Thursday, May 18, 2017


I haven't said much about it this year.  Mostly, I'm just tired...from the year and of testing.  But there was one little story....

We--8th Grade--were first.  Work out the kinks with the most experienced group.  Some particulars aligned just right for a perfect storm this year.  For instance, new testing coordinator and new principal--who had been out until about 2 weeks before the tests started.

And, then, on the first day of SBAC (we still do Science in one day, under the old testing format--which isn't as "intense" as SBAC)'s the story.

In late March, staff met to discuss the SBAC schedule.  At that time, testing was to start on May 2 (with 8th Grade ELA), and run until June 1, with testing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Fridays for make-ups.  At that meeting, a staff member proposed a compressed schedule—testing over 3 weeks, five days a week. 

On April 13, we got an email with the new compressed schedule, with this line: Unless there are other concerns that haven’t been addressed, this will be our schedule moving forward.  That came as something of a surprise, and some staff raised concerns.  For instance, ELA testing had been shrunk down from 3 days to 2.  My 8th Grade ELA colleague and I expressed a desire to have 3 days for ELA.

On April 18, we got an email saying that the Classroom Activity portion (a half hour class room discussion before starting the test) of the Performance Task was dropped.  

The schedule published on the web site and handed out to staff retained 3 days for 8thGrade ELA, and my colleague and I both told our students that we would have 3 days. 

The ELA CAT (day one of the three--readings with questions) was fine (May 8).  On the morning of May 9 (day 1 of the 2-day PT, in which students create longer responses to readings, drawing on the multiple sources the test itself offers), I sent the following email to 8th grade Test Administrators:

The Performance Task portion of the ELA test involves some reading (and listening) with short answer questions, then the lengthier essay (which could be any type—narrative, explanatory or persuasive).  2 sections, in other words.   There is, I believe, a firewall between the two.  Once you go to the essay section, you can’t go back to the previous section.  But you can start in on the second section today, and that work will be there the next day.

So far (2 years), it has seemed that students get through the initial reading and short answer section today, easily.  Some students then charge right into the essay work and are done with both today—and they really shouldn’t be.    Other students come back tomorrow and do a most cursory review of the previous day’s work and then submit.  And some students use both days fully.

(My colleague) and I have always encouraged students to do the following:

·         Do the initial section work—today.
·         Do some sort of preparatory work before actually starting to write the essay.  (We’ve never mandated what, how much or how long, but we have always strongly encouraged students to take their time and to do some sort of prewriting.)  Personally, I’d think that some decently full draft of the essay today would be reasonable.  At least an outline.
·         Come back the next day and reread (with a critical eye) their work, so they can do real revision.  It’s not unreasonable to encourage them to not even start immediately on the third day.  Take plenty of time getting themselves back into it, if they prefer.
·         Take breaks—mentally—between rounds of revision, in order to get some “distance” from the writing and thereby enable revising to be as productive as possible.

About 10 minutes later, the new test coordinator told me that all work done on day 1 would be frozen for day 2.  That had not been the case before (but he later read the testing manual and found that he was 1 work would be accessible on day 2). 

About 7:55 AM, I asked the principal to confirm the expectations.  She said she would ask the district assessment coordinator about Segment 1 and Segment 2 guidelines and expectations, and send out an email.

We began logging into the test about 8:10.  Most students were taking their test by about 8:20.

At 8:45, we got this email (from Asst. to Testing Coordinator, for the Principal):

Students are NOT to move on when they finish PT Part 1, students are to pause the test and then shut down the computer.  I will check in with everyone at around 9:30ish to get counts of how many students are still testing.

At 8:56, we got this email (from Principal):

PT Part 1 is taking a lot less time than anticipated.

We are GOING ON to PT Part 2 today. That means all kids will need to keep testing and finish today.

9:03, (from Asst. to Testing Coordinator, for the Principal):

You cannot go back to and work on anything from Part 1
[T]hose that move on will need to finish everything.  Rewrites and all

9:04, (8th Grade Proctor):

I think the 7th grade has students go on to part 2 and then has students WRITE their graphic organizer and do their pre-write ON PAPER first.  Then, tomorrow they type part 2. 

9:05, (Another 8th Grade Proctor):

So no testing tomorrow?

9:06, (from Asst. to Testing Coordinator, for the Principal):

Not if we are all done.  They have to finish Part 2 today

And 9:07, (from Asst. to Testing Coordinator, for the Principal):

Those students that do not finish Part 2 today will move to the extended testing site and finish their test there.

