Vicki Cobb: Why Teaching and Learning Cannot Be “Scaled Up”

“Think about it. If you remember the teacher who had the most influence on you, I’ll wager you remember nothing of substance that you learned from him. You remember how he made you feel about yourself and about the learning process. You remember how you worked and how you achieved.” -Vicki Cobb

That quote resonates with me so much as a former student and current teacher. I think of my first grader teacher, Ms. Saltvich, my AP US History teacher, Dean C. Brink, Mr. Woods, my middle school basketball coach and my college advisor, Dr. Aguirre. I remember exactly how those teachers made me feel and knew exactly what their expectations of me were. I learned so much from those mentors/teachers. That’s my goal everyday I enter the classroom as a teacher now.

“Let me explain why. The very nature of “standardized” testing runs counter to the work of educators and to the notion of America as a haven for the individual worth of each human being.”

From my perspective as an English teacher in South Korea, this is not hyperbole when Ms. Cobb states that the standardization of education is un-American. Living and working in a communal Confucian society as an American teaches you the strengths and weaknesses of a different, more conformist way of life. Without passing too much judgment on my host country, I must say that from what I see of the education system here and the box they try and fit all students in, I do not want the American education system to mimic the Korean one in any way. In fact, I bock at any comments made by the President, Arne Duncan or any ed policy leader which favorable compares the Korean ed system to that of America’s. It works for Korea and fits their culture, this is not true of America, however.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Vicki Cobb, a prolific writer of science books for children, is offended by the simplistic idea that education practices can be “scaled up,” just like manufacturing processes. Standardized testing is the quintessence of “one size fits all.”

She writes:

“Let me explain why. The very nature of “standardized” testing runs counter to the work of educators and to the notion of America as a haven for the individual worth of each human being.

“There are certain professions that are considered “high touch.” Nursing, for example, is about patient care and “care” is the operative word. Nurses deliver human kindness to people who are not at the top of their game. A patient may want a glass of water, but getting it from a robot is not the same as interacting with another human being. Teaching is another “high touch” profession. Children learn because of the relationship established between them…

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Going Global in Korea with Skype

This article originally appeared in the May issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here

Going Global

In 2012 the Korean Education ministry announced it’s ‘SMART Education’ plan, the ‘T’ of which stands for technology. In an effort to create an education system which is less passive, more creative and more adaptive, the plan called for wide scale integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In fact, the plan set 2015 as the deadline for digitizing the entire school curriculum to make it more accessible to 21st Century learners. Yet in spite of the reported 67% of Korean youth ages 5-19 that have smartphones and the widely touted high-speed broadband access in Korea, ICT is not leveraged for learning in most classrooms yet.

This is where Skype in the Classroom comes in. Most of us have a broadband internet connection, a computer connected to a classroom monitor, a classroom document camera, headphones with a microphone, or, if you are an online “J-Distance” teacher, you have a webcam with a built-in microphone. This is all it takes to get started and begin using the ICT in your classroom to connect your EFL students with native English speakers the world over.

 

Where To Start

If you do not have a Skype account, you should start there. If you already have a Skype account, you can use that as your login for Skype Education. You can create a distinct teacherly profile name, like Mr. Short, add a professional profile pic, enter your location in the world and give a brief description of your aims for using Skype in your classroom.

Next, you can ‘find a lesson’ or ‘find a teacher’. There is a really cool map with classes and teachers pinned all over the world. You can zoom in and out and see more or less teacher pins appear as a result. If you click on a pin it will automatically scroll down to that teacher’s Skype Education profile and from there you can select that person and message them directly.

My suggestion is to ‘find a teacher’ first. I spent some time searching to ‘find a lesson’, I signed up for lessons, and did not get any responses from those teachers. However, when I started searching for teachers in our general timezone, for example, classroom teachers in Australia and New Zealand or International School teachers in Japan and China, I had much more success messaging them directly and proposing a Skype classroom collaboration.

 

A Global Lesson

The trending Skype lesson on Twitter is #MysterySkype. This is billed as a “global guessing game” where students in each class prepare questions, hints, show and tell items, etc. that allow the other class to guess their location. Skype Education recommends that #MysterySkype beginner classes start off playing 20 questions, preparing that set of questions and a few hints to give to the other class. This is ideal for our EFL students because it allows us to pre-teach the target language; questioning, locations, directions, place specific vocabulary and more. You can scaffold the whole process and interaction for your timid Korean students by helping them fully prepare before so they know what language to expect once you are in the Skype call.

