Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A practical implication of very low proficiency rates

I didn't come up with this myself, but it is now the conventional wisdom in Providence's high schools that the immediate priority in terms of raising test scores is to focus on the highest achieving students. If only 5% or so are passing, and getting to 10% or 15% would be a great step, you're talking about getting, say, instead of one or two kids in each classroom over the standards to getting three or four to pass. Realistically, most of the class has no chance. The "bubble kids" are now at the top of the class.

I'm not saying that's the official policy, anyone's acting on that, whatever. It is just clear that if you get together, analyze the data, and come up with a strategic plan... that's what the data is telling you. It is a rather different "call to action" than most ed reform advocates think they're making.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Common Core & Style

Fredrik deBoer:

My fundamental learning goal in teaching style is this: to demystify prose style. Very often, students coming to a formal consideration of prose style with a sense that prose style is a pure “feel” thing, that they know it when they see it but can’t put their finger on it. That’s romantic, but it stands in the way of their adopting prose style themselves. My intent is to demonstrate to them that style emerges from the text itself, that we can observe style the way we do any other textual feature, and that we can in type write with our own style by becoming more attuned to how great stylists write.

To that end, I teach a three part assignment sequence. First, students write a brief analysis of a writer’s prose, identifying its salient features and the textual properties that makes it stand out. Second, students parody a writer’s style, typically rewriting an already written passage in a caricature of another writer’s style, or writing their own narrative in that style. Finally, students write their own text, perhaps a narrative, review, or editorial, in highly stylized prose, working to inflect their own writing with some of the features they’ve recently identified in that of others. Assignment sheets for this sequence can be found in my Teaching Portfolio.

Since this is in the context of teaching freshman composition at a major university, it piques my interest in relation to "college and career readiness." How does the first part of this sequence -- students write a brief analysis of a writer’s prose, identifying its salient features and the textual properties that makes it stand out -- relate to Common Core reading?

Jumping to the chase a bit, the bottom line to me is that deBoer's assignment is arguably a better, clearer, if a bit unpolished "standard" than the Common Core equivalents, which would be:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Compare this to, say, the NECAP Grade Span Expectation:

R–12–6 Analyze and interpret author’s craft within or across texts, citing evidence where appropriate by…
  • R–12–6.1a. Demonstrating knowledge of author’s style or use of literary elements and devices (e.g., simile, metaphor, point of view, imagery, repetition, flashback, foreshadowing, personification, hyperbole, symbolism, analogy, allusion, diction, syntax, genre, or bias, or use of punctuation) to analyze literary works
  • R–12–6.1.b. Examining author’s style or use of literary devices to convey theme

The NECAP expectation seems closer to what deBoer is asking his incoming students to be able to do as the first part of a multi-part assignment. The Common Core is, as always, oddly fragmented and over-specific. Students jump right into assessing how point of view or purpose shapes style without preliminary standards teaching what style is. Standard four is mostly about the meaning of specific words, five about overall structure, and six is about point of view but also in the grade level standards slides away from authorial point of view into character point of view. The parts don't seem to add up to the whole.

Anyhow, I suppose deBoer will see in a few years if students start having a slightly different reaction to this assignment, clicking into their PARCC-ready close reading drill, and if that is better or worse.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nobody wants to fund foundational R&D in ed tech and assessment. STILL.

Kerri Lemoie:

This week at MozFest in London there’s a session called “Hack the Backpack” where the Open Badges community is being asked to help contribute to long-standing open and unaddressed issues regarding the backpack. It needs some “love”. But why is the Backpack in such dire need of attention? Isn’t Mozilla working on it?

You’d think so. It’s actually unclear why it’s still called the Mozilla Open Badges Backpack at all since there is not a single full-time employee left at the Mozilla Foundation assigned to Open Badges. There is no Open Badges Team at Mozilla.

The team was disbanded well over a year ago. Not only was the backpack abandoned — technically put on “maintenance mode” — any real initiatives and plans for what the backpack was supposed to be were essentially put on hold since the spring of 2013. Resources at Mozilla for Open Badges were redirected to support Chicago Summer of Learning and after that to support Cities of Learning in late 2013–2014. The Open Badges team focused on the much hyped BadgeKit which was really only used as a private beta for Cities of Learning and then abandoned in the summer of 2014.

In the late winter of 2014, a handful of the Open Badges founders formed the Badge Alliance to support the work of the community and keep the Open Badges Specification and infrastructure moving forward. It was funded in a cooperative effort by the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla but after 6 months, the Badge Alliance lost its anticipated 2 year funding stream. By December 2014, both the Badge Alliance staff and the Open Badges team at Mozilla were gone.

The Open Badges community, mostly unaware of this, remained and continued to grow. Through June 2015, the Badge Alliance staff kept going anyway — unpaid and unauthorized. They persisted with the hope that the funding would return and out of concern and loyalty for the work and community. Without that effort the Open Badges community calls and the specification work would have come to a screeching halt leaving a leadership vacuum and throwing the growing but still nascent ecosystem into uncertainty.

I could have gotten in on the ground floor, or more accurately the sub-basement, of this scene starting 12 years ago or so, but at the time it was clear that the potential funders of the work were 5-10 years away from understanding what was necessary, and much worse than that, doing this work correctly is a massive multi-disciplinary project. It is exactly the kind of thing futurists are referring to when they talk about the demand for jobs that don't exist today. And yet, they just don't seem to grasp the difficulty of this work, and the huge long term investment that would be necessary to even get the infrastructure and core standards working properly.

Anyhow, I haven't been following this scene extensively, but based on my knowledge of the problem space, the economics and politics of open source development, and foundations, this all rings quite true.