Teach-Now in Korea

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

The Teacher Certification Debate

In America, there are two debates going on about teacher preparation programs; one is happening in the media, among education policy experts and at the highest levels of education administration. The other is happening around kitchen tables in the homes of career-changers, and in coffee shops with college graduates and undergrads, who are interested in becoming a teacher. Both debates are concerned with the structure, quality and quantity of preparation needed to sustain an effective teaching career in U.S. schools in the 21st Century. However, the latter debate also includes concerns about the costs associated with taking a year or two off from making money and instead taking on the prohibitive costs (read: student loan debt) of getting a teacher certification from a traditional school of education.

Case in point: my own path as a teacher has been varied and circuitous because I was most interested in gaining actual experience in the classroom over acquiring more formal theoretical knowledge in grad school. And I found many opportunities in my own community and around the world to get into the classroom, develop a style and a toolkit of my own and grow immediately as a professional. Adding to my uneasiness about grad school was the fact that I was debt free when I finished my undergraduate studies and vehemently wanted to stay that way.

Furthermore, I knew many alums of the many prestigious teacher prep programs at the local universities while working as paraprofessional in a Seattle public school. Many of those teachers told me that the experience I was gaining in the classroom as a teacher’s aide was preparing me as much as or more than a formal Master’s In Teaching program would by itself. I felt frustrated by the limbo between having the relevant experience and lacking a flexible, affordable and high-quality path to teacher certification. It turns out I had to come to Korea to discover the answer to my teacher prep woes!

We should not forget Martin Haberman’s research showing that long-serving “star” teachers are often from low-income backgrounds, have graduated from non-elite colleges, or are people of faith. Others, like Alex Caputo-Pearl, have somewhat radical politics. What makes these nontraditional teachers special is that they are mission-driven to help struggling students succeed, and they are enthusiastic about holding all children to high intellectual standards. Those are the attributes teacher preparation programs should seek.
-Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

Teach-Now, Literally

Emily Feistritzer worked for the U.S. Department of Education studying alternative-route teacher certification programs across the country. After 30 years as a preeminent expert on the subject, she decided to create a program which addressed the holes and inadequacies that she saw in many alternative-route teacher prep programs. Thus, Teach-Now was born; a rigorous, practical and affordable teacher certification program aimed at “preparing tomorrow’s teachers for tomorrow’s learners in tomorrow’s world”.

Apart from the student-teaching portion of the program, the Teach-Now classes and coursework are completed fully online. Assignments, readings, teaching videos, discussions, and professor interaction are all facilitated via the Teach-Now online learning platform which is similar to those of EdX and Coursera. Small cohorts of 15 or fewer teacher candidates and their module instructor meet weekly online, in real time, using the AdobeConnect video conferencing program. Lectures, discussions, flash collaboration mini-projects and analysis of exemplary teaching videos happen in the VC’s (virtual class) by the cohort members and their instructor who could be many thousands of miles apart. In fact, my cohort consisted of three English teachers in three different Korean provinces, five international school teachers in three different provinces of China, an American school teacher’s aide in Germany, and a paraprofessional working in an Arizona charter school.

Teach-Now relies on open source readings and resources from the web, as opposed to expensive textbooks. The resources range from podcasts about Lev Vygotsky and the importance of play in learning, Rick Wormeli YouTube videos on differentiation, and, of course, the writings of John Dewey on progressive teaching methods.  

Where the Teach-Now program really excels and differentiates itself, thanks to Ms. Feistritzer’s vision, is in the hands-on experience teacher candidates get with valuable education technology tools. Assignments ask teacher candidates to analyze and dissect the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in an electronic mind map, create an academic data infographic, collaborate on a debate about blended learning via Voicethread, participate in an ed policy Twitter chat or develop a Pinterest board rich with lesson plan ideas. All individual and group writing assignments are completed, shared and submitted in Google Docs.

