Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What's Wrong in the Classroom

The last year I taught in a public school, I was evaluated three separate times because, I was told, my lessons were too student-focused, and I couldn't be evaluated using a standard rubric where a teacher stands up and lectures for 45 minutes. My lesson on the first day consisted of me taking about five minutes to focus the class and deliver the basic schedule du jour (which was also written on the board behind me), and then for the next 50 minutes meeting with every single student in the room to conference on their work, answering questions, asking questions and generlaly making sure everyone had what they needed and were on track (and remediating if necessary). All of these individual conferences were written up later in each student's portfolio. For my final evaluation, I had to interrupt the flow of my class to lecture for 30 minutes, just so I could be evaluated. Ridiculous.

I missed the memo where teaching =  lecture all of the time. Georgia struggles with teacher evaluation, period, as noted in today's Atlanta Journal Constitution (which is one of the reasons pay-for-performance is resisted. The evaluators are clueless, but they get to decide how much a teacher makes? No thanks).

Apparently, Los Altos in California missed the memo as well. Classes are using Khan Academy's math programs to differentiate learning and get immediate feedback on where students are excelling and where they struggle. Instead of lecturing all class period, a teacher acts as a one-to-one tutor for students who need it; Khan also allows a teacher to assign practice sets or different levels.

I am not one of those who drank the Khan Academy Kool-aid; I do think the site is incredible and a great supplement, but I would be wary of entire districts implementing this as their sole math program. That said, this is the kind of idea that is gaining traction in school reform, as it should, because it allows teachers to really pinpoint areas of difficulty and personalize instructional strategies. It is connect-the-dots differentiation, which many (most) teachers need (as states are cutting professional development money and yet expect teachers to be magically trained in the latest buzzwords/technologies. Asinine), and it even accomodates larger class sizes.

My last incompetent evaluator would not be able to understand the value in this type of student-focused instruction, but hopefully teachers are seeing it and trying it out.

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