• What Is Missing From Our Curricula? - EdSurge News

    Posted by Desmond Poyser on 9/7/2018

    What Is Missing From Our Curricula?

    By Katrina Stevens and Matt Greenfield     Sep 4, 2018

    What Is Missing From Our Curricula?

    As Atul Gawande, a surgeon and New Yorker writer, walked by his hospital’s newest construction project, he wondered how something so large and complex could possibly be managed. He had once constructed a bookcase that instantly fell apart. If a structurally sound bookshelf already proved hard to build, how can one ever manage the construction of a modern high-rise building with its intricate and interlocking web of requirements for structural support, safety, disaster preparation and project management, to name only a few of the complexities?

    The answer, as he explains in “The Checklist Manifesto,” is a multidisciplinary profession known as structural engineering. The structural engineer in charge of construction for Gawande’s hospital shared with him that he has to factor cost, esthetics, physics, and even organizational behavior into his planning. He had to be ready to help resolve unexpected problems, and he had to be sure that his solutions wouldn’t create new problems. Where and how do young people learn these skills?

    Learning by doing has been a thread in U.S. schooling for young children since John Dewey’s time. But for teens, and even most younger children, “seat time” is literally the customary unit and method of learning. The management of ultra-complex projects is not learned through sitting down in class for a specific amount of time, and is one of many things under-emphasized in most school curricula.

    Many of these skills naturally appear in career and technical education (CTE) classes such as 3D design, carpentry, game design, or extracurricular activities such as theater, journalism, and through internships. But how can we integrate more of these skills into core academic classes such as English, algebra, physics and social studies? One approach is to incorporate more project-based learning and real-world connections into classrooms. The Buck Institute for Education, for example, has been supporting project based-learning across schools and organizations for 20 years.

    Some organizations, including JFF, are working with schools to more explicitly illuminate and strengthen connections between school and work. We identified several dozen of these organizations in the recent JFF Work-Based Learning Scan, which included an examination of the landscape of tech-based programs and tools that offer opportunities for students to experience virtual workplaces and have access to the kinds of skills they would learn on the job.

    For example, Nepris, a Houston-based company, connects professionals in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) fields to classrooms to give lessons related to their jobs. An ornithologist or an engineer, for instance, might use a videoconference to help teach a math lesson. Students can also take virtual field trips to learn about professional work settings like car factories, blood labs, or tech startups. LifeJourney is another organization that provides real-world examples of STEAM professionals sharing how their course of study equipped them with the skills they need for their current careers.

    While our school districts tout a focus on college and career readiness, most educators believe there is a meaningful distinction between CTE and college preparatory education. Reinforcing that distinction, however, divides and impoverishes both.

    Work-based learning can be a valuable solution to bridge this divide and enrich student learning. At its best, work-based learning integrates academics with real-world application of knowledge and skills to provide paths to educational and career advancement, while also building students’ professional networks and employers’ talent pipelines. This approach holds especially great promise for low-income and lower-skilled youth and adults, who all too often lack equitable access to high-quality work-based learning experiences that can serve as stepping stones to increased economic opportunities.

    While the best way to learn how to be a structural engineer is interning or apprenticing in a workplace, at this juncture the demand for workplace experiences far exceeds capacity to provide them in real time for high school students. Yet the startup space is exploding with innovative solutions that might expand access to work-based learning programs. To support this momentum, JFFLabs, the innovation engine of JFF, is accepting applications for its Work-Based Learning Accelerator through September 21, 2018, with the aim of helping these companies grow and succeed.

    It’s also important to note that we need to broaden our definition of success beyond purely academic measures and contextualize work-based learning within adolescent and adult development. Work creates the opportunity to increase a sense of belonging and purpose, as well as develop confidence in one’s identity—all important aspects of healthy human development. Self-direction is also important for general well-being.

    As we broaden our definition of success, we simultaneously need to design innovative assessments that capture more than academic outcomes and which realistically match real-world challenges. Traditional high-stakes testing does not capture a student’s ability to handle complex projects such as managing a construction site, or even putting together a small robot.

    These are better ways to demonstrate capabilities than transcripts filled with colorless, contextless grades. Truly rare are those careers where employees advance based on their ability to regularly answer multiple-choice questions correctly!

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  • Why you are wrong if you think creative writing is a "frivolous waste of time"

    Posted by Desmond Poyser on 1/29/2018

    Why you are wrong if you think creative writing is a ‘frivolous waste of time’

     January 28 at 11:48 AM 

    In 2014, Benjamin Warner taught creative writing and poetry to homeless participants at Shepherd’s Table, a resource center attached to Community Visions in Silver Spring. Under his tutelage, students completed a small book of their writings. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

    If you think creative writing is a “frivolous waste of time,” you are just plain wrong.

    So writes English teacher Justin Parmenter, who laments that writing has become “little more than an afterthought” in this era when standardized testing reigns supreme, with serious consequences for students.

    Parmenter, an educator for more than 20 years, teaches seventh-grade language arts at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte and is a fellow with Hope Street Group’s North Carolina Teacher Voice Network, which provides feedback to education policymakers.

    His first teaching job was at a school on the White Mountain Apache Reservation in the poorest county in Arizona, where young people face extraordinary challenges. He started his career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania and taught in Istanbul. He was a finalist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Teacher of the Year in 2016, and you can find him on Twitter here: @JustinParmenter

    This first appeared in Teachers & Writers Magazine, which gave me permission to publish it here.

    Ask any English teacher what he or she could use more of, and chances are you’ll get the same answer.  Classroom resources are great, more money would be nice, but what we really need is more time.