10:32, (from Asst. to Testing Coordinator, for the Principal):

Here’s the plan… Send all students who do not finish to the Library Computer Lab @ 11 am, Counselors will begin a new test session there and the downstairs computer lab if needed.
Please don’t forget to walk the students’ cards to Counselors.

11:02 (Principal)

ALL kids on part 1 go to library now to cont and finish part 1
ALL on part 2 pause and will continue tomorrow.

Of course, by this point, some proctors had already sent their continuing testers on to the library. 

The key issue is that we told them they’d have 2 days…that was familiar (from the last 2 years), and they have some internal understanding of how that works.

And we changed it to one day—after the test has started. 
Even if they’ve only unconsciously “planned” (and they have at least unconsciously planned), that’s a tough readjustment to make, once the test is in motion. 

So, I don’t mind one day, but switching from two to one, after we’ve started was disruptive.

 Everything worked out...we're all fine.  I do wonder if there might be some marginal impact on a few students' scores.  Certainly was not the way a standardized test is supposed to be standardly (if you will) given.

I can only imagine how many times something unusual like this played out across the whole testing universe.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Technology will make ALL parts of life better!

A colleague, who chidingly tries to convince me that technology tools make most teaching and learning better, sent me an article, All Writing Can Be Better Through Technology.

I couldn't even finish the article.  Couldn't get past this: can provide feedback throughout the learning process. In both Google Docs and Office 365, teachers can leave real-time comments on students’ work while they’re writing.

I'll state the obvious first.  The feedback doesn't make all writing better.  It might (MIGHT) make the feedback process easier for the teacher, but by sleight of hand, the author has played upon the unspoken assumption of technophiles that when something is done through technological means it gets done more smoothly, more efficiently (in the procedure) and therefore more effectively (in the outcome).

That, of course, is a debatable assumption, but please recognize it as the assumption it is.

Second, just how is leaving comments something done in real time?  What does real time mean here?   That the student and teacher are on the technology at the same time, so the student can get instant feedback at the very time that they're working?    If it's something less than that, what the teacher has done is a leave a comment at one point in time, that the student will see at another point in time, and then you don't have anything that could seriously be called real time.  And if real time does mean simultaneous, then the teacher can really only serve each student one at a time, sequentially.  Just like a teacher would do in live (real time!) interactions. 

And, of course, a teacher can give real time feedback throughout the learning process without any technology--well, two chairs and a desk, perhaps.

So in the end, it might be logistically easier (a bit) to give feedback by way of a computer, but writing gets better through technology?  Shouldn't the title be Teacher Feedback Can Be Slightly Easier Through Technology?   But that's just not as stylish an idea, is it?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Writing Camp, 2017

Writing Camp
August 7-11 2017

At Writing Camp, young writers will
  • practice a variety of writing skills
  • build self-confidence as writers
  • sharpen analytical skills
  • develop writing skills for self-expression
  • create essays, stories, poems and plays

At camp, we will work on a variety of writing forms and structures, among several purposes for different audiences.

My goal is to work some each day on non-fiction essays (expository and persuasive), narrative stories, and a little bit of poetry and drama.  We'll read (and work on summarizing, conclusion-drawing, inference-making, etc.) some, too, since reading is an essential input into writing.  In the process of our writing, we'll work on the component pieces of a written work (thesis statements, key ideas, evidence for non-fiction work; narrative arc for stories, poetic elements for poetry), and exercise our skills at developing and following structures for organizing.

Most of all, I want each camper to get both a little better and a little more comfortable with writing, so that s/he will want to do more of it, and thereby continue to get better and more comfortable through the on-going practice of the craft.

August 7-11, 2017
9 AM-1 PM
Faith Presbyterian Church

The camp is intended for students entering 7th, 8th or 9th grades, but I can discuss the possibilities of slightly younger and older students participating.

My background--I've taught middle school
English for 11 years and college political
science for 19 years.  I've authored
numerous books and essays (links for some of which you can find to the right).

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cool Fail

When I was a young'un, we used to watch Schoolhouse Rock cartoons that taught some mini-lesson about government (the Preamble) or English grammar (Conjunction Junction) and so on.  They were the occasional interstitial material between Bugs and Road Runner episodes...and I remember waiting and hoping for them to come on.  They are so memorable, in fact, that if you ask almost anybody, they'll hum the tune from their favorite SR installment.  Even young'uns today. Somehow (YouTube, etc.), kids 40 years later know these ditties, and--maybe--a bit of the lessons they taught.  (My colleague uses the Preamble song to help his students memorize the Preamble.)

