Category Archives: Education

No Homework. An Argument in the Social Media Circus.

The first time my son heard the word “Homework” he screamed, ran to his bedroom, slammed the door and locked it.

He was three years old and his older sister decided it was time he got some homework too so she told him she was going to give him homework. That’s when the screaming began.

What does it really mean when schools, teachers, and advocates cry, no homework?

no-homework-jpg

We’ve all either been there or seen it. Seemingly endless hours of homework awaiting you. The desire to turn away from it burns so fiercely that you actually shove it to the side and watch TV instead. Maybe you just go outside and play games or just lie there on the ground thinking of creative ways to get out of ever having to do it at all.

As a parent and a teacher, I always feel conflicted about any subject involving homework.

On the one hand, I’ve been up until midnight, helping my child finish homework because the teacher never even taught the lesson assigned for homework. I know this because the teacher admitted it as if it was perfectly acceptable to do such a thing.

On the other, I’ve considered the whole idea of assigning nothing for homework and I do that but only sometimes. However, the bottom line remains that there isn’t enough time in the classroom to reinforce and cover everything. The other problem that now exists involves social media and electronics.

You see, savvy parents and teachers know something very important about homework. Without it, our children won’t read books, and they certainly won’t relinquish the highly addictive realm of electronics. In fact, most children become so lost in this world that it’s almost a losing battle to try and take it away from them.

Homework fixes that fast.

Parents and teachers who are truly honest with themselves know this.

So when I look at all the books and arguments that pundits such as Andy Khon make against homework, I really do sympathize with the argument for no homework, but I can’t agree.

The real problem is teachers who don’t support children or give them a chance to make up work. The real problem is an educational system that doesn’t understand a child’s life may be very difficult so too much homework won’t help them.

Andy Khon makes some good points about just how disconcerting the system is.

However, without homework, children lose too much.

So, what then is homework for?

  1. They need to read and not just in school. Without reading assignments, many parents just won’t encourage children to read. They’re too busy and tired, so it’s very easy to just allow them to play video games or play on their iPad—where they watch endless hours of YouTube, which can be valuable and can also be a bottomless pit of nonsense, some of it shocking depending on the perspective.
  2. They need reinforcement. There are a few ways teachers know how well their students understood the material taught in class. One very valuable tool is homework. Through that, I can help them better understand vocabulary or concepts that I thought they understood but didn’t.
  3. They need training. They are growing so fast that soon they will need to set aside time to study for quizzes and tests. How do they learn to do this? By getting bad grades? Or, by doing some homework? It’s the same thing.
  4. They need opportunities. If handled the right way, students use homework to raise their grades and learn creatively through projects and guided assignments that help them flourish.

Social media has a way of making us believe ideas are great momentarily. We like it. We share it. We reblog it. We repeat it. We follow it.

When, in reality, all these naysayers had to do homework to be able to write and speak the way they do. Many of them don’t have to grapple with the day-to-day problems parents, who work until late at night and can’t spend time with their children, have to deal with.

Argument

If teachers and parents work together, homework actually benefits children and helps them grow and become better in every subject, which in turn helps them find their purpose in life, whatever that may be.

What’s your argument?

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Distracted by Distractions

Watching students test has become an obsession for me, as a teacher and as a mom. I first began studying The Test about 10 years ago.

I had always held a deep disdain for even the mention of the word “test” while plowing through my school years. I hated tests because I’d shut down and perform poorly on tests. This happened after an encounter with a terrible test at a young age. So, I began to loathe testing.

mctest

It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I felt compelled to study and ultimately understand the process of taking a test. After all, teachers have to create tests so I needed to know exactly how I should start, so I searched different websites dedicated to teaching educators how to create tests.

I began with multiple choice questions and answers because those were the kinds of test items that made no sense to me. I rarely understood why my answer was wrong when teachers reviewed answers with my classes.

The reviews usually consisted of teachers ticking off the right answers and only explaining one or two in a very matter of fact way, as if to say, “Don’t you dare question the logic of the test.”

So, I never did. I only questioned my intelligence, which meant I thought I was an idiot. Until now.