The final module or unit of the Teach-Now program is in the mold of a traditional student-teaching practicum in which teacher candidates need to complete 250 hours of in-class instruction in their subject area or grade level of certification. Similarly to traditional student-teaching models, teacher candidates need an experienced mentor teacher to support, observe and evaluate the candidate’s performance. What is different with Teach-Now, is that you also record a class once a week, upload the video to your Google Drive, share it with your instructor and cohort-mates, receive notes on your performance and discuss it at the weekly VC. This professional development method is precisely what the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project calls for in order to better identify and develop the best teachers and teaching strategies.

 

My Experience with Teach-Now in Korea

I had a wonderful experience completing the Teach-Now program from here in Yeosu. The opportunity to achieve my goal of becoming a certificated elementary teacher while living and working abroad, and not going into serious debt, has been a huge gift for which I am grateful. However, there were a few key factors which made the experience possible, as well as a truly rigorous and meaningful preparation that was flexible enough to work with my unique teaching situation. Keep these in mind if you are reading this and are interested in the program.  

First, I had some great cohort-mates who were located in similar time zones in East Asia. They were serious professionals with years of teaching experience before joining the Teach-Now program. I learned a lot from them and received a lot of valuable feedback on my teaching as well.

Second, my Korean co-teacher at my elementary school in Yeosu is a wonderful, progressive teacher with nearly two decades of experience in the classroom as a homeroom teacher, head teacher, English teacher and low-level administrator. Despite her years of experience in Korea, she was eager to learn from my American-style teacher preparation and therefore allowed me to experiment with some distinctly Western-style teaching methods in our English classroom.

Last, I teach a few extra classes on my own, without a co-teacher and without a curriculum. This also allowed me huge amounts of freedom during the practicum especially, but also during the academic modules. I used those free form classes to complete an assignment or put into action an emphasized teaching method.

If you do not have these elements; solid cohort-mates in your time zone, a great Korean co-teacher and some flexibility in your teaching schedule, then you may need to think twice before applying to Teach-Now. Otherwise, go for it!

  

Teach-Now in the News:

Teach-Now as a great alternative-route certification option for military spouses abroad.

Teach-Now program revolutionizes teacher preparation.

Education researcher moves into the certification business.

On Twitter you can follow Teach-Now @teachnowprogram or via #tncohort.

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

Global Ed Con 2014 Session Review

Escuela Nueva: Quality Education for Peace and Democracy

Vicky Colbert

Founder and Director

Javeriana University, Colombia

  • Local, rural innovation that has grown into a national model that impacts more than 20,000 schools
  • National policy in Vietnam, Zambia, Colombia,
  • What is Escuela Nueva?
    • The process of installing change
    • Guarantees access, quality and relevance of basic education
    • Public-private partnership, civil society to spur innovation, and government to provide and push the scale of change
    • Integrates a systemic and cost effective curriculum, in-service training and follow-up,
    • Administrative and community strategies for school success
  • What does Escuela Nueva promote?
    • Child-centered, active, participatory and cooperative learning
    • Different learning paces, flexible promotion mechanisms, the national curriculum has been made into modules of mastery so students can complete them at their own pace
    • A new role for teachers, facilitator, HOTS inducer, catalyst for thinking
    • Effective, experiential teacher training, that modeled the pedagogy in the classroom with the teachers, hands-on training
    • Collaboration and networking of teaching professionals
    • Strong school, family and community relationships, w/o a ton of meetings!
    • Emphasis on democratic behavior through student governments
    • New generation of self-paced, self-directed, reusable learning guides that incorporate both content and methodology (Flexible and personalized) The textbook, workbook and teacher’s guide all in one.
      • Learning Corners
      • Small group and pair dialoguing
      • Creating community maps to identify the relationship between the school and the child’s home
      • The lessons are relevant to families and their lives and are translated to the families through the children (similar to popular education?)

