Dirty Laundry Item #2 – Not having made a record of my data.
February 12, 2012, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I want to be accountable. Waaaaay more accountable than what the results of a one-time standardized test score can tell anyone about what a student has learned, when then have learned it, and why they learned it.

Dear whoever brought about the idea that standardized tests will fix everything:


Sincerely, OFOT


Ok so let’s say you are a parent who wants a, rigorous, strict, inspiring, perhaps religious, individualized educational experience for your child. We all want an excellent education for our kids. Those of us who have school age children and/or happen to be teachers know the quality of feedback from standardized tests is LAME. I am sure you were just talking about stanines the other day? No?

What does any of it really tell you? My kid’s recent test scores could support the hypothesis that summer vacation had a larger affect on learning than school. The scores were higher at the beginning of this year and then just recently went down again after 5 months of school. The analysis is either 1) true, and school is “bad”, thus teachers are bad. Or 2) false, it means standardized tests are “bad” and thus current policy decisions like RTTT are “bad”. Which is correct? Can’t figure it out? Hmm – no way to tell who is right? WHY? Because the quality of the feedback sucks! Or perhaps I can state this in a more mature way – it is not meaningful.

If we try to figure out “what” is wrong with education. Pretty tough, there are A LOT of variables there. But I would garner that what is wrong is a lack of meaningful quality feedback. I must thank many of the other bloggers like Shawn Cornally ( and Frank Noschese ( ) for bringing this concept to my attention.

The lack of meaningful feedback is killing education at ALL levels.

• Students don’t get enough quality feedback in their day to day experiences in school

• Teachers don’t get enough quality feedback in their teaching

• Administrators really don’t get any feedback on their work

• Standardized Tests don’t give us quality feedback

• Research is not consolidated enough to have feedback that can impact all of the above.

If every player here were to work on one sole thing – improving the quality of feedback, we would have see improvement.

The quality of the data we do have is either flawed or not organized enough support or disprove any hypothesis that is out there. So it is easy for those with money and who want to make more money to take advantage of this mess. What does inadequate feedback look like?

At the fundamental level – my experience with my own education, my initial style of teaching, and what I am seeing with my daughter’s education might serve as a decent snapshot. I don’ t really think I have given kids a lot of personal feedback over the years and I don’t see my own child very aware of where she “is” in her understanding of what she is supposed to learn.

What if I did? What if along the way to mastering a skill I actually got to focus on how I could help them understand things more deeply and give them better critical analysis of a problem or phenomenon and also better critical analysis of where they are in their understanding . They might even feel more control over their success and perhaps some intrinsic value would start to set in. This sounds pretty crazy when I am supposed to teach them all at once! But I am re-thinking things… (insert SBG plug here)

What if those standardized tests were something I had access to giving as a parent? That I could pull up the NWEA on my home computer at any time and sit my darling dear there for an hour and see where she is lacking understanding. Then teachers and parents could be on the same page about skill levels and have meaningful discussion that extended beyond “work harder” and “study more”.

What if I had administrators really watching what I do and we could talk about the highs and lows of a lesson or assessment practice. What if the administrators really had a wealth of ideas to add to my collective experiences so each year I could refine my pedagogy. Perhaps other teachers could give me feedback and we could adopt Randy Nelson from Pixar’s concept of “Plussing”? ( )

What if politicians really had meaningful feedback about pedagogical processes? This is the biggest mistake public education has made. If there is any true criticism I have of my union membership, it may be that perhaps it made us too comfortable to think we would ever be attacked and have to justify why we do what we do. There has not really been a place or time where part of our jobs has been to record what we know to be effective. We may have thought it was someone else’s job to do so, but really how could they do that? If you are a teacher, you know – it is so organic. Only we can do it. It’s a bit like Einstein’s paper on relativity that sat for so long before people noticed how significant it was. We really have not even “written a paper” yet.

