Like many other parents around the United States this fall, my wife and I dutifully attended “back to school night” at our local public elementary school this evening. Our two oldest children are now in 5th and 3rd grades. This was a difficult experience for several reasons.

Back to School Night

I want to preface this post by noting we have been blessed to have some FANTASTIC teachers for our children at our school since we moved to Oklahoma a little over two years ago. We moved into our current neighborhood because the elementary school has the reputation of being the best in the city. We have selected all three of the homes we’ve lived in since we’ve been married (two in Texas and one in Oklahoma) based on the neighborhood schools. Education is a priority for us, so this is natural. The reality we’ve found both as teachers ourselves and as parents for the past ten years is this, however: No matter what the reputation of the school, it all comes down to the quality of the teachers. You can attend a school with a great reputation and great resources, or attend a school with a terrible reputation and lousy resources. I think the answer is the same. As parents, we want teachers for our children who love our kids, take the time to know our kids, learn how to reach and challenge our kids, and help our kids love to read and love to learn. Knowing your content is important too, but I’ll take a passionate teacher who loves kids over a book-smart teacher who lacks heart any day of the week.

I am certainly NOT saying that money for our schools is not important and doesn’t matter. It certainly DOES matter. I am saying that going to a school in an affluent community does not provide a guarantee of a high quality, learner-centered education. In the end, it comes down to the teacher and the learning tasks and options s/he provides for children on a regular basis. It also comes down to RELATIONSHIPS and CARING. Those are not things which can be legislated or displayed in a bar graph of test scores in the local newspaper. They are, however, the things which matter most in my view as a parent and an educator.

Note I did not make any references to technology in the previous paragraphs. I absolutely do not believe that using technology makes a teacher a great teacher. I subscribe to the philosophy I heard Jeff Allen share via a skypecast in March 2006 regarding technology: it is an amplifier.

Stacked
Creative Commons License photo credit: jgarber

Technology can amplify good teaching and learning, and it can amplify poor teaching and learning. I would much rather have my own children attend a school with teachers who differentiate instruction, encourage hands-on, inquiry-based learning, and provide meaningful as well as engaging learning tasks for my kids each day without ANY technology what-so-ever than have my children attend a school where technology is everywhere but is simply used to support a traditional, teacher-directed instructional environment.

That being said, I also think we are failing in our ethical responsibilities to do everything we can to equip our students with the skills they need today and will need in the future if we fail to utilize technologies effectively to help them engage with content and each other. I believe learners should regularly use technology tools to create, collaborate, and communicate. As a parent, I want to be able to peer through virtual windows into the classrooms of my children regularly to see not only what they are doing, but more importantly what they are LEARNING, what they are THINKING, and how they are GROWING. I think most parents want that from their school– certainly I think I can safely say that most parents in our community do. One of the problems I think we have, however, is we (as parents) don’t know how to effectively ASK for that today using technology tools. A sea of ignorance covered by a thick scum of fear surrounds us, and we seem incapable of finding the dry land which is “out there” and offers the promise of mountaintop learning experiences.

Summit Mt. Rainier
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kevin Briody

With those things being said, here is a tweet transcript of my thoughts and typed quotations from the PTO/PTA presentation about fundraising and the 5th grade teacher presentation for parents this evening at our “back to school night.” I am reversing the order of these tweets so you can read them in chronological order. I tweeted these messages using my iPhone and Twitterific for the iPhone.

At our Elem school back to school nite – PTA fundrsising goal: buy more SMART boards and pay for artists in residence

“we want kids to learn to love social studies” – “in 5th grade kids are expected to assimilate information”

“kids don’t want to write things” (5th grade social studies teacher)

What ways are our kids able to experience the curriculum content through video? (my question I am not asking during the presentation)

The assumption this year in 5th grade is: more departmentalization is better. I disagree.

“you can expect to see homework in math at least 90 percent of the time”

“we want kids to get lots of practice at math.” (yes but shouldn’t the focus be learning and comprehension instead?)