 

Five Escuela Nueva takeaways:

  1. Yes, it is possible to improve the quality of education and learning in the poorest schools
  2. More of the same is not enough – it requires a paradigm shift in pedagogy
  3. Find a systemic innovative approach
  4. Learning should go beyond just academic achievement, fostering social-competencies, 21st century skills, and peaceful democratic behaviors is equally important
  5. Technology triggers change, but a new pedagogy is indispensable for effective learning

 

  • While everything has changed over the years, the way we learn has not, “most educational reform have been administrative in nature, while pedagogy has not”

 

Similarities and Differences between Latin America Low-income schools

and US Title I schools

Similarities Differences
Rigid calendars and evaluation systems Emphasis on memorization, not comprehension
Weak school-community relationships Teacher-centered methods
Low self-esteem of children Insufficient learning time
Low academic achievement Emphasis on Pre-K-3 education
High drop-out or retention rates
Ineffective or inadequate teacher training, pre-service

The Escuela Nueva Comprehensive, Systemic Approach:

  1. Teachers had to be able to execute the pedagogy, the teaching and learning, even in the jungles of Colombia
  2. It had to be politically viable within a strong teacher union society, so the teachers had to be the actors and leaders for change
  3. The program had to be cost-effective or you could not have a large impact
  4. Rethink the classroom, the way of learning and the education system as a whole

Escuela Nueva model

Escuela Nueva Results:

  1. Comparative Study on Democratic Behavior in Guatemala showed that Escuela Nueva students more frequently took turns talking or participating in an activity, and also more frequently lead processes
  2. Enhances girl’s participation, self-esteem and leadership skills

“None of us alone is as smart as all of us together.” ~Francois Taddei, Descartes University

Vision: By 2018 Escuela Nueva desires to be a “global technical reference for active, cooperative and personalized learning” and they want to lead a “global movement” to improve lives via their educational model.

Urban Escuela Activa: They expanded their model to urban areas in 1988 when there was a rapid urbanization in Colombia

Escuela Nueva Learning Circles: A specialized program for displaced-migrant population in Colombia. In these schools the students need specialized services that are flexible and adaptable to their unique needs.

  • Community youth agents serve as tutors in the schools:

→ They serve groups of 10-15 multi-grade students in the Learning Circles

→ They also ensure sustainability for the teachers in these poor urban schools

that experience extremely high rates of teacher turnover

Innovative Teaching and Learning Pilot Year Report – Microsoft Partners in Learning

Microsoft Partners in Learning is supporting a long-term global Innovative Teaching and Learning research project focused on information and communication technology (ICT) use in the classroom, student-centered 21st Century Skills development and extended learning opportunities outside the classroom in a global context. The pilot year of this research project was in 2009 and it included classrooms in Finland, Russia, Senegal and Indonesia. In Module Two of the Teach-Now certification program, we were asked to explore the world of ‘Tomorrow’s Teacher’. One task in this exploration was a reading of the Innovative Teaching and Learning pilot year report and the creation of an infographic to visually represent the key findings of the report. Below is my submission:

Innovative Teaching and Learning Infographic

Steve Hargadon’s Interview with Jim Knight

I recently listened to one of Steve Hargadon’s EdTechLive podcasts that featured an interview with Jim Knight, author of High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching and associate research professor at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. You can find Knight’s website here and you can join his “The Big Four Ning” professional learning network here (my own membership is pending). You can also find Jim Knight on Twitter @jimknight99.

The conversation between Hargadon and Jim Knight centered around instructional coaching, high-impact strategies and teacher professionalization methods. But the conversation did not solely revolve around education jargon and get lost in the weeds. Instead, Knight and Hargadon balanced a worm’s eye view with the bird’s eye view, presenting the big picture and then drilling down to minutia within a given topic. Here is the central theme of the interview and of Knight’s latest book:

One reason why many teachers are not striving to be there best is that poorly designed professional learning can actual inhibit growth by de-professionalizing teachers, treating them like workers on an assembly line rather than professionals doing emotionally complicated knowledge work… If we are to get the schools our children deserve, we need to start by treating teachers as professionals.

Knight starts out by making his big pitch; that there is a fundamental irreconcilability with two underriding assumptions in the teaching profession today. There are some that assume that teachers are intrinsically motivated to improve their practice, and others that assume teachers will not be motivated to improve unless there is a carrot and a stick, for motivation and accountability, i.e. value-added measurements tied to teacher evaluations (the stick) and higher pay for higher impact teachers (the carrot). Knight makes no bones about it, he cites Daniel Pink’s hugely influential book Drive in making the case that teachers are generally intrinsically motivated and that extrinsic motives, coercion and punitive accountability measures are actually detrimental to the development of the profession.  He succinctly stakes out his position when he states, “The distinction between power with and power over is really fundamental to establishing a positive learning community.”

