Saturday, September 25, 2010

The War on Teachers

I am so weary of all the never-ending bashing and trashing of teachers by politicians, corporations, and foundations and the news media.  In my humble opinion it is destructive to our local communities and, quite simply, a smoke-screen for corporate control and greed in terms of selling privatization, textbooks, tests,  content management systems, charter schools, and for maintaining a huge and ever-growing disparity in income and wealth in the United States of America.  Poverty and incivility are the issues that need to be discussed. 

Check out these resources:

Diane Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Anthony Cody: "The REAL Thieves of Hope:  America's War on Teachers

Gary Stager: Education Nation and Ideological Blindness

Diane Ravitch:  "Why Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty Lost"

Linda Darling-Hammond: "Restoring Our Schools"

Linda Darling-Hammond: "Only a Teacher"

Thomas Friedman: "We're No. 1(1)!" 

Larry Ferlazzo: Attacks on Teachers and Non-Charter Schools Continue

Common Dreams:  "What Up with All the Teacher Bashing"

Teachers' Letters to Obama

David B. Cohen: Booker Outclasses Winfrey on Education 

David Goldstein: Grading 'Waiting for Superman'

Thursday, September 16, 2010


NOTE: Please distribute this information freely - pass on to individuals you know who will take advantage of it, and post it on to personal learning and social networks you are a part of. This goes for kids, teachers, technical staff, administrators, and all members of Maine's school communities

Essential Question: "What one thing should be done in your school community to increase the number of kids who make it to graduation?"

Do you believe that students do their best work when they take on challenges that truly matter in the real world? Have you ever looked for Maine-based projects you could point middle and high school students towards that would make a real difference?  Projects where they could use their technical and communication skills in support of something that really matters? Projects where they could work independently, in teams with their friends and have the chance to be rewarded for the quality of their work with something more than good grades?

WatchMECreate is a collaborative effort between ACTEM and the MLTI. It will consist of a series of serious challenges put out to Maine's grade 7-12 schools, asking students (and perhaps teachers) to collaboratively develop and submit video responses.  While posed as a “student challenge,” it is assumed that some students may come to it independently while others will be directed towards it by their teacher.

The first challenge is called WatchMEGraduate and asks students to create a 2-minute video response to, "What one thing should be done in your school community to increase the number of kids who make it to graduation?" This challenge is made real by the following documents:

Gov. Baldacci's Economic Strategy ([ ] "The most important measure of economic development in Maine is the educational attainment of its people and the opportunities that arise from our people's participation in the economy of tomorrow."

From Maine Dept. of Education Website: "An Act To Increase Maine's High School Graduation Rates (Sec. 1. 20-A MRSA c. 211, sub-c. 1-B) ...The bill also requires the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education to establish a stakeholder group to develop recommendations relating to increasing secondary school graduation rates in the State and to report its findings to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over education matters by January 10, 2011." went live on 9/1/10; First challenge, WatchMEGraduate, went live on 9/7/10; Uploads will begin to be accepted on 9/14/10; September 14 - October 10 - Video uploading window; October 11 - 14: Judging of entries; October 15, 2010: Winners Announced at MainEducation Conference

Here's the process:

1) A team of up to four student members (grades 7-12) will produce a video response to the current challenge
2) Videos must put forward positive solutions that are process-focused
3) The video will be no longer than 2 minutes
4) Teams are responsible for obtaining appropriate permissions for any materials used
5) All videos must carry, in the credits, a Creative Commons license
6) The video will be uploaded (see web site for details), along with contact information, but will not be publicly displayed until all appropriate releases have been received by ACTEM & MLTI
7) That’s it. Now get to work. Oh, and because this is professional grade work, please do be sure to cite your sources...

Judging process: Pains are being taken to make this not “feel like school.” A rubric has been created and posted on the web site.  Judges will be drawn from ACTEM & MLTI as well as other community sources.

Rewards: All teams whose entry is accepted as complete and placed on the WatchMECreate site will be entered into a drawing for team sets of four high quality, limited edition ACTEM / MLTI WatchMECreate T-shirts. Five middle school teams and five high school teams will be chosen at random. The top Middle School and High School teams will each be awarded $500 to be used by the team to help move their solution forward, as well as an iPod nano for each student team member.

Questions or comments: Please send e-mail to

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Special Needs Debate in the UK: Right or Wrong?

 by Olga LaPlante

Having taken the Addressing the Needs of Exceptional Students in a Regular Classroom course this summer - which was great! - I am more attuned to the topic.

This article from BBC once again touches upon the special needs issue, which may or may not resemble the case in this country.

Interesting that the article should mention that it's all about good teaching, regardless of how diverse your students are, and that it's teaching all, not just the top or the middle, which is much easier, but not good enough. It appeared to be nearly a consensus that, severe cases excluded, good teaching means addressing needs of all students in the process. Remarkably, project-based, collaborative and inquiry-based learning may just be the answer.

Please read the article here and offer your comments.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


 By Olga LaPlante

There is never a shortage of accounts of how limited things are. While this may be disheartening or simply annoying, little attention is given to defining those limitations, because that is where finding solutions starts.

This is not news, I just feel that it is often understated.

For example, there is a problem with a program at a school, which at first made me quite upset. While getting upset and moving forward are not easily compatible, moving forward is more important. By seeing that my needs cannot be met efficiently right away, my choices became a) sticking with the existing program but accepting its limitations - and as a result compensating as much as I could for them - or  b) finding another program which may be freer of limitations.