So today when we watched CNN Student News and they "rapped it up" with a bad--musically speaking--rapped summary of the content, I found that I wanted to turn it off, not listen again.  And I realized how silly it is that adults try to appropriate some sort of supposedly cool cultural form by which to smuggle some informational material into the minds of youngsters.  

That seems a dead end, to me.  If rap (or any other cultural product enjoyed by youngsters) is badly contorted to another end--especially one seen as less "cool"--it will fall flat, because it will fall much flatter than anything "organically" of the genre.

Schoolhouse Rock, by contrast, carved out its own niche, with a cultural product that wasn't derivative of an already existing form that kids connected to and thought desirable/cool already.   I liked both Led Zeppelin and Schoolhouse Rock.  But I would have hated a lesson on conjunctions set to a bad ripoff of Led Zeppelin.  It would have seemed "fake."

Schoolhouse Rock created its own kind of dorky cool, which works much more memorably and enduringly than bad cultural appropriation.  20 minutes later, I can't even remember anything about the schoolhouse rap.

Update--March 2
It's Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day today.  For a similar reason as described above--though from a different angle--I don't like this day, either.  We're trying to encourage youngsters upward in their reading, and I wonder if this encourages downward instead.  I loved Dr. Seuss when my own children were 5.  But I don't want to go to a college graduation and hear a young adult admonishing his/her class mates with Oh, the places you'll go.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

What have we done?

This snapshot--indicating the participation thus far in class surveys I am running--is part of a story about what strange things we've developed in youngsters.

I created a survey--one for each class period--to ask students about their sense of readiness and capability for the SBAC, the annual standardized test.  I emailed to both students and parents to ask that the students do the survey, and I included a link right to the survey appropriate to their class period.

Over night, I got 9 responses from the first group--which now has 15, 2 from the second, which now has 7, 1 from the third, and none from the fourth and fifth.  

12 total responses, out of 115 students.

When I told the class that had 9 (out of 25) that they had done the best, one student exclaimed, "Can we have a pizza party?"

I was despairing already--about how badly they'd done with their Parts of Speech work, so I slipped.  And my response was, "You know how many pizza parties we had when I was a student..?  NONE!"

A pizza party!?  Because barely 1/3 of the students had taken a 2-minute quiz...and they just happened to outperform the other 4 classes!?

Years ago, I asked what consequence the Wow! Effect of things like letter learning with singing birds on iPads would have.  I wonder if pizza parties for answering a 7-question survey is the answer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll was the rock star pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill, in Seattle, until he--and then the church--unraveled in accusation and recrimination.  He's power hungry, some said.  He has anger problems, others claimed.  Plenty came to see him as something of a megalomaniac with control issues.  The leadership tried to rein him in, but he seemed to prefer to reign (or so it appeared).  So he left, and the church imploded, cutting all the remote campuses loose to do whatever they could/would.  
So last fall one of my Pierce students saw that Francis Fukuyama's arguments about how the awkward realities of personality-based organizations (states or churches, apparently) can lead to organizational (and "political") decay as helpful in understanding the spectacular collapse of Driscoll and Mars Hill.

When presenting, he said it simply enough.  

Something like this, You had to get on the bus...the bus he created and was driving.  But he lost his way and the bus broke down.  And now he's left alone, with a broken down bus.

I like that it appears to be out back, behind the building.  It's a kind of concrete metaphoric rendering of the situation...and I like the way it works.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Lord of the Flies Art

I have said a variety of things about Lord of the Flies in the last couple years.  I lamented that standardized testing doesn't motivate us to capture some of the things that are really interesting about the book.  Likewise, here.  And here, some of the fun of the Chief-led class.

But today, some art, in the voice--as it were--of a student.  Both of these are by the same artist, and both are quite interesting and effective.

I like that we can't see faces, but can discern that the boys are mesmerized by something.  Is it the sun?  Or the hint of the "beast" barely concealed in the bushes?

The backs--rather than fronts--of heads characterize this piece, too.  I can't figure out why I like this piece so much, but I do.

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Student Art

For one assignment (in late November/early December, so after the election) in the Intro to Politics course I taught last fall at Pierce College, I offered an art option.  My instruction was to create a piece that expressed your thoughts, views, values, preferences, etc. about anything in "politics."  I use the quote marks there to indicate the fact that I told them that you could render almost anything as politics, or political.  Indeed, I noted, Marx was wrong...everything isn't economics, it's politics.  But that's an argument for another day.

This piece generated a lengthy and interesting discussion about identity, group orientation, the social politics in the US today, etc.   I can't remember all the artist even said about the piece, but I was grateful for the conversation.

