Posts Tagged ‘dichotomies’

Tensions and …Intentions

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2012 at 2:02 pm


In the past month or so I have been reading and thinking a lot about a few things that to me, even after more than 15 years of teaching, still sound like issues I struggle with so I would like to understand how others work them out. 



I don’t think engagement is the real issue – there are many ways to engage students, especially now with so much tech available. I think deep thinking, true reflection and long-term motivation for learning are more critical. 

There are two points I want to make here.

1.      I have seen many educators who use numerous tech resources with their students and that is a good thing. However, most of them did not engage them in deeper thinking, in making crosscurricular connections, in doubting their own knowledge, synthesizing knowledge in new, creative ways. To boost engagement is not enough – kids are always drawn towards new devices and apps. But to what purpose? Is there any evidence of inquiry, questioning, development in thinking afterwards?

2.      Engagement can be really misleading as it can often be nothing but busyness. Keeping kids “engaged” every minute of the day is not necessarily the path to building deeper understandings. Here come the 1) time and the 2) independent thinking time factors. Why? Because students are multitasking anyway – just think of how many subjects they learn daily, from language arts to math and chemistry. We need to go for “less is more” and allow for processing time individually.

Tension: between time constraints and authentic learning, collaboration and individual work


 As I said in a tweet, children are naturally curious. Don’t mistake that with naturally good thinkers – not even all adults are. It takes modeling and practice.

Again, creating a “wonder” environment is not that hard in my experience – kids like to learn many things every time. Our brain is designed as such (another reason we tweet, blog and read a lot in the space of social media nowadays).  What is harder though is to keep them focused on a thread of thought, to make them resilient to obstacles, to make them persevere in finding solutions, to inquire deeper in a certain area. Because thinking is hard and it requires both knowledge and skills, critical thinking skills. To me, in vain we “engage” students unless we enable them to think, unless we model thinking strategies and use them constantly in our lessons. Product-focused or solely task-based learning is not enough for learning. The thinking processes are critical.

Tension: between our need for variety/play and rigor in intellectual pursuits



“The simple fact that a learning achievement is measurable doesn’t make it relevant.” – Lex Hupe

I agree on this but again, how do we know what is relevant? What criteria inform your choices? I always find that the obvious is rarely questioned and hence we keep building confidence that we are always doing the right thing.

Those who advocate for strictly real-life based tasks and learning experiences hit a target but miss a point. Me thinks. Literature and the arts, for instance, are completely “unproductive” in the real world but it is through them that we understand, develop, contribute to and share our humanity. A child is often unlikely to talk about Shel Silverstein’s poems or the law of inertia outside school because s/he engages in different types of learning – social and emotional mostly. Does that mean we have to take away from their education these bits of wonder and encounters with the humanities/sciences just because they are not built within a “real-life” context?

The other extreme – keeping the subjects strictly on an academic level – is as damaging. Unfamiliar experiences, both in time and space as well as emotional, become a wall in the process of internalizing information. 

Tension: between real-life experiences and what education offers


Empowerment vs. Accommodation

I still find it hard to draw the line between the two. It is obvious, from brain research as well, that we need challenging tasks so we can actually learn – we need moments of confusion so we can step back and reevaluate our knowledge in a new light. But how challenging should “challenging” be? Or how easy should “easy” be? How do I know, with each and every student, that I respond to his/her needs but still push them forward? How do I know I only accommodate instead of empower? Pretty tricky for me as I teach a class of second-language learners who not only vary in terms of age (from 7 to 10) but also have strengths in so many diverse areas.

Tension: between needs and goals

Other dichotomies – tech vs. analog, knowledge vs. skills etc – are simply false and I won’t bother mentioning them. My intentions are to reflect more on the issues presented above and find some answers in the future. It is, eventually, a balancing act and that is where expertise and art combine.

What are your takes? Do you have any of these questions in the back of your mind when you teach? I would love to hear others’ input. 

*Photo: – I edited it as it requires no  attribution and it allows for remixing work. 

*I hate it when Posterous changes quotation marks and hyphens into squiggly things. 



Assessment..or How Guilty We Can Be

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm


I was thinking that some of us are not aware of the many assessment errors we make…I know I was and perhaps will be guilty of some so I thought I would make a list to remind myself. On the oher hand, I think we all need a reminder of what can go wrong because of our inherent human nature….but which should NOT impact children.

1. The “halo” effect
The teacher tends to give the same grade to the same students based on an overall impression (usually formed at the beginning of the year). Thus neither the little progress struggling learners make is noticed nor the minor errors the “good” ones have.

2. The “anchor” effect:
The teacher notices an outstanding/new approach of a student in relation to their work and will make THAT a standard for the rest of the classroom. Unfair, right?

3. The “Pygmalion” effect:
The teacher influences the results students have by explicit or implicit language/behavior (we all know that successful students tend to be more motivated and thus get to work harder and vice versa).

4. The “central tendency” effect:
It is usually the new teachers who fall in this category: they are afraid not to over- or underestimate learners and so they use “middle” grades.

5. The “similarity” effect:
The teacher takes himself/herself as a reference point in assessing students: that is, if s/he was a successful, hardworking student in their youth…they would most likely “punish” the students who do not follow this pattern.

6. The “contrast” effect:
The teacher assesses students based on the PROXIMITY of their work: we tend to underestimate a student’s project/test/product if it follows an outstanding one and vice versa.

7. The “logical fallacy” effect:
The teacher replaces the real indicators/standards of excellent work with others, which are tangential to the actual level of learning such as the effort the student put, the general qualities the respective student has (hardworking, discipline, determination etc).

8. The “order” effect:
The teacher grades different student products with similar grades and fails to notice the differences due to exhaustion or other mood-related parameters. 

9. The “teacher style” effect:
The teacher assesses in accordance to their own style: either focused on “quantity” of knowledge or on creativity, originality.

Do you think you were guilty of any of these? Because I know I have been sometimes and I need to remember that.