There are many more ways that innovative teachers are using this all over the world to support a wide range of content learning. Students are brainstorming conflict resolution strategies via recorded Skype messages across the world and teachers are designing standards-based social studies lessons to compare and contrast their own customs and traditions with that of a foreign culture. The tool can be used as simply as a 21st century version of penpals or as complex as a collaborative research and writing project.

 

My Plan

I am currently planning my first #MysterySkype lesson with a 6th grade teacher in Hobart, Tasmania. For my first lesson I want to give my students the best shot at success, so we have agreed to limit the lesson to the Australian class guessing our location through questioning. This will allow my students to answer questions concerning basic facts about Korea, which they will know. And those questions and answers can be more easily supported by a bilingual Korean co-teacher. I suspect that the creation and translation of questions from Korean to English in order for my students to figure out where in Australia those students are would be very time consuming and possibly discouraging for both parties. At least this first time, I want to be able to scaffold this process so that both parties walk away feeling successful and encouraged.

The other way you can use Skype in your classroom is via a recorded message exchange with another class, similar to the old school pen pal programs. This allows for classes to have an exchange or do #MysterySkype in spite of impossible time zone differences. So, for those of you who know a teacher back home in Canada or the U.S., there is a way to connect with them even though they are in school there while we are asleep here.

I am working with two teachers right now to set up this kind of recorded message exchange, one classroom is located in Florida, U.S.A. and is interested in doing a basic show and tell cultural exchange, while the other classroom is in northern China and wants to do a #MysterySkype lesson over the long-term. In both cases we are planning on recording one short message per week.


Our first message from Ms. Hart’s class in China.

Final Tips

As you can imagine, considering the timidity of many of our Korean students to produce authentic language on demand, planning, preparing and practicing a recorded lesson might lead to a more fruitful exchange than a live Skype lesson. However, there are ways to prepare students for the live chat as well, introducing key vocabulary, sentence stems and making it completely clear in Korean the purpose and goal of the Skype exchange.

The planning and preparation will generally require significant buy-in from your Korean co-teacher, which I know may be a tall order for many of you. You may have to put significant effort into identifying your curriculum’s target language that will be used authentically in the Skype lesson. You may also need to start with a baby step like recording a simple message for another class one time, and then checking in with the co-teacher about the possibility of an ongoing exchange. It is probably obvious to you that the value of the lesson and the time it will take to schedule and plan it may not be immediately understood and committed to by your co-teacher.

Lastly, it is important to strategically choose a class you feel has the makeup to do well and get something out of this kind of global live lesson. You know your students best and you know the ones who are outgoing and who try and chat in English with you all the time. The first few times you experiment with this kind of lesson, you should lean on those students and those classes, if you have them.

I will check back in with more info and tips once I get a few Skype lessons under my belt.

Links:

https://education.skype.com/

https://education.skype.com/collections/skype-guides?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_2015_jan_literacy

https://www.edsurge.com/n/2014-12-11-how-you-can-actually-teach-beyond-your-classroom-s-walls

http://genproedu.com/paper/2013-01/full_003-009.pdf

Twitter:

@mysteryskype

@SkypeClassroom

#skype2learn

Social-Emotional Ed, Culture & Discipline

In the last week I have read five fascinating articles at the intersection of culture, social-emtional learning and discipline in schools. The first two articles appeared in The Seattle Times in their on-going “Education Lab” series funded by the Gates Foundation. One article reviewed the research and on-going programs in Washington state that are trying to understand and overcome how childhood trauma can affect learning and behavior in schools. The other highlighted schools in the area that are using the Yale RULER social-emotional education program.

The first article, entitled “‘You are more than your mistakes’: Teachers get at roots of bad behavior’”, discussed how researchers and teachers are coming together to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which not only affect the education and behavior of a child in school, but can also affect their adult health. I made many notes about ACEs in my blog post review of Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed.

One of the Seattle area schools mentioned in The Times article is West Seattle Elementary. I worked with their staff and principal, Vicki Sacco, in the lead up to my former Seattle school’s application for a ‘Turnaround Schools’ elementary levy grant from the city in 2013. I was also pleased to once again read about the work of Washington State University Professor Chris Blodgett because I had the pleasure of hearing him speak about ACEs and the social-emotional training he leads at schools like Bemiss Elementary in Spokane, Washington.

Next came an AEON Ideas prompt on their beta forum discussing ‘how educators can help end the schools to prison pipeline’ started by Daniel Losen, the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies (CCRR) at The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. He laments the continued disparities in discipline along racial lines in schools across America and urges schools to begin to do the basics to avoid suspending students.