“District policy is to require 20 min of reading per night. We really encourage them to read fiction”

I so dearly want my kids to attend a school where teachers embrace blogging

“we will be sending home writing prompts directly tied to our state test”

By February the kids will need to be able to respond to all the 4 types of writing prompts

Question I have “Can my child bring his laptop to school and use the school wireless network?”

Now showing a MS Office TIFF image of the agenda used in class

This is the only use of technology we have seen from our teachers… And we should buy more SMART boards why?!?!?

A symposium is being used. Some parents think this is cool. Reality check: this is being used just like an overhead projector

My question: when do our children get to touch this fancy technology to create, communicate and collaborate?

I so want to teach in an immersed laptop environment… Maybe I should have taught at Crescent. Maybe I can adjunct at OC next spring?

So the only example of tech use we have seen tonight is using a symposium as an overhead projector. I am not impressed. Unfortunately some R

Why is the homework not just published to the web? Is copying down the homework each day a best-practices learning task?

How much time and energy is spent each day just copying down the homework assignments?

What if the student needs more feedback than will fit in the small box provided on the agenda?

Seeing this makes me very motivated to complete the curriculum DVD I am making and remix lesson plans for our museum field trips….

“we had 1 parent make their child lug every textbook home for weeks. That was a wonderful learning experience.” [for the child]

Lots of emphasis on recording reading minutes each day. When do we emphasize the ideas we are reading about?

“if you are absent, check with a friend to get the notes”

“I am not very good talking in front of parents”

It is a very interesting cultural experince to be a parent of kids in a very affluent community” Lots of assumptions made here.

Your 5th graders have at least 3 teachers.

“you can email us when the website is up and running”

The kids should know cursive now. It is amazing how many of them can’t read cursive.

@garystager I have mixed feelings for sure. Should I tweet this? I am not sure. I hope it is ok to. about 4 hours ago from twitterrific in reply to garystager

I asked if our kids will be able to blog so we can see their work and comment on it. Answer: No. We can see their work at school in folders.

The greatest moments of cognitive dissonance for me this evening at “back to school night” were these:

Showing parents the textbook

This is your child's science textbook

These are photos of some of our 5th grade teachers showing the crowd of parents their textbooks. Holding up the textbook, not opening it, and saying, “This is our textbook.”

In some ways, thinking about this later, this could have had some parallels to a scene from Exodus when Moses returned from the summit of Mount Sinai with the 10 Commandments. I’d be stretching things a bit to say that, but the thought IS there. “Here is the book of written text which we’ll use this year. Behold! I hold aloft the holy words!”

Moses with the 10 commandments

What were we supposed to think as parents as our 5th grade teaching team held aloft the textbooks for the year? “Oooo. Ahhhh. Look how pretty the cover is!” Come on! Give me a break. Here are the things which I DID think while listening to the teachers discuss these textbooks.

1. What a tremendous WASTE of money these textbooks are. Several of the teachers stated that the students wouldn’t use the textbooks very much. Yet as taxpayers we are paying THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of dollars for these instructional materials which we do not fully utilize! My position is NOT that we should read the textbook more, it is instead that we should embrace digital curriculum and provide laptop computers for all our students (3rd grade and above) so they can not only access curriculum content in textual forms but also with visual images, audio, animations, and video. Hello! Are we living in the 21st century or the 19th century here? Why are we all sitting in our seats nodding our heads as the instructional leaders of our children hold aloft atomic texts which they admit are of only limited utility for teaching and learning via traditional means?

2. I deeply desire to have authentic windows into the classroom learning environments of my children. By holding up the textbook and showing us the cover, I know each teacher was wanting to help share with us (as parents) a little bit of what to expect in 5th grade. Sadly, however, these actions communicated little except the fact that our children are going to receive a VERY traditional educational experience this year. I want my children to attend a school where they are invited (and even required would be ok) to blog each week. Where I can comment as a parent and give them feedback. Where their grandparents could read their ideas and give them feedback. Last year we set up a family learning blog, and I’m asking our kids to post to it intermittently, but this is something they should be doing REGULARLY at school! The one question I DID ask during the Q&A session after the teacher presentations was, “Will our kids be writing on a blog each week so we can see their writing and provide feedback and comments to them?” The answer to this question was “no.” The teacher said student work would be in a portfolio we could come view in November when we come for our parent-teacher conference, and it would be displayed in the hallways of the school for us to see.