Let’s make this happen. The only way to fight the data driven war may be with more data. I have hatched up a plan inspired by reading posts about how schools and schools and public policy and even some unions are allowing non-educators continue to rule the roost. We can sit back stunned with our jaws dropped open at how ludicrous it all is, or we can get in the game and switch from defense to offense. We definitely need a name that makes a good acronym; this is education after all silly! Now taking suggestions…

I am making a binder, both virtual (perhaps on Evernote) and a paper copy. I am going to set that binder right by my desk and it is going to be filled with the research I have done to create what I currently believe is the best pedagogy for my discipline and the age level I teach. I considered labeling it THE BIG BINDER OF GO SCREW YOURSELF STANDARDIZED TEST PROFITEERS! OK – maybe not, but that’s what I want to call it.

So let’s get to some specifics… what could be in it.

• Section I: Research based pedagogy – for me it will include Modeling, Peer Instruction, and Project Based Learning to start

• Section II: Effective Assessment Practices Standards (Skills) Based Grading • Section III: Research not supporting test driven curricular decisions

• Section IV: Research on Effective Teacher Evaluation

• Section V: Research on effective implementation of Technology

• Section VI: Ideas for Administrators and Policy Makers • Section IV: The Tenure Law – several copies to hand out so I can show where it protects bad teachers (it doesn’t)

And then I will once again be listening to myself. And I do know I know more than the average Joe or Jane about teaching and learning 

Dirty Laundry Item #3 – stay tuned…


January 16, 2012, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Wow – since starting this blog I have discovered so much, and have an optimism I have not felt in years.  I love that feeling and hate it at the same time.  I kind of like being snarky and it is hard to be a bitchy optimist.  I am still freaked but in a good way. We may really have more control over the future than we think.  I abhor the idea of getting “political” in so many ways (I think my strengths lie inside those 4 cinder block walls) but I also don’t see how putting my head in the sand is a very responsible or ethical thing to do in these times.  Heck – I have kids of my own in school. I want the best for them too. The laundry list starts today…

 Dirty Item 1: My Naiveté.  Please join Twitter and Tweet!

My first visits to Twitter, when the blue bird first arrived on the scene, were filled with dreams that Dave Matthews would one day follow me and we would become special friends.  Oh well.   During  my physics  modeling class this summer, my teacher encouraged me to use Twitter.  I re-visited and now realize its potential.  I use Twitter as the portal out of my hermetically sealed classroom into  a community that is filled with intelligent, funny, passionate, “bring new life to the profession” educators.   Go figure, they are even benevolent creatures, as if they somehow learned somewhere that symbiosis can have positive rewards.

Think of Twitter professionally, not socially.  I encourage you to find a few people you think are interesting; especially hunt for teachers that teach what you do.  Feel free to follow me but better yet, look at the people I follow.  Search for Chembug at  Some of these teachers are so fantastic!  Tweets abound about lessons, new ideas, assessment, technology, things I have never heard of.

Remember if find yourself annoyed by my or any one person’s tweets in the future, you can just “unfollow” them later and fashion a group of tweeters you like.  If you are fond of what a certain person has to say, click on their name and look at who they follow and see if it leads to another interesting person.   I also follow a few journalists whom I admire.  I follow scientists.  Stephen Hawking is on – he really digs his cats.  Neil deGrasse Tyson posts great stuff.   I also follow celebrities like Steve Martin and Andrew Zimmern to keep some variety in my feed.

There are a few people I follow who are very political and I try to keep an even keel about what they say, but most often I go to links they post and read articles and other blogs.  I am currently following what is happening in the state of New York regarding ed-reform.  It is interesting and freaky.  Elsewhere there are parent movements against standardized testing.  There are writers saying great things about how to really address issues in education.  There are profiteers grabbing for tax dollars.  Being from a rural area it is easy to forget that that big wide world might just come to my doorstep one day.  But at least I won’t be surprised by who is at the door.

I enjoy reading these posts as much or more than watching TV and I can practically get a play-by-play of the Wings game (this rocks because we got rid of our satellite TV).  It takes a while to get used to and learn what hashtags are and such, but you’re smart you will get the hang of it.

Warning: I have become a full-on Twitterholic.  The kind of “-holic” that takes a 12 step program to get off the crack, the almost narcotic buzz that ensues by reading things smart people write.  Neurons are firing in my brain that went dormant years ago.  Like one of those desert toads that emerge from the mud once every few years in the rain.

Stay tuned for Dirty Item #2…

Great article….
November 27, 2011, 11:38 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Freaked out student with SBG… winning :)
November 18, 2011, 8:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Student – “I am freaking out about that one F in Powerschool.  I got a 1 out of 3 on that one assignment (standard) !”