The first question I had

was why in the hell am I creating a multiple choice test anyway? Where did the damn thing come from?

The Washington Post has a great article about the origins of the multiple choice test. The writer also adds some background information about how educators assess students and questions the validity of the act of testing at all. It’s definitely worth the read. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/13/AR2006111301007.html

According to The Washington Post, an educator named Frederick J. Kelly, the Dean of Education at the University of Kansas, created the first multiple-choice test in 1914. From that point on, that style of testing mushroomed into what we find students struggling over throughout their educational life.

So when I sat down to research the very idea of creating the multiple choice tests, I found a mountain of information on the subject. So much information, that I really had to sift through it quickly or I could’ve been reading for months nonstop.

The most surprising and most valuable information was the method of using a distractor in the multiple-choice answers.

Ironically enough, the word “distraction” has become the 21st century go-to word to describe everything associated with everything electronic and has young students drowning in schools.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a student test nowadays, you’d see very quickly how and why students often struggle with standardized tests. First, they see a paper with words on it and cringe. If it’s on the computer, they won’t cringe but that doesn’t mean they’ll concentrate on the material being presented to them, especially if it requires reading.

Most unsuccessful students seem to skim or scan whatever they’re reading and answer the questions by returning to the text to search for answers, which means that they’ve most likely missed the main point of the passage, which then throws off their answers to just about everything.

They end up with low scores and are left feeling stupid, anxious, and defeated.

They go home and become more addicted to the distractions that help them to feel confident, happy, and friendly—gaming and social media.

These are the distractions that reward them. The test drains them. And, we, parents and teachers, feel twice as frustrated and confused.

However, by observing this, every year I don’t begin my multiple choice creations with distractors. I begin my journey with my own brand of distractions.

And it works.

Written by Lisa Chesser

This post and others to follow will focus on teaching and helping children succeed in school. I’m working on a book that will have more details on sifting through the minds of children in order to help them find success in a system that often destroys their ability to succeed.

Distractor Rationale

http://images.pearsonassessments.com/images/tmrs/tmrs_rg/distractor_rationales.pdf

The Zika Monster

Everywhere you turn, you hear a buzzing sound–that high-pitched synchronicity peeling through your eardrum deep into the dead of night.

That’s me.

Every night.

Even when there’s nothing really there.

I had planned to begin this blog post by focusing solely on education because I’m trying so hard to stick to the just to that topic of which I’ve dedicated my last 10 years of life to, but I just can’t do it.

See, I live in Florida, in particular Miami.

Miami is all over the news along with the earthquake in Italy and the campaign for the presidency.

In Miami, however, the Zika virus has dominated the attention of everyone.

Walking the campus on the first day of school, I saw students wearing long sleeves and smelling like Off. I just smiled and asked, “How are you today?”

Normally, I’d get an “OK” or a “Really tired” or even a “Super happy” every once in a while. But, this time, I just got “Hot.”

I felt their pain as a parent and a teacher. I knew somewhere my own children reeked of Off, so I just rolled my eyes at myself.

What is Zika?

The virus delivers flu-like symptoms, lots of achiness, and a rash. Pregnant women seem to be the worst victims because of the possible effects on the fetus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people don’t usually get sick enough to even go to the hospital.

But, everyone here has already begun to panic. I received several texts telling me to use the strongest repellent possible and every time I look on Facebook, someone’s posting something about Zika. They really love giant, digitally enhanced photos of the mosquitoes with rounded, red bellies.

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Of course, though, it’s the news that always sends us into a frenzy—talking, stressing, watching, then spraying ourselves with dangerous chemicals, rarely leaving the house, but when we do we smell like mosquito spray and we’re sweating in our long-sleeve shirts and pants.

Then, as a parent, we start to worry about our children.

We contemplate insane questions such as Should I send them to school? Should I demand that they don’t participate in P.E.? Should I send them with a can of bug spray so they can re-apply it like sunscreen? Should I keep them from playing sports?

An even more pressing question for many parents especially in Miami might be Should I have my child switch schools to an area deemed “less contaminated”?

Propaganda?

We begin obsessing, only to find that we all could be infected with Zika because we all might not even show signs of the virus let alone be tested for it.