No global publishing. No videoconferencing. No read-write web tool use at all. Zero. Zilch.

I have tried with VERY limited success to facilitate some videoconferencing and the use of VoiceThread at our school with our teachers, working with school and district administrators. I did record a video message for our school board this summer and send it to them on DVD, but as I realistically anticipated nothing has come from that effort. That was like spitting in the wind.

My best hope at this point is to invite the teachers of our own children and others at our school to participate in our statewide oral history project, “Celebrate Oklahoma Voices.” That is an initiative in which I continue to invest myself, and perhaps some of the benefits of this professional development program could benefit some of the teachers at our own school. I hope that will be the case.

On the bright side of things, I was delighted to find a BUNCH of twitter replies waiting for me in my Safari RSS feed menu this evening when I logged online. Thanks to everyone in my personal learning community for your encouragement and messages– You commiserated with me and brought a smile to my face after a difficult “back to school night.” These were the messages I received, again in reversed order so they are chronological:

garystager @wfryer Their priorities are backward

garystager @wfryer Ask for another teacher – now

garystager @wfryer Can’t tell from your tweets. Are you happy or not with the teacher’s approach/attitude? Should you be tweeting this stuff?

garystager @wfryer We agree. Departmentalization in elem school is a terrible idea unsupported by research or common sense. It just reduces tchr prep

TeachaKidd @wfryer I agree with you about departmentalization. Hate it in elemenatary school!

dancallahan @wfryer just fiction? yikes. you’re making this all up, right? RIGHT

garystager @wfryer RUN FOR THE DOORWAY! Blogging/no blogging should be so far down your priority list given what you’ve described.

Laurenogrady @wfryer might need to open your own school

garystager @wfryer Are you going to speak up or tweet?

TeachaKidd @wfryer Have your child respond to the writing prompts on her blog.

garystager @wfryer That is only true if you allow it to be. My kids didn’t take the state tests. We opted them out as is our right as parents.

wmchamberlain @wfryer I have my students write too. They put their stories on the blog. This year we are recording them on video for their own blogs.

garystager @wfryer Why would you allow people do things to your children that you disagree with? Or don’t you disagree?

garystager @wfryer Good question. Smart boards will only reinforce their non-thinking reflexive helpless disempowering practice.

garystager @wfryer Seriously, inaction only hurts your kid and their peers. Raise your hand and signify that you are not going along for the ride.

TeachaKidd @wfryer Only during free time when they have finished all their work. Don’t you get that? Sheeesh!

cfanch @wfryer just jumping into your twitter stream and may not be up to speed, but Smartboards ARE just fancy overheads – in the wrong hands.

dancallahan @wfryer dude, while I’m all for the tech use, i’d be more worried about the scary-sounding pedagogy than that

garystager @wfryer You need to separate your teaching desires from the education your kids are enduring – seriously. The kids are the immediate issue.

garystager @wfryer Ask why there is homework at all. Cause their heads to explode.

wmchamberlain @wfryer kids need to get ready for the paper work they will be required to do when they become teachers.

tag156 @wfryer Respectfully, I don’t have time to type up and post homework assignments every day. (Am a teacher) So much other stuff to do already

shazzandrob @wfryer I agree – just a time filling exercise for teachers that one, a lot of that goes on still though I’m afraid to say

cfanch @wfryer I agree. WIth a webpage, the homework can be posted for weeks ahead and the daily write down is unnecessary.

KarenJan @wfryer &how abt those “homework checks” that kids on IEPs have 2endure @ the end of each day?just post it online where any1 can retrieve it

lnitsche @wfryer So we need to educate both teachers (administrators, school board too) and parents if we hope for change.

TeachaKidd @wfryer Kids are lucky if teacher even checks the homework.