Detail, from the bottom left corner.  Thank YOU, Hannah...I appreciate your work.

Post-Modern Education

I don't think I ever posted this, from last year.  It appeared in Christian Renewal last summer...screen shots from an emailed digital version appear below.

I should say that I'm still in public school, still want to be in public school...and I'm very frustrated with what is happening there.   

Indeed, I enjoy the challenge of trying to insinuate some of this post-modernity into my classes, but it's daunting challenge.

A lecture series at George Fox University last year asked participants to consider the ramifications of  Living in Postmodern America.   I was invited to give the talk on education, which caused me to ponder whether teaching, learning and school are, in fact, postmodern.  The simple answer to that is yes and no--yes, teaching and learning are postmodern activities, but no, education, as a system, is intensely Modern, and fundamentally hinders the process of teaching and learning.
Modernity is bureaucratic, which means it is organized, structured and numerated.  Postmodernity is, by contrast, situational—in other words, constructed, subjective and relational.  Education, the social and collective endeavor to deliver teaching and learning to students, is highly bureaucratic, and getting more so by the day.   The bureaucrats who populate those bureaucracies, and who organize and measure the minutiae of the activities of our lives and work, are the hallmark of Modern life.  And education bureaucrats (or, educrats, if you will) numerate and measure features of education that bear little relevance or connection to the complicated relational reality of teaching and learning.
Consider the push to create more thorough and comprehensive standardized testing.  This requires outcomes measured in numerable ways, which render evaluation and assessment both valid (that is, objectively measurable and comparable) and easy.  Along the way, of course, more standardized testing stimulates the inevitable, even if unintended, standardization of learning and curriculum, and this Modernization elevates and prefers assessment devices that can be easily compared, and numerated test results do precisely that.  And the infinite loop of bureaucracy’s self-fulfilling order runs on.
 Modernity’s impact extends beyond the practical problem of standardized testing to the philosophy of education, though.  The Enlightenment bequeathed us rationality, and a philosophy of science and an epistemology that elevate empiricism and the observable and confirmable above all other forms of knowing and understanding. If it can’t be observed (measured) and confirmed, then we don’t know it’s true.  The social science literature—from political science to organization studies—abounds with analyses of how bureaucracies fixate on concretely measurable things, which too often grossly misapprehend the breadth and depth of a situation.  This is true—and astoundingly so—of the growing education bureaucracy today.
 The culture in school is clearly that the data will show the real picture, data don’t lie, and good numbers will always be smiled upon.  So, Modernity hums along, having given us a rationalism and empiricism that tilt toward the accumulation of ever more (questionably useful) data.  And education—the social endeavor—marches in step with Modernity’s tune.
 Modernity’s grip on Education, thereby, infringes on and alters the relational activities of teaching and learning.  This reality gives (or, should give) Christian parents pause.  For people who take their children’s education so seriously, it’s no surprise that home schooling or private Christian school are so often preferred over the highly bureaucratized public school.
Christianity is about relationships—our individual relationship to God, through our relationship to Christ; our relationship to our neighbors and strangers; and our relationship to our families, not least of which is parents’ relationship to their children.  And a fundamental aspect of that relationship is the educating of those children.  

But many Christians “fear” Postmodernism, of course—it is thought to be the font of self-oriented, subjective, relativist philosophy from which flows every pathology of contemporary secular America.  But in the all too typical cyclicality of human thinking and endeavor, postmodernity’s ascendance looks plenty like a return to premodernity, and in ways that can be perfectly comfortable to Christians.
Where Modernity relies on an empiricism that repudiates truth claims that can’t be verified by rationalist science, the “Pre is Post again Modernity” emphasizes a reliance on language—not numbers.  Postmodernity’s emphasis on intersubjectivity focuses on stories, as told by people, akin to the way the Bible uses personal stories to testify to God’s and Christ’s work.
Moreover, postmodernism opens up room for a robust notion of theology, even if only unintentionally.  Where Modernity begat academic disciplines that have increasingly segregated both enquiry and understanding in closely guarded silos, postmodernity breaks down those disciplinary boundaries, encouraging knowledge and understanding to be applied across the range of human endeavor and understanding, similar--at least procedurally--to the way Christ-centeredness reaches into every domain of a Christian’s life.
The complex web of learning and thinking indicated here hearkens back to something like the classical education so many Christians have so long sought for their children.  Seeking wisdom from ancient examples (through the stories of the lives and times of those people) is something like a postmodern return to the premodern, and is completely unModern.
This brings us full circle, for the Common Core State Standards—and the accompanying testing processes—are fundamentally at odds with classical teaching and learning.  Where classical approaches value the knowledge and wisdom accumulated through the ages, the CCSS establish skills as the paramount virtue.  Finding the main idea (and identifying the passage that communicates that) is more important in the new philosophy of Education than pursuing any particular set of ideas and values.  Texts need not be prioritized for their content or meaning, rather each and all can be mined for quasi-technical elements like main point and supporting evidence…all the better for standardized tests that must be easily gradable in order to generate the required data that will tell us how Education in America is going.

