Monthly Archives: April 2008

Invite to All Bloggers

I received this invite today and wanted to make sure that all edubloggers out there were aware of this conference.

Dear Education Blogger,

I just wanted to make sure that you were invited to our education “Blogger Summit”. We hope you can make it and feel free to share this invitation with any other bloggers in the area that might be interested. The invitation is attached below.

Alex
ED In ‘08 Blogger Summit

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Strong American Schools is excited to announce the ED in ‘08 Blogger Summit. Conference details are as follows:

May 14th – 15th
Palomar Hotel, Washington DC
Registration is Free!

An opening reception is scheduled on the evening of Wednesday, May 14th. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served before the screening of a new documentary film on education, Two Million Minutes. A Q&A session with the filmmakers is set to follow.

Then join us for an all-day conference on May 15th. Nowhere else will you have an opportunity to meet and network with fellow education bloggers, participate in panels, attend workshops, and help tackle some tough questions on the state of education in America.

Space is limited, so be sure to RSVP today!

I would love to be able to attend but have to decline at this time. If you can attend, enjoy on my behalf! Please share your reflections, ideas, and happenings from the conference!

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What Would You Do?

As I reflect upon this coming week, I am reminded that every third through 10th/11th grader is taking at least one version of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests this week. In Texas, state testing is a huge deal. From the time the kids hit the door in August until this week not a lesson, activity, class period, or conference period goes by without a mention of TAKS preparation or testing. I am going on my 19th year of education in Texas and when I started teaching we administered the Texas Assessment of Basic Skills (TABS). Then we administered the TEAMS test. I forgot what the acronym represents. After TEAMS we went to TAAS which is the Texas Assessment of Applied Skills (I think that’s what it stood for.) Now we administer TAKS, and not just TAKS, but TAKS-A, TAKS-M and TAKS-I which all have to do with level of achievement for the students in the special education program.

Don’t forget the bilingual tests: TELPAS and RPTE. Some students also take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. If a students is recommended for the GT program they take additional tests to determine their level of ‘giftedness’. If a student is struggling additional tests are taken to determine if the student qualifies for additional instructional support or modifications. Students in third, fifth and eighth grade must pass the reading and/or math portions of TAKS in order to be promoted to the next grade.

In high school students take the end of course exams. If a students is in the IB programme even more assessments are required. If a student is taking an AP course, additional testing is required by the Advanced Placement Board. To graduate students must pass the exit level of TAKS and take the TASP (don’t know this acronym) test to enter college. Test after test. No wonder we have low graduation rates at the high school level.

When my oldest niece was in the third grade two years she had just taken the first administration of the third grade TAKS reading test. At the third, fifth and eighth grades, students can take up to three administrations to pass the reading or math portions of TAKS. Anyway, she had recently taken the test and received commended status with the comment to me, “Aunt Kim, I am already sick of TAKS testing!” I hated to inform her that she had just crossed the threshold into the world of testing in Texas. It had only just begun. She said we take tons of practice tests in class, have tutoring, and all of our classwork is about getting ready for TAKS and she was tired of ‘…TAKS, TAKS, TAKS!” (her words although I agree with her sentiments.) I embraced her and said, “I know how you feel.” We nodded our heads in agreement and went on with our visit. My niece continues to excel on classwork and TAKS but would really like to learn more about science and more challenging topics that aren’t as strictly confined and taxing as testing for TAKS (how about that alliteration English teachers!).

A friend of mine from SAISD, Greg Rodriguez shared with us through Diigo an article about a teacher in Washington state that refused to administer the state test to his students. Subsequently the teacher was suspended without pay and written up for insubordination that found its way up to the superintendent of the school district. While I concur with his feelings and admire his tenacity to stand strong and firm in his convictions, I am not sure that I would be that strong. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do not take things lying down and have been described as a ‘nonconformist’ at times for doing things ‘my way’. As another week of TAKS testing, training, administering approaches, I wonder if I will get to the place of the aforementioned educator and take a stance against administering the TAKS. What would you do? What would it take for you to stand on your convictions and go against the status quo?

There is a fabulous book that I usually read to my students the day before testing to lighten things up. The book titled, Testing Miss Malarkey by Judy Finch. After I read it to my students, regardless of the grade level, I follow up with a PPT of test taking skills entitled, “Testing Mrs. Caise“, in honor of the book I just read them. Check it if you are ever looking for a humorous way to review test taking skills and take away some of the doldrums of TAKS preparation. And during this week, take a moment and think about Carl Chew in WA and ask yourself the question, “What would you do?”

How do I create a Podcast or Vodcast?

While reading various educational blogs I came across the International Edubloggers DIrectory (while I was there I tooted my own horn and had my small little blog creation added to the directory!). I promptly got an email stating that my blog was now listed in the directory and I could post an image stating that I was a proud member of the directory. With that came another blog, email address and access to additional resources, blogs and wikis which led me to a Ning group at “Educational Technology – A Network for Educators Seeking to Leverage Technologies in the Classroom” .  There I found a post with step by step directions on creating podcasts and video podcasts/vodcasts. These directions combined with the resources shared by Miguel Guhlin in the post entitled, “Fabulous Podcast Resources” should enable even the ‘technologically’ challenged to created a podcast or vodcast. If the Ning site or resource websites are not blocked by your school district this would be a great post to share with other your colleagues and students. Try it out and let me know how it goes!