KarenJan @wfryer I tried to get our HS PTO to stop paying for the agendas – waste of money, inaccessible 4 many kids, unnecessary for others, but no

johnsoj2 @wfryer Wow, this is just too much. How are you managing even to sit there? Keeps getting worse and worse…

jennar @wfryer well, and really, is most homework a best-practices learning task? mostly busywork from what I’ve seen

mrmayo @wfryer this one really stands out “we will be sending home writing prompts directly tied to our state test” wtf?

jepcke @wfryer I’m finding your tweets fascinating. Makes me think back to the dozens of open house speeches I made! Had a parent videotape me once

ijohnpederson @wfryer Be strong.

KarenJan @wfryer its not just amazing how many kids cant read cursive,its more amazing how few of them are able to use technology to promote learning

cyberteacher @wfryer I feel your pain! Wait until your kids get into MS and the teachers require reading nightly & sit in rows! about 5 hours ago from twhirl in reply to wfryer

johnsoj2 @wfryer I think you’re just making all this up. Can it really be this bad in ’08? about 5 hours ago from TwitBin in reply to wfryer

timstahmer @wfryer Why not tweet about it? Unfortunately, the situation at your child’s school is not unique.

KarenJan @wfryer I can feel your horror here in MA!

garystager @wfryer You are speaking martian to teachers from the 1830s. What do you expect?

wmchamberlain @wfryer They are worried about liability or the extra work. These two things are the bane of the teaching world.

garystager @wfryer Why is your focus so technocentric when the fundamentals of the school sound like such a mess?

mrmayo @wfryer man, I would love to get that question from a parent!

todbaker @wfryer Who is the “we” in that answer?

bwatwood @wfryer – That certainly prepares them for the REAL world! Sheeezzzzzz!

snappity @wfryer all these tweets remind me why I no longer teach public school, and intend to be That Parent when my own kids enter it…

MikeGras @wfryer Come work with us. We can make space on our server.

erindowney @wfryer it sounds like it’s going to be a long school year 🙁

ehelfant @wfryer check out US History pages-http://micdsus.squarespace…. student work online/all course materials there-no text (even in AP chem)

staceyfranks @wfryer and it only gets worse when you send them to college.

jymbrittain @wfryer public schools are for no child to be left behind. After school family time is for enrichment if you want yours to lead the pack.

chocxtc @wfryer All your questions would be appropriate for the school board as well!! Unfortunate you are seeing more the norm than an aberration

kstevens77 @wfryer advantage of using SMART Board. many of our teacher post notes taken during class on boards to web as PDF. dont need friend’s notes

bethstill @wfryer Surprise! Surprise! What reason would ANY student in America need to blog? They must practice for the testing season!

hvoran @wfryer Meaning the parents can see their work at school in folders?? Meaning you have to come to school to see your child’s work??

beckcollect @wfryer “An affluent community” and yet they seem to be way behind with technology use. Bugger the Smartboards, use the money for PD!

gaylor @wfryer Maybe when our kids are parents 🙁

gaylor @wfryer My daughter is in high school…they now have a website…now if only all of the teachers would post their assignments.

gardenglen @wfryer feel your frustration at back2school. Showed “Vision of K12 Students” b4 MiddleSchool back2school. ALL teachers putting work online

gardenglen @wfryer now. I am helping principal encourage teachers to use Internet more. Online writing now happening – working on podcasting next.

Dowbiggin @wfryer You need to move to San Jose and send your children to Milpitas Christian School. Yes, I work there . . . teaching technology.

Dowbiggin @wfryer If you had any idea the tech integration projects we’re doing and how much our kids LOVE social studies AND writing, you’d flip.

Dowbiggin @wfryer In fact, you’re making me want to send you my year plan.

Dowbiggin @wfryer So, you think OK to CA would be a bit much, commute-wise, for a 5th grader?

I may feel frustrated, but at least I am not alone. That is significant, and your encouragement fuels my own desire to keep pressing forward to help others understand and join the learning revolution. Thank you for your supportive words.

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On this day..

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  • Wes,
    I actually woke up this morning thinking about our Tweeting “conversation” last night. Talk about how powerful live blogging can be and how it can give others something to think about.