Knight is talking both about the learning environment in the classroom between teachers and students and the learning environment among professional peers striving for improved instructional practice. Knight is an expert on professional learning and Hargadon draws parallels between how Knight talks about positive and productive learning environments for professionals and those for young students, parents and children, institutions and the community. Knight picks this point up and runs with it, surmising that often what happens when schools ‘loose’ parents during the IEP process is when they are not equal partners at the table.

What follows is a discussion on the finer points of the differences between different professional learning strategies from peer learning to positive deviance and appreciative inquiry. I was not at all familiar with these approaches before listening to this podcast and so some of this part of the conversation was lost on me. However, that does not mean I will not encounter these methods in the future and I’m glad to be aware of them. A cursory google search of these strategies immediately got me reflecting on the professional development approaches I have experienced and witnessed here in South Korea. Culturally, I would say the education profession, nor many other professions on the peninsula, have embraced any of these power with instead of power over professional learning methods.  In any case, Knight’s conclusion seems to be that there is no silver bullet in terms of professional learning, the key is “freedom within structure” whatever that structure may be.

Jim Knight’s list of 7 principles that educators should use to guide their actions with colleagues:

  1. Equality
  2. Choice
  3. Voice
  4. Dialogue
  5. Reflection
  6. Practice
  7. Reciprocity

The discussion gets into some deep waters at this point, as Knight cites Bob Sutton’s leadership research (side note: I googled Bob Sutton and found a fascinating interview with the aforementioned Daniel Pink, check it out!) and Paulo Ferreira’s concept of ‘mutually humanizing’ learning and collaboration. Again this sparked an immediate reflection on the work and learning culture here in Korea, which has produced unquestionably miraculous results in the six decades since the Korean War, but is a far cry from what I envision to mean ‘mutually humanizing’. I wonder if other cultures do not need a sense of power with instead of power over in order to be successful in a collective effort. Whether it is Confucian tradition, nationalist pride, or filial piety there is definitely a different intrinsic motivator at work in Eastern cultures. I also wonder if this motivation is limited? Will it evolve to look like something more collaborative with lower power distance between authority and subordinates? Will I appreciate the greater autonomy and more collaborative spirit of teaching in the US after my experienc here in Korea? Or, will I be convinced by colleagues that the Common Core, the district central office or my principal is dictating too much of what I teach and how I grow professionally?

There is great Ted-Ed video that was recently released on understanding power structures among individuals and societies. It’s a video that students 4th grade and up could more than likely understand and engage in a discussion that could help set a classroom culture of power with instead of power over.

They move into a discussion of the use of data of professional learning in education. What is notable from this discussion is their agreement that you need to have a “clear picture of current reality” before you can make a high-impact goal. Knight says that the best use of data in the business world is when it is not used punitively, instead as an improvement tool, one of many.

Next comes content planning, which is probably the most practical portion of the discussion, especially for a new teacher like myself. Knight lays out the two most important components of excellent content planning; first, the knowledge, skills and big ideas that the students need understand and acquire. Second, is content mapping, a visual representation of the path the students will take in their learning. The common theme with both those components is that the research says that students learn best when they understand the big picture and can make connections between the individual steps and tasks of the learning along the way and how they fit into the end goal. During my Teach-Now academic studies we were required to make a variety of graphic organizers such as mind maps and infographics. This is definitely a goal of mine for my first year of teaching. I am a believer in learning maps and graphic organizers.

