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8 posts from February 2013

Kristin | | February 26, 2013

What's Two Kids More?


Article-2059755-0EBF0C3100000578-598_634x381By Kristin

That's a huge wave.  If you've ever carried a gallon of water you might have a better appreciation for what it feels like to have tens of thousands of gallons of water smashing into you.  

I have surfed, badly, and on waves that were maybe two feet high.  I grew up in San Diego and am a strong swimmer so I thought - before I ever tried surfing - that it would be easy.  It's not, and when you bury the nose of that board in a two foot wave and flip foot over head, it hurts.  When you add a child to a classroom, you're adding the whole range of needs that child brings.  It's like adding a foot to a wave - it's not just one foot of water, it's a foot of water that's 300 meters long.  That's a lot of weight added to that wave.

Some people - people who have never taught 32 children - think it's not a big deal to add a child or two to a classroom.  It is a big deal, and I would argue that just like surfing isn't about being a swimmer, teaching more children isn't a matter of being a teacher - it's an entirely different game, and not one that someone who wants what's best for children would support.

Maren Johnson | National Board Certification, Professional Development | February 24, 2013

National Board cohort goes on a Road Trip


by Maren Johnson

We set out in a big red van with a fiery primary school teacher at the wheel. Watch out! This teacher sometimes uses her van to haul her miniature horse, but today, she hauled us, the local National Board cohort. Our destination? WEA Home Stretch, an opportunity for National Board candidates to give and receive feedback on an entry and prepare for the assessment center exercises. The intrepid candidates from our local cohort have only a short time left before their final deadline.

We picked up a math teacher hanging out alongside the highway and we were on our way. Oops, we're missing the band teacher, but not to worry, we finally found him on the ferry. We drove over hill and dale, canal and bridge, and then set sail on the 6:25 am boat across the Puget Sound.

Mark Gardner | | February 23, 2013

Progress versus Achievement


I had a student walk into my 9th grade class five years ago, and after her first writing sample I knew that I was going to struggle.

What she wrote stymied me. It was fluid, articulate, focused, insightful...all of the things I wanted my students' writing to be. If my supervisor had walked in and glanced over her shoulder as she worked in my room, the level of quality he'd see there would be above-and-beyond--and probably make me look darn good at first blush.

Over the next four years, she was a student in my 9th, 10th, and 12th grade classrooms. By the time she graduated, I had shared with her many, many times how she had challenged me as a professional to find ways to push her to that "next level" as a writer and thinker. She had walked in my door from day one a high-achiever in that regard. Many times, I questioned whether I had been able to truly promote progress, but through the teacher-student relationship we developed, she helped me see the very small, subtle ways that I had in fact helped her progress as a writer--not so much in mechanics as in nuanced craft and internal disposition.

Mark Gardner | | February 15, 2013



File511ea3ff0fb8fA couple of weeks ago it was finals week at my school. My English 9 semester final included both skills and content assessments which represented the culmination of the work we'd done for 18 weeks, and included assessments in reading comprehension, literary terms, writing skills, and speaking skills. Overall the class performed quite well.

One portion of the final asked students to use TPCASTT to annotate a poem that was unfamiliar to them, and then compose a one-page analysis of how the shifts (or juxtapositions) in tone or structure within the poem helped to illuminate a central theme or main idea of the poem. 

For that particular part, I had high standards. And sadly, low expectations.

In the weeks leading up to the final, we'd practiced those two skills (poetry annotation and evidence-based written analysis) and the results were underwhelming. In total, if students did what was asked, they wrote a total of eight paragraphs, each one receiving formative feedback from me, to get practice and demonstrate progress toward the final.

Too often, my feedback went unheeded and mistakes were repeated, nuances of the poems missed or written analysis underdeveloped. I fully expected this written portion of the final to drag everyone under.

Of course, as teenagers are wont to do, they surprised me.