    How many other parents are sitting in “Back To School Night” classrooms, hoping to hear something (anything) that is relevant to their child? I think it’s sad that most parents have also swallowed the Kool-Aid that mass amounts of HW is also a great thing. Copying assignments into the planner for 30 min a day is important and only using technology during free time is a valuable “treat.”

    Personally, I hate these nights because I too, sit there and dread every word I am forced to listen to and consume (and against @garystager’s recommendation, I don’t confront everyone openly 🙂 Like you, I choose a few questions and swallow the rest.

    Teachers are good people who are trying to do the right thing. I provide EdTech staff development in my district. We have 12,000 teachers and situations like this make me think I’m not only not doing my job, but I can never do my job.

    Lee (@teachakidd)

  • Wes,

    Both of my daughters attend(ed) school in Edmond. My oldest just graduated from UCO magna cum laude and my youngest is a 7th grader at the middle school your son will attend next year. It improves incrementally at middle school in that they do have a homework hotline which you can call to get the daily assignments (I use Gizmo to record the call so that we can re-hear it if necessary). They do require the purchase of a paper agenda, but don’t check on its use like they did in elementary school.

    The biggest problem that I see with use of the school websites here in Edmond (and to be fair, with my employer–Oklahoma City Public Schools) is that they are stuck in Web 1.0 mode with static, proprietary web pages that must be updated by a “guru” (be that a webmaster, district employee, or techno-geek volunteer teacher with little time). There is so much wonderful, FREE stuff out there that could be used but so many districts are afraid of the lack of control and liability. Teachers don’t want to make the time to learn how to use what’s available and many times if you do find something, chances are it will be blocked at school.

    The one advantage to living in an affluent community is that my children and your children do have access to computers and the internet outside of school, and have parents who encourage and understand the importance using these tools at home.

    Wow! This has really got me thinking and I’ve got more to say (maybe a post this weekend on my blog when I’ve got more time).

    One quick thought on departmentalization. My youngest participated in a trial of that in 4th grade at her elementary school. It actually was her best year, because her 3 teachers got to teach to their strengths. It might not suit every child and there were 2 self-contained traditional classes for those that it wasn’t a good fit for, but she really blossomed academically and enjoyed that year.

  • Josh Sommermeyer

    Wes,

    I just required all my teachers to read your post… How do we get our schools past this kind of stuff? I am the admin at a small (for now) private, Christian school in OKC… I want to get this fixed for our students… the ideas you share, and those of your fellow twitterers (Someone call Webster, I just coined a word) are EXACTLY the model of education I want to see in our school. I will contact you off-blog to check on your availability to talk to our Board/Delegates.

    Thanks so much for sharing this for others to use!!!

    Josh

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  • Lee, it is amazing how tweets, blog posts, and podcasts we hear affect our thinking and can even affect our sleep! I don’t have contact info for Webster, but I did create a new entry on Wiktionary for “twitterer!” 🙂

    Susan: I think you are right about most school websites being stuck in “web 1.0 mode, and fear over lack of control as well as liability are driving this. One thing that many Oklahoma educators don’t realize and take advantage of as a district is that ONEnet now provides free CPanel access for its customers. This opens the door to Moodle, WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and many other open source tools that can be readily installed and used. James Deaton discussed this at the 2007 MoodleMoot in Altus at WOSC. Of course school district leaders need to understand the benefits of using these types of empowering web-publishing environments, and actually WANT them implemented by their administrative staffs. I hope we’ll see some progress made on this in the next few years. It is GREAT ONEnet is providing that service, it’s just too bad so few districts (out of over 500 in the state) are taking advantage of the offer.

