Friday, August 31, 2007

The Anti-Post

I've made a secret pact with my blogging self that I would avoid the creepy and pseudo-esoteric practice of demonstrating my level of literacy by finding inspiration for posting from someone else's post, but today I must break my word.

Dan Meyer writes a model for assessment in his most recent post. It is thorough. It is impressive. I will share it with my faculty. But I find myself caught in a moment of intellectual trepidation.

Project-Based Learning and Differentiated Instruction have a tough time co-mingling with today's Standards driven "high-stakes" testing and NCLB, but the goal of what I do is teaching (and yes, I've read Integrating: Differentiated Instruction + Understanding by Design, by Carol Ann Tomlinson & Jay McTighe).

And here is a response I sent to Dan and I feel it conveys something that is neither 21st Century, Web2.0, or edtech-centric.

Dan, It goes w/out saying that I really enjoy and value your voice. I just finished reading your entry entitled "The Presentation" (10/22/06). At heart and training, I am an English teacher. Although I'd argue that I am more of a people teacher than anything else. You stated in your post today that people invariably forget everything and I totally agree w/ that concept.

Former students contact me and since these students tend to be the ones who want to contact me, their feedback usually conveys the message of, "I really enjoyed your class." When I poke and prod (subtly, as not to indicate that I might actually enjoy the ego-massage), I learn that they never enjoyed the novels. or the vowels, or the alliteration, or the vocabulary, but the atmosphere I created and sustained that made the semester-long course relevant and meaningful in their lives.

The most profound compliment I ever received came from a former student named Tiffany. Tiffany wrote me a letter just before her graduation. In that letter, she recalled a moment from days earlier where she and her mother were sitting on the couch watching a sit-com. In the show, one character made an allusion to 'Hamlet'. Tiffany laughed out loud, and her mother, confused, turned and asked what was so funny. Tiffany's letter ended by stating that my course has allowed her to understand the little jokes on TV.

Perhaps I belittle my own profession by claiming that the aforementioned anecdote serves as the best example of my ability to teach, but I really think Tiffany made a profound point. Understanding and appreciation of learning, and for that matter, learning itself, occur in odd moments and odd places.

I'd argue that your blog is Project-Based Learning. I'd argue that you serve as a wonderful model for the value of non-traditional assessment. I'd argue that your blog has empowered you to inform your own instruction, engage in metacognition, and most importantly, demonstrate your learning. And therefore, I'd argue that something like a blog can work in any subject area.

A new assessment model surely might need to be created. Maybe I'll work on one.

"School is silly. Learning is important." The best teacher ever, Mr Ralph Maltese, taught me this when I was a student in his class 20 years ago and he reminded me of this point three months ago. Thanks for taking the time to read this. As my district prepares for a possible strike, I have found myself thinking, a lot, about learning, instruction, and all that good stuff.

I wonder what we're doing. You know, the why of it all. How to measure, really measure, learning? I don't think it always fits on a graph or a spreadsheet.

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