I did my homework, I know my options, and I know the limitations. For the purpose of my involvement in the program, I am willing and able to compensate for them. Knowing the limitations has freed up my resources and my energy to focus on something else and not worry about the possible breakdowns as I made sure they are less likely to happen. There were a few weak links and it was up to me to follow through.

Once the limitations are known and are accepted, one is less susceptible to the fallouts from them. Getting frustrated is not productive, and quite draining; by accepting limitations, you lower your expectations - and from what I heard that makes you very happy.

By no means am I endorsing limitations. I am just reiterating the benefits of knowing them.

I have been reading a book, Thinkertoys, by Michael Michalko; in one chapter he presents the Phoenix Checklist. Some of the questions are, "What isn't the problem?" "Can you restate your problem? How many different ways can you restate it?" I like that. What isn't the problem? It's as if you are asking, "What are the limitations of the problem?" See? Limitations apply to both the good stuff and the bad stuff. And it's definitely rewarding to recognize that the bad things have their limitations, too.
Now, let's see if this can somehow be applied to this whole Common Core Standards debate...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Collaborating With Kids

by Bob Keteyian

Too often, we try to solve behavior problems our kids are having without actively collaborating with the kids. We tell them what we want them to do and why, and expect compliance because what we want them to do is reasonable (to us). Sometimes this works and we get compliance, but is it really a “durable solution,” as Ross Greene would call it?

Ross Greene is a psychologist who specializes in helping kids and adults work together on problem solving that not only results in desired behavior change but actively teaches the child skills necessary to be successful in an on-going way. His most recent book, Lost At School offers a clear, usable format to help adults focus differently on solutions. In one way, the book title is deceptive—making it sound as though this is only about school related issues. It’s not: It’s an approach easily applied in any relationship. In fact I sent him an email acknowledging my use of these principles with adults—an approach that makes sense to him, too, which he validated in his response.

Kids want to behave well and do well. Generally, there is no real incentive to do otherwise. I realize there are exceptions, but they are exceptions. Kids inherently want to do the right thing, and most kids by the time they are in school know basic right from wrong. Often, however, they are lagging in the behavioral skills needed to be consistently successful and/or they have a totally different picture of a situation than the adults around them have.

Here’s an example: Eight-year-old Joel often refuses to do his school work and follow directions both at school and home. Whether he’s cajoled, rewarded, or punished, it makes no difference. Joel looks like and is treated like a stubborn, willful, defiant child. On closer examination and approaching this situation from the lagging skills perspective, another picture emerges. The fact is, Joel gets overwhelmed receiving auditory directions in a group situation. He can’t remember sequential things very well and has a poor sense of time (time estimation). These combined factors mean that Joel gets overwhelmed and feels stupid and embarrassed, as well as misunderstood. Working systematically with Joel on solutions to these individual problems over time had very good results.

Too often, we put a psychological spin on behaviors that are causing problems without accounting for a broader range of possibilities. I’ve written about this in other posts, commenting primarily from the communication styles (individual differences) perspective. Ross Greene’s work helps open our minds to connect better with kids (empathy is the first ingredient in his model), collaborate, teach, and respect one another. The result is durable solutions and stronger, trusting relationships.

Featuring the Work of Alan Sitomer

Alan Sitomer talks PBL (Project Based Learning) in the classroom

Alan Sitomer's 8 Tips for Teachers

Free Webinar with Alan Sitomer via eSchool News:

Sensibly Incorporating Technology in Today's Classroom: It's All About the Writing!

Date: October 12, 2010

Time: 2:00 pm EDT Duration: One hour 

Come spend an hour with BookJams author and California's 2007 Teacher of the Year Alan Sitomer as he hosts a webinar on how to sensibly incorporate technology and new literacies.

Your benefits of participating will include:
Understanding why the bells and whistles of technology will not replace the need for students to critically read, write and think
Seeing how cutting edge tech tools can (and should) coexist side-by-side with projects that can be done by candlelight.
Recognizing that successfully incorporating technology in today's classroom BEGINS WITH THE WRITING!
Getting comfortable with the idea that technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that there is no more "keeping up".
Re-conceptualizing our methodologies so that we can allow students to demonstrate their full capabilities without unnecessarily holding them back simply because we, the educators, do not have the same technological abilities that they, the students, possess. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is It Possible to Have Too Many Laptops?

"No surprise, then, that the truth of what happens in laptop-rich schools is far more shades of gray than black or white." ~ Larry Cuban
Questions: Can 1-to-1 sometimes get in the way of collaborative, hands-on learning?  Are there times that it is better to focus students' efforts on a single screen?  When is face-to-face collaboration and social interaction more powerful than independent digital access and production?

Jamie McKenzie: Over-Equipped? Is it possible to have too many laptops?

Larry Cuban: Laptops in Schools
The Journal: Left to Their Own Devices
Gary Stager: Selling the Dream of 1:1 Computing 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Courage in the Classroom comes to King Middle School, Portland

by Olga LaPlante

Some common sense observations were noted during the round table discussion. Common sense doesn't discount the value of the observations, though, because common sense is not all that common.

There may be hope after all for the DOE, if they stick with their valuable observations. Read more here.

One simple trick to better school culture is looping. Why is it so rare? I find it the best strategy. Kids know the teacher, the teacher knows the kids, they have lots of shared experiences by the second year, it doesn't cost any money, as Duncan pointed out; teachers are accountable by default, students are accountable and more aware of their behavior, parents are no strangers; trust is established. Why would you not do it?