Discipline Disproportionality

Losen does not directly reference the research about the root causes for discipline issues in schools, such as ACEs, but he instead speaks to the imperative of alternative, inclusive and even restorative methods of addressing undesirable or disruptive school behaviors. He says that “well publicized research by Skiba at Indiana University has demonstrated that after controlling for poverty, school principals that embrace zero tolerance discipline philosophy have higher suspension rates and lower test scores than those that fold school discipline into their overall educational mission and strive to keep students in school.” In other words, strict discipline being exacted on kids acting out because of adverse emotional trauma they’ve experienced at home or elsewhere is truly counterproductive. Therefore, Losen suggests that schools start closing the “discipline gap” by not “suspending youth who are truant or tardy” and by limiting “the use of out of school suspension for minor offenses such as disruption or defiance.” Combined with teacher training on ACEs and an integrated social-emotional education program like the Yale RULER, schools could respond to adverse student behaviors proactively and productively.

You can participate in the AEON Ideas discussion forum on the schools to prison pipeline here.

Yale RULER Tool

The last two ed articles are related to one USC Rossier School of Education longitudinal study on the adolescent brain and how culture affects its social development. The study was designed by USC Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and over it’s five year period it will eventually include over 100 participants from Latino, East-Asian and bi-cultural backgrounds.

Half way through the research period, Immordino-Yang claims there are already two big takeaways about learning; first, Immordino-Yang says, “Traditional educational approaches think about emotion the way Descartes did; emotion is interfering with your ability to do well in school, to think rationally. Neuroscience is showing us that that is absolutely not the case—when you take emotion out of thought you have no basis for thought anymore. So we’re trying to understand how socially constructed emotion shapes learning, academic development and identity.” Second, Immordino-Yang says about the difference of our neurological processing of emotions and our outward manifestations of those emotions that, “There were no differences at all in how much these young adults’ brains were activating when they responded to our emotional stories—and no differences in the strengths of emotions that participants in the different cultural groups reported…But there was a strong cultural difference in how patterns of neural activity corresponded in real-time with participants’ experience—in how people became aware of their emotion.”

In other words, emotions play a big role in how we all learn, regardless of cultural or linguistic backgrounds, and yet those backgrounds do have a differing effect on our awareness and outward expression of those same emotions we all feel.

In one of the study’s tests, participants are asked to run up and down a flight of stairs until they can physically feel their heartbeat. The participants are then hooked up to a heart rate monitor and also simultaneously asked to monitor their heartbeats themselves, marking down every beat they feel. Somewhat astonishingly, the ability to accurately feel your heartbeat can predict the participant’s cultural identity.

“What we find is that among the East-Asian American kids, it’s the kids who are not particularly sensitive to their heartbeats who are saying they strongly hold Asian values, whereas among the Latino kids, it’s those who have a better ability to feel their heartbeat who are saying they strongly hold Latino cultural values,” says Immordino-Yang. “What that tells us is that kids’ natural awareness of visceral sensations may predispose them toward constructing a particular identity. It’s showing us how a very basic biological tendency, which we know is anatomically based, which is mainly kind of innate, is predisposing kids to adopting a particular kind of psychological self, with implications for how they act, what they believe in and who they strive to become.”

Immordino-Yang spells out the implications those results may have for educators and students. “We need to understand that the way kids feel matters. Their embodied experience in the classroom powerfully influences what children take away and how they grow both academically and personally. What science is teaching us, in short, is the need to understand the holistic emotional experience of a person, and the need to account for subjective experience when we design and evaluate educational environments.”

So think about the implications of this study in the context of a child who is growing up in poverty, who is African-American and who has a few Adverse Childhood Experiences. The holistic emotional experience becomes not just part of the learning equation for this child, it becomes the key. Educators have to try and understand how this individual child will emotionally react to different social experiences and different educational experiences because tapping a well of safe and positive emotions will help the child learn. In addition, their future cultural identity is being informed by their physical and neurological reactions to these experiences in schools. A lot is at stake and ignoring social-emotional learning, cultural backgrounds and the importance of positive discipline policies is inexcusable.

Look for more from me on the Immordino-Yang study in the coming weeks, as I will expand on my impressions of the implications of this study based on my experiences working in elementary schools in Latin America and East Asia. Unshocking spoiler; the study reinforces much of what I already assumed about how culture shapes how we learn. But, I will try not to generalize too much and I will try to give some specific examples of experiences that I have teaching abroad that will hopefully add to the discussion on this research.