, the more difficult it would be for administrators to respond harshly. (Of course, some administrators are as frustrated with the testing as teachers are.) Participants would have to be politically savvy, building alliances and offering a coherent, quotable rationale for their action. They would need to make it clear – at a press conference and in other forums – that they were taking this action not because they are unwilling to do more work or are afraid of being held accountable, but because these tests lower the quality of learning and do a serious injustice to the children in our community.

    The bottom line is that standardized testing can continue only with the consent and cooperation of the educators who allow those tests to be distributed in their schools – and the parents who permit their children to take them. If we withhold that consent, if we refuse to cooperate, then the testing process grinds to a halt. That is what happened in Japan. That is what can happen in the United States if we understand the urgency of the situation. Discuss it with your university students, your staff, your colleagues, your neighbors: What if they gave a test and nobody came?

    Have other ideas? Leave us a message at the e-mail address listed for questions & comments on the Contact page..


    Copyright © 2004 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author’s name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact page at www.alfiekohn.org.

    Thoughts on the Back Cover of Tony Wagner’s “The Global Achievement Gap” by Rick Davidson

    I have just received a book that the SAU purchased in the hopes, I imagine, of contributing to my evolution as an effective educator. I have not read the book yet but the blurb on the back cover was enough to get my intellectual juices flowing. The book is called “The Global Achievement Gap” by Tony Wagner. On one level, I ordered this book in the hopes that it might help me understand why we, in the American School System, justify so much testing and standardization. Instead, Mr. Wagner appears to be yet another proponent of what is becoming recognized as a new movement in 21st Century education. Everything I have absorbed from a myriad of books, blogs, magazine articles, TV shows, interviews, and keynote speakers indicates that tomorrow’s survival skills are not to be found in nineteenth century educational practices. Even in those days, voices such as John Dewey encouraged project based learning that encouraged students to be active researchers, not receptacles of the teacher’s assumed knowledge and wisdom. “Dewey was a relentless campaigner for reform of education, pointing out that the authoritarian strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students’ actual experiences.” (Neil, J. (2005) “John Dewey, the Modern Father of Experiential Education” )

    So I had to ask myself, am I truly providing my students with Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills for Teens Today? Forgetting that my prejudice is that technology must play an important part in helping students acquire these skills, I wonder whether we are not short changing our future citizens when we don’t pay attention to what is a recurrent message from the experts. Education should not be a matter of merely accumulating knowledge. We can find the answer to just about everything on a computer or, for that matter, on an iPhone. Higher order thinking skills are essential to success in our incredibly fast changing world. Whether we like or approve of this future is irrelevant. It is here and we and our students need to know how to survive and thrive in it. The other reoccurring theme that I hear is that we, as teachers, have to model these skills in order to be effective educators.

    Seven Survival Skills for Teens Today:

    Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
    Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
    Agility and Adaptability
    Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
    Effective Oral and Written Communication
    Accessing and Analyzing Information
    Curiosity and Imagination

    As Albert Einstein said:

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress and giving birth to evolution.”

    Einstein would love google. Are we listening?