Maren Johnson | Assessment, Life in the Classroom, Science | February 11, 2013

Double your fun with dual credit! Your Brain on Drugs

Photo Feb 9, 2013, 10:42 AM
by Maren Johnson


I'm excited about a new class I'm teaching next year. Yes, it's the honeymoon period--I haven't started teaching the class yet, so I'm still in the thinking, dreaming, imagining period--but hey, it's a good place to be--I'm going to enjoy it while I can.

The new class? It's a "college in the high school" biology class--a partnership between my high school and a state university to offer students dual credit. Students will be able to earn both high school and college credit while taking a class right here in their own school.

The class itself is fascinating. We are going to study the fundamentals of biology while looking through the lens of addiction, psychoactive drugs, and the human brain. We're going to do a series of cool labs, there's an online component, and even an interesting text. The biology of cells, organs, systems, and behavior--it's all there, we're just using a specific, high interest focus--the brain and addiction--to study it.

And why do I have time to think, dream, imagine about a new class? It's because I have a student teacher.

Tom | | February 10, 2013

Should We Expect a Return on our Education Investment?



If there was any doubt about what education funding in Washington will look like when the legislature finally gets around to complying with the McCleary Decision, that matter has been put to rest.

Steve Litzow, the new chair of the Senate Education Committee, published an op-ed in the Seattle Times this week outlining the ever-popular opinion that education funding should be tied to results. The background for his piece appears to be a study by the Center for American Progress which examined data from school districts all over the country, looking at the correlation between money spent on education and student achievement.

The apparent goal is to be a low-spending, high-achieving school district. An efficient, results-based district. Obviously, this is a goal borrowed from the business world. People who spend money want to see results from that expenditure. People who spend even more money want to see even more results. And while that sort of thinking certainly stands to reason, I think we need to think it through before assuming that this fundamental economic principal is applicable to education.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | February 9, 2013

Matters of Education...and Class Size


Class sizeLast year was my first foray into tromping the halls of Olympia as a novice education advocate. I'm still far from an expert--which was one of my reasons for being so reticent to have a political voice.

I think many of us feel that way. The first step, as always, is just to pay, watch, listen, make up your mind (and remember, it's okay to disagree with your colleagues, your school, and your union, as long as your disagreement is informed).

WEA keeps an active site that is a good place for your radar to first ping: OurVoice. A few bills of note (and I think they're all still live as I type this...but things can change quickly!)

  • S5588: Restricts use of half-days for professional development, marketed as "changing the definition of 'school day.'" (WEA's take, here.)
  • HB1293: Requires districts to disclose the real costs of testing, which has led parents to ask legislators a question they cannot seem to answer.
  • HB1673: Gradually reduces student-to-teacher class size ratios for calculating state allocations, including provisions for even smaller class sizes in high-poverty schools. According to this document, Washington would need to hire over 12,000 teachers to bring our class size to the national average (we're presently the 4th most crowded). 

While there are other bills (and troubling ideas) out there and various stages of their life cycles, ranging from misguided attempts to businessify the teacher evaluation model that hasn't even been given the chance to get off the ground to others that affect collective bargaining, the class size bill, HB1673, is the one I'm thinking about at the moment. 

Mark Gardner | | February 4, 2013

Student Growth and My Job Evaluation


Chart-arrowShould I be evaluated on the growth my students make during their time with me?

Sure. That's my job, after all: make them leave with stronger skills and deeper knowledge than they had walking in.

The conversation about how student growth will be a part of our evaluations under TPEP continues to evolve and we need to keep paying attention. I personally think that OSPI has actually made some smart decisions (no offense, but how often do you hear people say that kind of thing?) particularly with emphasizing that student growth data must come from the right kind of assessment. As the debate continues to swirl, we need to think about what will and won't work in terms of student growth data that is an accurate reflection of teacher performance.

Here's what will not work for measuring the growth I guide my students to achieve:

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