As a teacher in the Modern system, I can attest that the bureaucratic endeavor called Education is going nowhere fast, especially as far as what Christians want for the teaching and learning relationships that comprise their children’s lives.  As a parent who sends his child to a classical Christian school, the possibilities for teaching and learning, which I have here described as postmodern, are still wide open, but not in a Modern public school.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Where are US--oops, WE--going?

For one assignment (in late November/early December, so after the election) in the Intro to Politics course I taught last fall at Pierce College, I offered an art option.  My instruction was to create a piece that expressed your thoughts, views, values, preferences, etc. about anything in "politics."  I use the quote marks there to indicate the fact that I told them that you could render almost anything as politics, or political.  Indeed, I noted, Marx was wrong...everything isn't economics, it's politics.  But that's an argument for another day.

I liked several of the pieces that the artists presented, and I'll offer up some others later.  But for now, this one, which seems apropos in a particular and special way in this current political climate.

In fact, I won't even explain, interpret or analyze what you see...have what response you want.

Friday, February 10, 2017

If Donald Trump were a...

...character from Lord of the Flies, which would he be?

We--my 8th graders and I--are in the middle of the novel.  In case you forget (or haven't read it), a group of English schoolboys, ages 6-13ish, are stuck alone on an island...without any adults.  They elect Ralph as Chief, though nobody is quite sure why.  Piggy is the most sensible, but he's ostracized by the others because he's overweight.  Jack is the natural leader, but he's also overbearing...pushing for the authority he thinks is rightly his to have.  Simon seems weird (see below) because he's a sensitive introvert.

So, part way through (in the midst of chapter 6, if you know the novel that well), we talked about authority and character, and I asked for some thoughts on various aspects of governance.  One thing I asked was, which character most seems like President Trump and why.

Here are the answers (from those who gave them) of my 8th graders....

President Trump is like…
Jack, because he
Piggy, because he
Ralph, because he
Simon, because
·   only does what wants
·   is bad
·   may have some good ideas but he is somewhat stubborn and not the best listener
·   says what he wants to do
·   doesn’t care about other peoples’ opinions
·   makes decisions without really thinking about the consequences
·   is ambitious
·   isn’t very accepting or open-minded
·   is talking smack about everyone, with no fear
·   makes courageous and dangerous decisions, and will end terribly
·   biased
·   hard-headed and does everything his way
·   power hungry, rude and unethical
·   makes bold statements and doesn’t care what other people think
·   is demanding and does what he wants
·   does what he wants
·   he has to be in control of everything and blames others when he’s at fault
·   wants whatever whenever
·   has a huge ego
·   wants his way
·   likes to control people
·   is clear about what he wants
·   thinks he’s a better leader than he might actually be
·   he doesn’t listen
·   he wants to have power
·   he doesn’t care what he says as long as he gets to be in charge
·   he’s brash and aggressive
·   he doesn’t have a filter and he’s very argumentative
·   he’s confident and says what he wants
·   he’s demanding
·   he’s got a one-track mind (business) and he always disputes people
·   he’s selfish and demanding
·   he alienates people
·   he’s brash and headstrong
·   he is controlling
·   he does what he wants
·   he needs to make himself important
·   he gets savage toward those who disagree with him
·   he’s self-centered
·   he actually takes charge
·   he’s rash
·   he can be mean
·   he bullies

·   has good ideas but nobody sees it
·   is smart and an out of the box thinker
·   is trying to help; trying to control
·   can help
·   follows the rules and tries to make things right
·   thinks outside the box (and they both probably got beaten up at school)

·   Is a know-it-all and people are beginning to rebel
·   makes decisions and backs them up with evidence
·   smart, but demanding
·   is trying to maintain order but people keep ruining it
·   is trying to keep everything in order
·   is trying to maintain order
·   is the leader…and he’s demanding
·   has no idea what he’s doing
·   doesn’t know what he’s doing
·   thinks he’s the only who can be a leader
·   is demanding and straight up
·   is mean and influential
·   wants a lot of attention on himself
·   is not knowing what to do
·   doesn’t know what he’s doing
           They’re both weird in some way