Read my Reflections Please!

I just finished reading a post by Miguel Guhlin entitled, “Fervent Prayer – Read Me Please“. I can definitely relate as I work hard to start and promote this blog although Miguel has blogged for years. For a short while I worked in his department in his school district and I have great respect for him as my mentor but his superb writings. Shortly before reading Miguel’s post, I was reading a post from Wes Fryer’s blog, he mentioned a post from Jon Becker’s new blog about a similar notion.

Wes Fryer’s post:

“I hear you Jon. It can be lonely to write when no one is listening or seeming to pay attention. (I flashback to April 2001 again.) Our opportunity to have conversations which both change our practice and potentially change the thinking and practices of others, however, is unprecedented TODAY in human history. I am both humbled and electrified by that reality. Yes, I blog for many intrinsic reasons. Blogging helps me process and document my own learning journey, and I frequently benefit from this virtual bread crumb path as I refer back to old posts as well as social bookmarks in tags I’ve used.”

Jon Becker’s post:

“This blog is ONLY just over 3.5 months, but I find myself obsessed with figuring out if I am contributing to any networked learning. Scott McLeod has written about “measuring” the impact of a blog and I commented that I’d like to consider some combination of comments/post/reader and number of pingbacks. In other words, I will feel like my blog is useful/valuable if it is generating discussion. People may come and learn by simply observing, but I don’t feel like that’s enough.”

This appears to be a common notion at present time and I am heartened that I am experiencing similar feelings from the ‘heavy hitters’ in educational blogging. Just as in start up venture, whether it be writing or a new business, an investment of time and reflection is necessary. The creative process can be daunting and taxing and I felt comforted that even the ‘superbloggers’ feel a twinge of uncertainty at times.

Mentioned in these bloggers’ posts throughout their respective blogs was the importance of the reflection process for growth. While the topics of the posts in the superbloggers of ed tech’s blogs seem to come and flow naturally, I struggle with what to write and will anyone care what I have to say or read what I have shared. It is difficult being vulnerable, yet striving to be a prolific writer at the same time, in my humble opinion. But the mention in Miguel’s post about the importance of the reflection process is to affect change and growth struck a chord with me.

When I was working to achieve national board certification, critical questions requiring reflection on the learning process were asked throughout the entries I had to submit. Although I had already taught for 15 years or so, initially I didn’t see how important the reflection process was or how valuable and significant to professional growth that the reflection process played. After achieving national board certification, it has become ingrained that a reflection upon the lesson I just delivered to ensuring success for my students – whether they be K – 12 students or adult students. So I thank Jon Becker, Wes Fryer, and Miguel Guhlin and all of the other ed tech bloggers for making themselves vulnerable, taking a risk and sharing their own personal reflections with the rest of the world.

Has Testing in Texas Gone too Far?

As I was reading some of my educational blogs, I came across this news story about a principal threatening to kill a group of middle school science teachers if their performance on the 8th grade science TAKS test doesn’t improve and surpass state minimum expectations. The TAKS test is part of Bush’s NCLB and spearheaded the notion that testing is the way to improve teaching. Misaligned thinking that if a test is made harder a teacher will teach better and ultimately improved student performance will automatically occur directly as a result of the implementation of the test.

When legislators and others that are not professional educators put policies and laws into effect regarding education and testing you have the proponents for disastrous results. When a student takes 4 to 6 benchmarks every 9 weeks, practice tests in class, progress monitoring from from TAKS release tests, tutoring and testing in tutoring, and testing in regular class sessions, how are teachers able to schedule high quality lessons and activities that are rigorous, relevant and demanding that students WANT to participate? The key here is that successful teachers that have the undefined “IT!” to motivate, encourage, support and teach students as such a high quality level despite the many, many days of testing are leaving the profession in droves.

To remedy the situation, efforts should be spent on recruiting and mentoring those teachers with fantastic induction programs with resources, time to plan and collaborate, and a principal actually serve as a leader that is competent, knowledgeable and able to lead their campus to high standards with high expectations. A little bit of appreciation for these type teachers goes a long way in securing the best and brightest. When you consistently have to pick candidates from the bottom of the barrel, instruction will not increase nor will the morale and momentum of the campus overall. It is a cycle that makes or breaks a campus. Until a principals recognizes this and accepts how damaging their comments and actions are the campus will not improve. On the contrary, if the level of appreciation is evident and teachers feel it, believe in the sincerity of their principal, and the principal actually walks the walk and talks the talk then achievement levels can rise like never before. It is critical to pair competent principals with the teachers that have the ‘IT!’ factor to function, collaborate and plan as cohesive team and campus. Any disparity between these two factors and you will continue to fight an uphill battle with the possibility of having a principal threaten to kill colleagues when threatened with low student performance.

Has testing gone too far in Texas? Read the article and see if you agree. What are your takes or experiences?

Do you Diigo?

I was recently invited to join the community at Diigo. Do you delight in using del.ic.ious (I think that is where the dots go) to share bookmarks and tag websites? Then you will love Diigo. Diigo is an evolving community site where people of like interests can collaborate and share ideas, websites, and converse with educators around the world. You can download the toolbar where you can easily share bookmarks, highlight text and share that with the community and a host of other tools that I haven’t even begun to explore yet. Join the community at Diigo and add me to your Friends. I want to expand and enrich my bookmarks and ed tech knowledge by checking out what you think is important, interesting and relevant. Join us!