And, we all know that’s the truth down deep inside, behind our collective, paranoid mindset and the media’s ability to control that.

We should take control of our situation and dismiss the rest of the jolts of information once we know what we need to know. At least, that’s what I plan to do.

Out of all the news reports and speculation on the virus, I just read a post that reveals the insanity we are experiencing around the world and over here in Miami.

The post Propaganda Machine Takes Aim at Zika Virus compares the media coverage and viewer reaction to the bird flu and Ebola. It also breaks down the facts into digestible chunks so you understand what’s really going on as opposed to panicking.

I consider myself a fairly logical person, but I’m emotional when it comes to my children, just like most parents. That’s why it’s so important to remember that monsters live mostly in our heads.

Written by Lisa Chesser

Tapping into Anger, Hitler Youth

Youth
The eyes spill anger, the kind that festers.

Love turns to hate so quickly.

There’s a sort of hell inside a young mind. I see it every day at school and all the time at home. It’s the conflict inside all of us, but as an adult, we master it.

We live. We learn. We stop hurting so much over small problems. Most of us work on ourselves. The youth or young people seem to us to have everything while at the same time to lack the essential appreciation of that everything.

They desire too much and can’t control that desire. Some even acquire a collection of iPhones, iPads, and video games that startles the onlooker, the elder who never had anything.

They indulge in outrageous behaviors such as cutting or bullying.

They love too much, screaming and crying for a singer or rock band.

Some adults have the audacity to act the same way. And, all of it makes sense. After all, the young know how to live. Sometimes it even works to our advantage because we harness the energy level they have and use it to invigorate our lives, not harm them.

Some adults, however, know how to just be:  to live without the need to return to the youth mindset.

But, what is it about youth, that age where you’re maybe 14 and you realize that you have a period and/or hair all over your body so you grapple with ways to cope with it? You go from insecure to almost good enough.

A teenage girl might struggle with body image and find a way to control it by exercising more and improving the way she looks in the mirror and to others.

But, the events that led to her struggle damaged her so much so that her hatred for herself and others lingers. No, it festers.

What is it that makes the youth hate so much? Hate everyone they love. Hate everything about themselves. Hate the most beautiful and pleasant moments in life. Then, what is it that makes them lash out—try to destroy themselves or those around them?

I often think of Hitler Youth when I see this in a tween or teen.

He must’ve known just how angry they were and simply gave them permission, encouraged them, to act on their rage.

Read more about this in The Mindset of the Hitler-Jugend by Kyle Frabotta
June 2004.

 

Does money matter for teachers?

People used to ask me, “What do you do?”

I’d say, “I’m a Publications Specialist.” Before that I’d say, “I’m an editor, writer, graphic artist, or copy editor.” They’d nod and smile in approval and ask more questions about it. I felt respected.

Now, when people ask that question, I say, “I’m a teacher.” Their eyes pop open, sometimes there’s a gasp or a grunt or even a hiss with a dramatic “Ouch” at the end. I was startled that at first. I stopped wanting to answer people. I avoided the question when we were meeting people. Sometimes I even told my husband that I would just say I’m a writer and editor because I still am so I’m not lying or anything. I’d just leave out what I do the majority of the time throughout the year.

But, I couldn’t avoid it completely. So as I started answering that question more and more, I realized people just felt sorry for me when I said I was a teacher and it didn’t have to be bad. So, I’d laugh and grunt with them. I’d agree and then unload my frustrations on them. It felt kind of good considering that I needed counseling after all the rough weeks of teaching.

However, the underlying problem of telling people that I am a teacher never seemed to change.

There’s a tangible lack of respect for teachers. We are jokes. We are servants. We are babysitters. We can’t do anything else. We are burps in a person’s life that they’d like to forget about.

Or, we are honored for being so special that we work for scraps thrown from the dinner table and educate the children who will someday rule over all of us and either save or destroy the world. This latter “honored” reaction, I’ve found, happens a lot less than the other negative ones.

Somewhere, far, far away

According to an article in The Guardian, How the job of teachers compares around the world, there’s respect for Chinese teachers and teachers in Finland receive the monetary rewards that make teaching worthwhile and transform it into a respected, even sought-after profession.

