#ThankATeacher

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“…I had incredible teachers. And as I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all of these things came from the way that I was parented and taught.

And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have made me so successful  professionally — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.

I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time was not taken up with a bunch of silly test prep — a bunch of drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. In other words, they were allowed to be teachers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that.’ Actually, I have it in quotes cause she said, ‘It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it will just make him nervous.’ Yes, it was the late 70’s…I guess we could get away with it back then.

Well, I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.

I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based not on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.

I honestly don’t know where I would be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.

This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you guys must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.

So, the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself being called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. … Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.”

~ Matt Damon, Save Our Schools March 7/30/2011

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Performance Standards

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The Common Core’s emphasis on higher learning standards is well intended but poorly executed and evaluated. Standards are expectations of student learning and skill development. Skills must be acquired by students rather than imparted by teachers or the standards.

We are mistakenly evaluating student learning and predicting future outcomes based on how well a child meets a particular standard of performance at a predetermined moment in time regardless of individual circumstance, ability, or disability.

Availability of funding, class size, academic support programs, wrap around services, along with numerous other  “barriers to learning” that exist outside of school and beyond the reach of teachers, can also have an impact and diminish student performance.

Furthermore, cognitive skills emerge and develop differently in people depending on both genetic and environmental factors, and that is why K-12 education programs should focus on the acquisition and cultivation of individualized, customized, and transferable skills, rather than standardized ones.

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Conversely, learning activities that foster the development of foundational social and emotional skills and cultivate student agency should be standard practice and a primary focus of all K-12 programs.

Students learn differently and school programs that emphasize a standardized curriculum and standardized testing will not by osmosis standardize student skills and abilities or synchronize student learning.

Students must actively participate in the learning process and care to do better if their performance is going to improve.

Learning is not done to you.

learning is something you choose to do.

~Seth Godin

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Student agency and self-efficacy is an essential component of achievement and learning in school. The appropriate and effective application of hard skills is soft skills dependent.

Rather than a narrow focus on the acquisition of “college ready” numeracy and literacy skills measured by a standardized test, K-12 education programs should cultivate the development of diverse academic, social, and emotional skills that will prepare students for the real “tests” in life.

Common Core’s misguided emphasis on rigorous “college ready” math and ELA skills may be well intended, but in practice other critically important skills and vigorous learning experiences are crowded out and receive less attention in the classroom.

A broad-based and well balanced K-12 education program will help to assure that each child achieves his or her academic, social, and emotional potential as they acquire a comprehensive and customized set of life skills and “tools”.

A contractor may possess the literacy skills to understand building plans, permits, and blueprints along with the numeracy skills to construct a level, square, and properly angled structure but that is of little consequence if he or she lacks the self-confidence and courage to climb a ladder and the balance to work on a roof.

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Every person is unique and cognitive ability will always differ among our students. K-12 education programs must include activities and diverse experiences or “pathways” that cultivate academic, social, emotional, and vocational skills that will enhance and support student learning and growth throughout life.

Passion-driven learning respects students as individual learners with unique interests, talents, and abilities while data-driven Common Core education programs seek to rate, sort, and compare students according to a narrow and standardized set of math and ELA skills.

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Cognitively delayed and disabled students who are resourceful, creative, persistent, self-reliant, compassionate, generous, curious, confident, flexible, open-minded, courageous, resilient, and volunteer will succeed in college and careers.

Students who are academically and cognitively proficient but are selfish, lazy, hesitant, dishonest, unreliable, dispassionate, rigid, compelled, doubtful, indifferent, spiritless, unimaginative, and narrow minded will not be successful in college and work environments.

A more accurate and reliable indicator or predictor of “readiness” is not how well you perform on a standardized test at a particular moment in time, but whether you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue learning and striving towards a higher level of performance.

It is foolish to claim that all high school graduates must first acquire the same “college ready” Common Core math and ELA skills in order to attend and succeed in college, when they just need to be “ready to learn” and apply the numeracy and literacy skills they do have in more advanced and challenging ways.

What would have been the likelihood of Michael Jordan being “career ready” if his K-12 schooling was focused primarily on acquiring the same math and ELA skills as his classmates at the expense of time spent discovering his passion and developing his unique and special athletic skills and abilities?

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