    In terms of the middle school our son will attend next year, it’s fair to say that is up in the air. I want to arrange a visit soon to Classen SAS downtown in the next month or two. I’d love our kids to attend an A+ School. Their philosophy for learning is right on target, not necessarily with technology but definitely in terms of engagement, hands-on learning, inquiry-based approaches, multiple learning styles, etc. It will be interesting to see what doors open for us down the road, esp as we look at middle schools. We are still renting our house here, so we could move if that is needed. We do love Edmond, our neighbors, our church, and many other things about our community, so I’m not saying we are moving for sure, but lots of cards are on the table and we could certainly relocate to another spot in the metro area if that’s the best decision for our family– particularly as it concerns education. There’s a lot of factors that go into where you live of course, and it’s not just “all” about the school. I plan to visit and thoroughly check out Cimarron as well too.

    I think you wrote me an email recently about geocaching in Edmond that I never responded to… I am going to catch up on email this weekend and will try and reply to that! I did see it but didn’t reply at the time…

    Josh: I’m flattered you’ve forwarded this on to your teachers. I look forward to visiting with you. My contact info including my phone is on http://www.wesfryer.com/contact.

  • Wesley,
    Not sure what the solution would be. You know that the teachers hands are tied by the limited technology available. You also know how teachers teach and how children learn. You know technology, how to use it, how to integrate it, how to publish and share information. Faced this year with the awe of opening two windows, creating and moving files, creating tables in Word, converting 2007 back to 2003… I see the reality of what we know about technology in the classroom.
    I believe that training and profession development in technology is the number one issue currently facing us as educators of educators. Teachers do not know about the computer. They do not know about Web 2.0. They do not have the time or energy to learn how to implement technological pedagogy into the classroom. They have not had training. They do not learn it on their own. Yes, there are those among us who do. That is just a part of the dynamic. Those are the 10% exceptions as innovators.
    So what can we do? What action can we take today to make a change?
    Realities of the situation
    One computer in the classroom (maybe two)
    Twenty students
    Three teachers
    Six subjects
    One computer lab in the building (shared between the 25 teachers, and 350 students)

    Taking what we have, knowing we will not get any thing more, knowing the restrictions will only get tighter. Let us come up with a plan. Let us develop something new. Let us get the stakeholders to buy into the change. Let us do this thing. No one else is going to do it.
    I have 2:45 to 3:10 open most every day, let me know what I can do to help.

  • Sue King

    A great post – very thought-provoking. I will share this with my faculty as we prepare for our open house in a few weeks.

    One other perspective to consider, though. As you st in the audience getting frustrated with the type of educational experience your children were going to have, how many of the parents had a very different view? How many parents were thrilled with the emphasis on kids being given regular homework in math, being expected to read cursive, and having the same type of textbooks that they had when they were in school? One of the biggest challenges we face as educational administrators attempting to promote new types of teaching and learning in our schools is realizing that not only to we have to educate and push our teachers, fellow administrators, and school boards, but we also have to educate and push the parents of all of our students who have very different expectations and visions of what school should look like. I cannot tell you how many calls I get from parents who want the textbook, the homework, the workbooks, etc so they can “help” their kids or who tell me that they are “teaching” their kids the way they know is best when they come home. I know we have to do better in educating all of our stakeholders, but is quite a task! On a positive note – I just had a conversation with a group of teachers about how we can more efficiently demonstrate to all the students and other 8th grade teachers how to use various tools, applications, etc that we want to incorporate in the teaching & learning (i.e. blogs, wikis, Google docs, etc). One of the teachers mentioned that he thought we should also do a session for the parents . . . he said he would be willing to be part of an evening session to do that. Creating a critical mass – that is what we need to do!

  • I’m sending this out to my K-5 colleagues and to our middle school and high school. It’s attitudes and policies and approaches to education like this that make me NOT want to teach anymore. These attitudes also impact education beyond technology also. My own 2 children have experienced these narrow views.

    Thank you for doing this. In the best of all possible worlds it will inspire change, but even if that doesn’t happen, at least there will be discussion.

    Just curious, are you emailing this to your School Board and School Superintendent?

  • Suzanne

    I’m just wondering about your inclusion of the reading requirement…. Are you criticizing this request, or just reporting it? Is it really a bad thing to expect/ask kids to read? For 20 minutes? To engage in a narrative that involves using their imagination? To follow a story line that lasts more than a few minutes? Kids can do this using technology, but still. Reading is a wonderful, powerful experience that all too few kids value. It shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. Kids can be deeply immersed in online learning and also read!