So, yes, asking “Does money matter to teachers?” is a loaded question, I know. Many teachers would say, “Sit down and let’s talk for at least two weeks about why teachers absolutely need to be paid more.” Still others would say, “It’s not about the money.”

Despite either reaction, let’s just say this, teachers deserve more money based on the fact that they work endless hours and hold the world’s future in their hands. And, of course, I’m talking about the good ones. Those who look like they’ve been through WW III after the first week of school and lug stacks of papers back and forth from the school to their homes.

There was a video I watched about a year ago about applying to a demanding job.

People who were applying for jobs were asked by their potential employers to do what moms do without knowing that it was actually a list of tasks that every mom does. And, we all know moms don’t get paid for what they do. The people interviewing for the jobs were horrified and immediately rejected the jobs. In the end, when they were told that they were really applying for the job that all moms do, their faces changed to a knowing, a deep appreciation, a realization that only mothers do something so insanely valuable for no pay whatsoever.

I would argue that good teachers come close to that idea. Is it the same? Absolutely not, just the same idea.

To say we as teachers don’t work for the money is quite true. To say we shouldn’t demand more pay is not fair and ridiculous.

Dedication

We don’t work for the money because we’re paid nothing compared to the amount of hours we put into it. We grade stacks of papers at home throughout the week—if we are good teachers. We chase students around about homework, classwork, quizzes, and tests. We counsel them when they make mistakes and think they can’t go on. We care for them like they’re our own children. Then, we send them home to hopefully do homework, study, and sleep. We start over the next day even if we know they stayed up late playing video games and didn’t do homework.

Given that we are a world that runs on money, teachers need it not only to survive but to hope for more, to fuel their own fire if they’re giving so much of their energies to teaching.

It’s a profession with very raw, concrete value; yet, it’s treated as a volunteer opportunity offering little respect. Why would anyone with an ounce of respect want to teach or even continue to teach then?

We wouldn’t. In fact, any teacher worth their salt and willing to be honest will tell you that he or she contemplated leaving more than once. Many teachers make other plans and go as far as to pack their materials, but they remember their students, their lessons, the challenges that made them better human beings, and they think of the future without dedicated teachers.

We don’t do it for the money, but that’s precisely why teachers, good, hardworking, dedicated teachers, should be paid as much as any professional and respected equally or even more.

What’s interesting though, is that as a writer, editor, graphic artist, and publications specialist, I started out getting paid significantly less than an average public school teacher yet I got a whole lot more respect.

Why the School Year Begins with Nightmares

He jumped back. He was so startled that I thought I had a bug on my face when I went into my son’s room at 11 a.m. to wake him.

Seeing is believing.

“Wait, what day is it? Is there school today?” he asked. I shook my head and laughed nervously because I had been thinking that I needed to start waking him up earlier to prepare him for the coming school hours.

“Uuugggh, I thought you were waking me to tell me it was time to go to school,” he said and breathed a sigh of relief then buried his head in his pillow. He proceeded to describe a horrific dream where his teacher gave the class an assignment and he got an F.

I felt terrible because I know how much he hates getting bad grades and how generous some teachers are about giving them. I’m especially fond of the teachers who hand the papers back with an imaginary pair of bifocals hanging on the end of their noses as if to remind students that they just aren’t good enough.

Do teachers really need to give kids F’s?

It might’ve already started for you: The nightmares, the rising tension, the fear that you’re missing something, the sting of an impending headache…. It started in our house about a week ago.

The mere mention of school shot the hairs up on the backs of our necks.

And, it ultimately seems to amount to judgment. How will you be judged by other kids, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and so forth? You just aren’t good enough seems to vibrate in our collective subconscious.

But, what kills me and my kids, are the F’s. I don’t understand that need to give F’s, especially with no second chance. Granted, some students seem to live for the F.

I’ve been there. As a teacher, you’re this short of moving the pencil for the student because you’re trying every technique in the book to get the kid to learn and the student refuses.