    Just like in any other discipline, English teachers have way more curriculum than we can cover in a year.  Time constraints force educators to prioritize by order of what feels most important, and all too often that importance is determined by what’s going to be on the test.

    Our students pay the price as activities that cultivate essential real-world skills such as collaboration and creativity and provide them with a much more engaging and well-rounded education are eliminated from their classes.

    Educators are under enormous pressures stemming from a data-driven culture most recently rooted in No Child Left Behind and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in which the ultimate measure of professional and academic success is a standardized test score.

    As a result of this standardized testing culture, many of our English students spend way too much time reading random passages which are completely detached from their lives and answering multiple choice questions in an attempt to improve test results.  In many classrooms, writing has become little more than an afterthought.

    Creative writing, in particular, is seen by some as a frivolous waste of time because its value is so difficult to justify with data.

    Two decades before the advent of No Child Left Behind, the research of influential literacy professor Gail Tompkins identified seven compelling reasons why children should spend time writing creatively in class: 

    • to entertain
    • to foster artistic expression
    • to explore the functions and values of writing
    • to stimulate imagination
    • to clarify thinking
    • to search for identity
    • to learn to read and write

    The majority of Tompkins’s outcomes of creative writing could never be measured on today’s standardized tests.  Indeed, over the same period that standardized reading tests have pushed writing in English classes to the sidelines, efforts to evaluate student writing on a broad, systematic scale have dwindled.  Measuring student writing is expensive, and accurately assessing abstract thinking requires human resources most states aren’t willing to pony up.  It’s much cheaper to score a bubble sheet.

    Measurement and assessment aside, the soft skills that we cultivate through regular creative writing with our students have tremendous real-world application as well as helping to promote the kind of atmosphere we want in our classrooms.  After many years as an English teacher, I’ve found that carving out regular time for creative writing in class provides benefits for me and my students that we simply don’t get from other activities.

    One of the benefits of creative writing in the classroom is how engaging it is for our students.  In general, much of our curriculum follows a one-size-fits-all design and allows little room for freedom of exploration. For young people who are at a time in life when many of their decisions are made for them, this lack of power can be very demotivating and can negatively impact their interest and effort.  To do their best work, students need to feel that school is about them, and they need to feel connected to the content on a personal level.   When students are given opportunities to experiment with their voices and create through their own original work, they feel a sense of place and they are able to feel in charge.  That’s when they shine.

    A former student and talented writer told me the following about her relationship with creative writing in the classroom: 

    Creative writing is important to me because it gives me a way to express myself. There are not a lot of ways, as a young teenager, to be able to freely express ideas and emotions. Many are personal feelings you wouldn’t really want to share with others. But in writing you can put all of those mixed emotions into words. Next thing you know, you’ve created an entirely different universe, with characters close to your heart. Everything is under your complete control. That is not something that you can experience in reality, even reading a book. The feeling that you have created something, something that you can call your own, is what makes it incredible.

    When we empower our students to create something that is only theirs, to make big choices in their writing, it can transform attitudes toward learning and school in general.  Having students who are motivated to work to their full potential is a dream scenario for any teacher.  Regular creative writing can help us to move in that direction.


    Another very real benefit of creative writing in the classroom is that it can help to develop a sense of community among our students.  In our bitterly polarized society, any activity that fosters empathy and collaboration is well worth our time.

    Students can share writing with each other at the drafting phase, working together to hone their individual stories.  This teamwork allows our students to support each other and work to understand each other’s perspectives.  In addition to peer editing, having students co-author creative pieces, whether as an informal “chain story” type activity or a longer, more polished product, can go a long way in nurturing the skills required for effective partnership.  Sharing responsibility in the creative process serves as a powerful motivator for our students, often leading to better quality writing.



    It’s unlikely that our English teachers are going to get the additional time they so desperately need.  What we’re left with is the task of prioritizing class content in such a way that we’re truly meeting all the needs of our students. 

    Data is an important tool in helping us to measure how well we’re meeting those needs, but our definition of data must be broad enough to include outcomes that can’t be captured with a standardized test.  We must trust our English teachers to plan instruction that is in the best interests of their students and to know when they’ve succeeded.

    As a regular part of that instruction, creative writing can empower our students and give them ownership so critical to their motivation.  It can provide them essential practice at partnering with their peers in a world where more effective collaboration is sorely needed.

    At its most powerful, creative writing can help turn our English courses into the life-changing experience that all educators want their classes to be.

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  • Newsday - Letter to the Editor by Jo-Ann Nowidzinski, Jericho

    Posted by Desmond Poyser on 10/17/2017

    Skeptical about federal school award

    Here’s what’s wrong with the National Blue Ribbon School awards [“5 LI high schools at top of class,” News, Sept. 29].

    First, U.S. schools lag behind other nations when it comes to international academic standards. The federal government doesn’t highlight those bad statistics.

    Second, criteria for the award are either academic achievement or improvement. These should be separate awards. The Roosevelt school district, which was not cited in this story, went from so bad it had to be taken over by the state to later having its schools removed from the state’s list of those that are struggling. That’s the kind of achievement that should be given the federal blue ribbon!

    Then there are poor schools that, compared to wealthy schools, have teachers and students achieving just as well with the money they have!

    Finally, the academic performance and test scores are not the only way we should judge a good school. America also needs electricians, plumbers and high-skilled construction workers. Many are high-income earners without college degrees. Police officers retire with incomes higher than average. The military offers good jobs, too. Is a college degree needed? Schools should recognize that not all students need to enter a life of school-related debt.

    Jo-Ann Nowodzinski, Jericho


    See the full article on Newsday here.

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