Me-  “Are you freaking out about the F or freaking out about what you didn’t learn?”

Student – puzzled look on face and head tilts to side. Pause.  Student – “I can’t stand that F there!  It’s driving me crazy!  What can I do?”

Me… again.  “I’m glad you care this much about your grades!  But still, do you care more about the F or more about what you were supposed to learn that you didn’t?”

Student – “I don’t care, I just want to know what I can do about that F.”

Me – “Okay – lets look at your quiz and discuss what you didn’t understand and then you can prepare to show me that you can do it”

Student – wrinkles relax on forehead.  So off we go to discuss density.

Student – “Ok, I’m ready – give me the quiz”

Me – “Remember the rule?  You can’t get help and re-assess on the same day (smiling)”

Student – “But what if I forget by next week?”

Me – “Shouldn’t this be permanent knowledge, something you will remember for a long time?”

Student (smiling) “Ok (still somewhat  deflated)”

Me – “It will be okay.  If you blow it we can go over it again and you will get it eventually”

We part ways both pleasantly and somewhat suprised that we do care about what each other care about.  SBG… winning 🙂

Why a blog?
October 12, 2011, 11:02 pm
Filed under: What do you think?

I don’t know about you, but my neck is sore.  Rubbernecking in what appears to be the freeway pileup of  articles about how teachers really need to get their act together requires that I take a heavy dose of ibuprofen on a nightly basis.  My  regular world as an experienced educator feels, rather suddenly, like falling through Alice’s rabbit hole.   When I read the news, strange beings are staring back at me and upside-down teacups are floating all over the place.  I am not really sure who if I understand who is on my side anymore.

As I try to stay “current” by cruising the internet for all the information I will ever need, I feel like I have choked on one of those birds with the giant red puffing throats who strut their stuff only after they are in mine.  The “news” is now the Niagara Falls of unrestrained commentary rather than the Walter Cronkite report of facts I grew up watching.  I am trying very hard to “form” an “informed” opinion.  I am still deciding how to take action without offending the conservative friends in my life.  Can I do this and still retain some kindFrigatebird of backbone or at least an exoskeleton?  Am I alone?

I needed a change.  I was about to pave the road to “old disgruntled staff- meeting attendee”.  I was becoming that teacher I made fun of my second year in this profession.  I now understand EXACTLY how they felt.  Let’s face it – how many of us spend hours inventing the supercalifragilisticespialidocious lesson plan to find out that after you teach it (with all of its bells and whistles) the kids look like they crawled out of the sensory deprivation tank in the 1980 movie Altered States?

Hmmm… surely this drivel could make a critic question whether I should be a teacher at all?  But here I am.  Just like you, I crawl out of bed in the dark to get clean and enter the world of “teen”.  You know it’s fun.  Who wouldn’t want an inside track on the latest lingo, relentless but fresh sarcastic humor, and the giddiness and angst of the typical 16-year-old?  I even know what “ballin” means (it’s not as bad as it sounds). I laugh a lot most days and appreciate their kind hearts, even if they don’t put them on their sleeves all the time.

I got lucky.  With a deluge of profiteers inventing jargon for administrators to tar and feather me  (in addition to making bank while selling books about their magic acronym and pandering to equally profitable but cheaply made standardized tests), I blindly stumbled upon actual valuable information.  Whoa!  AND actual PEOPLE who seemed to know what they were talking about and could help me!

I am once again excited about what I do and confident that what I am doing is right, or at least on the right track.  And it’s not what I did last year… or the previous 17.  (And I swear I have not regressed to my college lifestyle where this could be a massive hallucination.)  So why a blog?  It’s my only outlet besides my household backboard called my husband, poor guy.

At my school I now sometimes feel like a misfit in a foreign land where I learned a new language that no one speaks.   I left but never really left… all of my colleagues are still safely walled off right next to me in cinderblock and epoxy.  But in my eyes they are “back there” where I was.  And the scary thing, I think the critics are right.  Education is a mess.  But scarier… their smoke and mirror “solutions” are toxic waste.   How can I help my colleagues, my friends escape?  How can I do it without freaking them right out?