Most of the time, however, those students who get those F’s just need a second chance. They need to take the test again. They need to hear the lesson one more time. And, it’s not just about percentages such as 50 percent of the class failed; therefore, the teacher must reteach and retest. No, let’s say 5 percent failed. The rest aced it. Why wouldn’t a teacher try to offer that student a second chance? Most likely, it’s too much work and the teacher doesn’t feel like administering another test and definitely not re-teaching an entire lesson to one or two students.

Second Chances

But, what if it was easier than that? What if it was a matter of spending one or two lunch periods with them and chatting about what they didn’t understand? Ask them what went wrong. Even if they’re brutally honest and say they just don’t care or they didn’t bother to study, what if you said well, then, study here and I’ll give you a second chance.

What then?

Would the student succeed?

And, then, how would that affect that student’s future?

Would the student try harder next time, especially if they found success the second time around?

Yep, that’s right, I’ll tell you. That student will succeed because you’ll have connected with him or her in a deeper way than most teachers. Contrary to the way we judge the kid who gets the F, that child simply doesn’t want it even if he or she vehemently claims to want it, even to deserve it.

A highly intelligent and insightful gifted student once told me that he got F’s because he had gotten so many that he finally just got used to it and didn’t care anymore. He was one of the first students I ever taught and those kids taught me more about teaching than I’ve ever learned before. I asked them everything and he was one who I felt so sad about but even more so, I was infuriated with him. He was so freakin’ smart so when he got F’s, I felt like he just did it on purpose. And, judging from his observations, he kinda did do it on purpose.

However, there was one other very important insight. He said he hated seeing an “F” anyway. That’s why he just gave up and gave in to so many teachers’ labels like that he just didn’t care or that he refused to learn, that he was wasting his talents. That was exactly what I was thinking as I was talking to him.

But, it still didn’t register right away. I still didn’t get it. Give him a second chance? What?!

Then, I did, by accident almost. I experiment a lot when I’m teaching, which is why I hold myself at least partially accountable for every performance estimation that I inflict on my students. I give them second, third, and fourth chances so that I can average scores and teach and reteach. Does it make for a crazy exhausting school year? Yeah, but then, I couldn’t call myself a teacher at all if I didn’t do that.

I asked him if he wanted to take a test again. Different questions. Same subject matter.

He accepted. That acceptance in itself taught me a lot. He actually did want to try. So the label that “he didn’t care” made no sense.

Reset the Mind

Before he took the second test though, I talked to him during lunch and asked why he chose some of the wrong answers. I saw where he went wrong and then helped him adjust his logic. It felt like magic when I scored his second exam. He went from an F to a high B. Plus, the questions on the second exam were much more difficult and somewhat more confusing.

When I gave it to him, he held it as if it was a rare piece of parchment paper. Then he smiled and laughed a little. He blamed his success on the questions being too easy, but I insisted that the questions were harder. I had thrown them out because they were too confusing.

After that success, he never got anything lower than a B. Most of the time, he got A’s.

So, what of it? I think the story speaks clearly.

F’s are like viruses. They spread quickly and they’re hard to get rid of. But, you can wipe them out with a little love. And, that just takes a lunch or two.

Don’t get me wrong. My students who don’t like me will tell you I’m the detention teacher. And, I would have to agree. But, guess when I give detentions? Yep, during lunch. Some students, especially in middle school, don’t think it’s so cool to have lunch with a teacher, hence the detentions (and second chances), but that’s another story.

Common Core in Florida

If you ask an educator or even a well-informed parent who lives in Florida about the New Florida Standards, there will probably be a very intentional groan of frustration followed by a rant or its opposite—dead silence and a mournful shaking of the head.

This is just a test.
This is just a test.

One of the many reasons I’ve stopped writing so much stems from the state of Florida’s new standards. I’m a teacher who’s lucky enough to help my students meet those standards. I wouldn’t say I’m using the word “lucky” sarcastically, and I love to be sarcastic—just ask my students. I’d say I use the word “lucky” with a paradox in mind. It’s a paradox because I met Jeb Bush in 2009. His organization awarded me an Excellence in Teaching honor. The organization also asked teachers who won the award questions about our success in the classroom.

