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Open House: OMG!

September 15, 2013 — 1 Comment

September is Open House Month, and the welcoming speech from a teacher could sound like this:

“Welcome, Parents! Let me show you how to access my website on the SMARTboard where you can see how the CCSS are aligned with our curriculum. You can monitor your child’s AYP by accessing our SIS system, Powerschool. In addition, all of our assignments are on the class wiki that you can access 24/7.  As we are a BYOD school, your child will need a digital device with a 7″ screen to use in class.”


How parents may feel during Open House listening to education acronyms

The result of such a speech is that parents may feel like students all over again. The same people who sat in desks, perhaps only a few years ago, now are on another side of the classroom experience, and the rapid changes caused by the use of technology in education necessitate a need for education primer, a list of important terms to know. While attending the Open House, parents can observe that there are still bulletin boards showcasing student work. They can note how small the desks appear now, if there are desks. Perhaps the lunch lady is the same individual who doled out applesauce and tater tots onto their school lunch trays.  Yet, listening to how instruction is delivered, monitored, and accessed may make parents feel that they are in some alien experience with instructors and administrators spouting a foreign language. Just what is a wiki? they may wonder, and what does BYOD stand for?

So, let’s begin with some of the acronyms.  At Open House, educators may casually throw around some of the following terms to explain what they teach or how they measure what they teach:

  • PBL (Project Based Learning) a hands-on lesson;
  • SIS (Student Information System);
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy: a sequence of learning based on complication of task and level of critical thinking which is being replaced by the DOK;
  • DOK (Depths of Knowledge) complication of task and level of critical thinking required
  • ESL (English as a Second Language);
  • AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress);
  • WIKI: a web application which allows people to add, modify, or delete content in a collaboration with others; and
  • SMARTboard: interactive white board

Subject area names may also seem unfamiliar since they now reflect a different focus on areas in education. English is now ELA (English/Language Arts) while science and math have merged like the Transformers into the mighty STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The old PE class may now bear the moniker Physical Activity and Health (PAH), but  History has already dealt with the shift to the more inclusive term Social Studies coined in the 1970s.

Assessment (testing) brings about another page in the list of education acronyms that parents may hear on Open House, including these few examples:

DRP (Degrees of Reading Power) reading engagement, oral reading fluency, and comprehension younger elementary students;
DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) reading engagement, oral reading fluency, and comprehension in elementary and middle grade students;
STAR: new skills-based test items, and new in-depth reports for screening, instructional planning, progress monitoring;
PSAT/SAT/ACT:designed to assess student academic readiness for college 

Parents, however, should be aware that they are not alone in their confusion. Educators often deal with acronym duplication, and  state by state the abbreviations may change. In Connecticut, some students have IEPs (Individual Education Plans), but all students have SSP (Student Success Profiles) which shares the same acronym with the SSP (Strategic School Profile). Connecticut introduced the teacher evaluation program SEED known as the System for Educator Evaluation and Development, which is an acronym not to be confused with SEED, a partnership with urban communities to provide educational opportunities that prepare underserved students for success in college and career.

Federal programs only add to the list of abbreviations. Since 1975, students have been taught while IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has been implemented. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) has been the dominating force in education for the length of the Class of 14’s time in school, along with its partner SSA (Student Success Act) which is similar to, but not exactly like, the SSP mentioned earlier. The latest initiative to enter the list of reform movements that parents should know  is known as the CCSS the Common Core State Standards.

The CCSS are academic standards developed in 2009 and adopted by 45 states in order to provide “a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” Many of the concepts in the CCSS will be familiar to parents, however, the grade level at which they are introduced may be a surprise. Just as their parents may have been surprised to find the periodic tables in their 5th grade science textbooks, there are many concepts in math (algebra) and English (schema) that are being introduced as early as Kindergarten.