  • Of course encouraging reading and a love of reading is one of the most important things we can not only do in school, but in the course of our everyday lives. Reading is the key which opens the door to learning.

    I was quoting the teacher with reference to the reading requirement.

    I do think, however, it is very important that learners of all ages read nonfiction texts in addition to fictional texts. Sometimes I think we under-emphasize the value and importance of reading nonfiction texts for pleasure. Blogging can provide good opportunities to read nonfiction texts and reflect on those texts. I don’t have the research on this to cite at my fingertips, but I have heard some interesting statistics on this in the past in terms of how much of the reading graduates are expected to do following graduation is non-fiction.

    I also think it is important to emphasize the ideas we are reading about and not just focus on logging time. The reason our district has a 20 minute per night reading requirement is to encourage reading at home, and that is of course a laudable goal. That requirement is an instrumental goal rather than one with intrinsic value. I don’t want my own children simply excited that they have read for 20 minutes and “checked off that box” in terms of a required assignment. Alfie Kohn discusses this in his book “The Myth of Homework.” All too often, students as well as adults view homework as just something to get finished / completed rather than something which has intrinsic value and leads to conversations and discussions about ideas. I want my kids to comprehend what they read and engage in deep discussions about the ideas, characters, stories, conflicts, issues, etc they are reading about.

    Similar to testing, I think it is all about how the requirement is handled and emphasized. Yes, we have to take tests. But the overall purpose of us being at school should not be seen or communicated to others (students, parents, or anyone) as being simple test-takers. That should not define us. Similarly when it comes to reading, the reason we emphasize reading is not so we can fill our reading logs with statistical numbers. We have reading logs to hopefully encourage a love of reading. As long as my kids are reading books they enjoy and loving reading, I am not really that concerned with their reading logs. We had this discussion this past week. Just as we follow other laws and rules in our community, we are going to log our minutes in their reading folders. We are going to keep talking about the ideas we are reading about, however, because the ideas as well as the love of reading are the most important things.

    We want to avoid (if possible) the tail wagging the dog when it comes to logging reading minutes. That is sometimes a challenge.

  • My kids both have this requirement and it drives me crazy. They ask, “Has it been 20 minutes yet?” and I say, “Are you enjoying the story?” or “Have you read enough to make a new prediction about where the story is headed?” or something. I want them to read because they enjoy it and for more than twenty minutes.

  • Wes!

    This blog is truly inspirational and I will use it as an example at an upcoming conference in my country, South Africa.

    Thank you for taking the time to share it all with us!

  • Excellent post, as always. I think you can take the “checking the box” metaphor further by applying it to the school itself. Ultimately, what you are seeing with such activities as the addition of Smartboards is checking the “technology box” for the school and teachers. It amounts to little more than a PR move, in an attempt to say, “look at us, we’re integrating technology”, and reflects a total lack of commitment and/or interest in any sort of real technology integration. In other words, “what’s the least I can do and still look good” and “how can I fit this in without breaking my routine.”

    Unfortunately, most schools in America are taking this same tack, and it’s a consequence of how we measure technology in schools. States measure solely by computer-to-student ratios, speeds, and feeds. Schools compare themselves with each other based on the same numbers. It’s “he who has the most toys wins”, with little consideration for how the technology is used. Schools then “fit technology in” to their practice by treating it as a subject and by using it to reinforce existing practices (ie delivery), rather than as a learning and creativity tool. It’s technology for technology’s sake, and little else.

    What will it take to change all this? Parents and PTAs standing up and saying, “this isn’t good enough” at back to school night. Communities need to pay attention to board meetings, find out what their schools are spending technology dollars on, get involved in planning (and hiring) committees, and take an active role in decisions moving forward. How much staff development could have been paid for with those Smartboard dollars? Or, how many EeePCs could have been purchased? Did anyone ask that question? It’s unlikely that anyone at the school will, so it’s up to us to ask these questions and drive the changes our students need to succeed in the 21st century.

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