The Paradox and Jeb Bush

I speak of Jeb Bush in relation to the new standards because he’s been a very active voice in promoting the common core standards that created such a controversy in Florida. And, now, parents and educators have been adorned with the New Florida Standards, which claim to correlate to the common core but are more detailed and focused for Florida education.

That remains to be seen, so back to the paradox. I feel like in the grand scheme of Common Core Standards, I helped in some small way to create them. So I feel both lucky and unlucky at the same time. My mantra as a teacher has always been to hold students to a higher standard. By that I mean, in very concrete terms, that a sixth grader can do anything a college student at your local public university can do.

Now, many people laugh at me, but Jeb Bush and his team of educators did not. They rewarded me for it.

However, the paradox of “lucky” insidiously slithers through those ideals to condemn the idea of challenging students. When you scrutinize the training tests that the Florida Department of Education plans to impose on the students, teachers, and administrators, you step back and think of the student who will have to take the test. I’ll put it this way.

I have a friend who’s a journalist, well-educated, and one of the smartest people I know. He took one look at the training test and told me to quit. Of course, I snapped back with a resounding, “No! Never! They need me.” He told me to quit because I will be held accountable for children who can barely write and these students will be required to not only write but perhaps type their answers.

I assume that over their catered breakfasts and suited meetings, the politicians didn’t think about how, yes, technology is relevant, but kids type with their thumbs. So, on top of teaching them to reach a modicum of college-level writing, teachers and administration need to make sure they can type, and quickly.

The teaching that should be happening in every classroom will happen, but these are kids in a modern society. When I announce that a sixth grader can do anything a college student can and possibly better, I mean it, with the passion of a teacher who plans to meet that goal and then some. I plan to infuse into that student all the tools to get them to that point by the end of the year. But, teachers everywhere know that no matter what we do, many students won’t get there even when they try with all their mighty souls.

Why won’t students achieve their goals?

Let’s start with a reality check that’s very distinct to Miami and Florida and our country in general. Many students are still acquiring the language, so please don’t expect them to meet those standards right away—even though as a teacher I will nudge and push them as long as they’re my students. Then, many students go home and find exactly the opposite of what I taught them. There’s no support for doing homework, reading, or even caring about any of it. They might even be told that the material doesn’t matter or that they’re too stupid to do it so just do enough to get by, if that.

I made all of this clear to the researchers from Excellence in Teaching during the question and answer sessions. I’d like to think they took it into consideration. But, it doesn’t feel like they did, so I keep asking myself if I’ve joined my imaginary list of unforgiveable hypocrites in society today.

Before I received the Excellence in Teaching Award, I got a brownie and lots of coffee. Later, at the dinner, I got to meet teacher and author Ron Clark. He dazzled and freaked out the teachers by jumping, quite literally, from table top to table top speaking about how exciting it is to teach kids.

It was inspirational and a little disturbing.

I got a free book of his and read it. I even agreed with some of it. However, I returned to my classroom feeling frustrated because I was nothing like him and I never cashed in on the 10-day cruise prizes that The Foundation for Excellence in Teaching offered me. I never had that kind of time, except for during summer, and by then I was too tired to think of how I would pay for the plane trip to Alaska.

Then, before I knew it, I was hearing about the Common Core Standards. I saw some interesting videos and teachers promoting it. It appeared to be not just a great idea, but a solution to the mindless standardized tests our students were subjected to year after year.

But, as with most issues associated with politics, the basics have changed—a lot.

Deals were being made. Testing companies started vying for contracts with different states. It wasn’t just about educating kids anymore. Nothing’s ever that simple when money’s involved. Take money out of the equation and everything might be more simplified, more sensible.

Now, however, here we teachers are scrambling to prepare our students for a test that was flung at us only at the end of last school year. There’s nothing practical or helpful about a surprise attack on teachers and their students. Education exists to help children make their way in the world and teachers teach to help them do that. Is that idealistic? Isn’t education supposed to help children, not cause problems for them?

My solution: I’ll be posting about how I’m handling it from both a teacher and a parent’s view. I’ll be rooting for all of our students and for their teachers. And, I’ll sometimes rant or shake my head mournfully when people ask me about it. Written by Lisa Chesser