So when a student leaves in the morning with a digital device for school, BYOD or BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) and sends a “text” that they will be staying late for extra help or extra-curricular activities, parents should embrace the enhanced communication that this Brave New World of technology in education is using. If at Open House a parent needs a quick explanation of the terms being used by a teacher, he should raise his hand;  in spite of all these newfangled terms and devices, that action still signals a question.

Above all, parents should get to know the most important people in the building: the school secretary (sorry, the Office Coordinator) and the school custodian (sorry, FMP: Facility Maintenance Personnel). They know where your child left her backpack.

Teachers Built “It”

September 4, 2012 — Leave a comment

The claim “I built it” is being tossed around this political season.  I am not a fan of the unspecific pronoun “it”, but as “it” in this context stands for any one of a number of diverse businesses that power our nation’s economy, the inclusive, ubiquitous pronoun will have to serve.

While I agree that the success of our nation is due in large part to those who “built it [businesses]” in the past and to those individuals who will “build it [businesses]” in the future, I feel the need to point out that there is one profession that has more claim to this catch phrase then others. If America is a world power today because of those who “built it,” the individuals who “built it” are teachers. For example:

  • Teachers have “built it” by  teaching the reading and comprehension of texts in differing levels of complexity;
  • Teachers have “built it” by teaching formal and informal writing to communicate;
  • Teachers have “built it” by explaining the essentials of numeracy;
  • Teachers have “built it” by presenting the basic  laws of motion, gravity, and energy;
  • Teachers have “built it” by clarifying the organization of elements which compose the organic and inorganic on the planet;
  • Teachers have “built it” by explaining  science of colors and techniques of expression or the science of sound and musical techniques of expression or the science of drama and the techniques of performance;
  • Teachers have “built it” by presenting instruction in other languages to promote global understanding;
  • Teachers have literally  “built it” with hands-on lessons in engineering and industrials arts.
  • Teachers have “built it” by presenting lessons of history; the lessons of economic principles to budding businessmen, strategic principles to future military leaders, and political science to future politicians;
  • Teachers have “built it” by instilling an appreciation for civics and law to our nations’ citizens and to those who directly interpret and defend our Constitution.

Teachers at every grade level, teaching youngsters in kindergarten to teaching adults in graduate school, have had a hand in building our nation’s skills and developing our national brain trust. Teachers in all schools, public and private, have dedicated time and energy in the passing of information from one generation to the next. Teachers of all disciplines have shared their expertise in the hopes of building a better society.

Granted, not all teaching has been successful. There have been teachers that have missed steps in the building of knowledge; students may not have gained information that would have been beneficial. Some lessons have ended in failure, and despite best efforts, statistics on literacy for American adults vary over 80%. There is more that can be done to improve education, and so there are teachers working to “build” a better education system for all citizens.

Teachers are “building it” using the Bloom’s taxonomy of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Teachers are “building it” with an appreciation for the different learning styles of students from the verbal-linguistic to the  logical-mathematical; from the visual-spatial to the bodily-kinesthetic; from the interpersonal to the intrapersonal, and from the musical to the naturalistic.

In classrooms everywhere, whether a student is seated in an august university or in a home school kitchen, there are teachers who are at this very moment teaching students how to “build it”, whatever “it” might be. In each of these classrooms, the “building on” knowledge and understanding is critical to the success of what will be “built” in the future.

The phrase, “I built it” might even have its origins in the classroom. How often has teacher affirmed a student’s success with “You did it!” or “Look what you did!” rather than self-serving “Look what you just learned because a teacher taught you.”

Yes, our nation has been blessed with  inventors, industrialists, and entrepreneurs who can claim that they “built” successful economic enterprises. Yes, our nation has great artists, philosophers, and communicators who “built” our formidable culture.Yes, our nation is rich with independent and collaborative thinkers who now “build” pathways for our future.

But do not forget that there have been the teachers who “built it”in the classrooms where “it” stands for intellectual curiosity, understanding, and knowledge. The “it” that teachers build is education.

I am glad there are so many Americans of every political persuasion who proudly can state, “I built it!” Just so they remember that they “built it” because their teachers taught them how.