There is more, much more that Knight and Hargadon touch upon, all of it resonates greatly with me. Knight makes the connection between gamification and flow, the idea that if we gamify learning students could potentially enter a state of optimal experience while personalizing their own learning. The discussion then moves to the importance of storytelling in education, which is a favorite theme of mine. Then on to the moment when a little girl, Natalie Gilbert, faltered in her singing of the national anthem at a Portland Trailblazers game, was first heckled by the crowd and then assisted by Maurice Cheeks, the Blazers head coach. What ensues is heart-warming and as Knight says, literally an inspiration to all educators to be a coach like Cheeks. Open questioning as a high impact strategy to get student “authentically engaged” and how to get teachers to shift their practice to leverage it. Authentic learning as doing science, not learning about science. Knight summarizes that teachers really need “caring and control” in order to be effective, a control that comes out of . He then gives one practical tip for teachers to use to make sure they are systematically attending to all their students’ needs; make a list at the end of every week on students she may have overlooked that week and came at the end of the list, then note the positive strengths of those students at the end of the list, and make sure the following week that they are not at the end of the list (witness to the good), i.e. teach yourself to notice what’s going well.

Key takeaways:

  • Weekly list of students, positves of students at the end of the list
  • Two components of content planning: 1) content definition 2) content visual mapping
  • Seven principles of collegial interaction (see above)
  • Power with instead of power over in all learning environments

Bill Gates on Teacher Feedback

Feedback For Bill

Bill Gates’ most recent Ted Talk already has over a million views and has made its rounds through the interwebs in a variety of ways. The theme of this Gates talk is on teacher feedback and the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) which his Gates Foundation has developed. He identifies the key elements of MET:

  • Video recordings of lessons
  • Identification of effective teaching practices like deep questioning and providing multiple ways of explaining or demonstrating an idea
  • Student surveys of their teachers

I am currently in the middle of the clinical portion of the Teach-Now teacher certification program. This is a unique, all online certification program and as a result it requires us to record our lessons during our student-teaching clinical practicum. I am pleased to say that the teacher preparation program has asked me to do all three of the key elements of MET system. I have developed and implemented two student feedback and goal-setting surveys. I record one lesson per week to be evaluated by myself, my Korean co-teacher and my Teach-Now instructor. We use the District of Columbia’s IMPACT Teaching and Learning Framework to identify and develop my effective teaching practices, or those that are lacking at this point.

Without getting too much into what has become Gates’ controversial role in education, I would like to point out a few flaws and misconceptions he presents in his talk. Like many big-picture ed policy players, he is quite focused on the failings of the US education system when compared to those of other developed or developing nations. He displays a graphic that shows that 11 out of 14 countries who are ahead of the US in terms of student reading proficiency have a formal teacher feedback system in place already. Interestingly, Finland, which is often held up as the exemplar education system for how they prepare teachers, the quality of education for all students, and the test results they have as a nation, does not have a formal teacher feedback system.

At minute 3:05, Gates uses the much bandied buzzword in education over the past 15 years, ‘failing’, as in the US education system is failing, among many other things, to give teachers adequate feedback to grow as effective educators. He implicitly makes the specious correlation between anemic or absent formal teacher feedback systems and our student achievement rates in reading, math and science. More questionably, he is also implying that Shanghai’s and South Korea’s student achievement scores on international standardized tests like the PISA is due in large part to the development of effective teachers through robust teacher feedback systems.

I say that these are specious implications because I am unaware of any research which makes the correlation between a good teacher feedback system and student achievement results. Nor am I aware of any research that indicates that a certain teacher feedback system has developed better teachers who get better results in their students. Maybe I am ignorant to this body of research. Please let me know!

However, he is also positing an utterly simplistic notion that teacher feedback systems are at the root of student achievement in Shanghai, South Korea and elsewhere. I work as an English teacher in Yeosu, South Korea. From my experience of the South Korean education system’s professional development this seems like a specious argument in many ways. One South Korean commenter on the Ted Talk site put forward another reason for student achievement in his country, one of many contributing factors:

Gates cites Shanghai’s teacher feedback system as exemplary and says it includes:

  • Younger teachers have the opportunity to watch master teachers at work
  • Weekly study groups where teachers talk about best practices
  • Peer observation and feedback among teachers within a school

Well, this interesting because the last US school I worked in had a professional development system which included weekly Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s), learning walks where teachers did peer observations based on the Danielson Framework, and we had Board Certified teachers mentoring University of Washington student-teachers in their classrooms. It had room for improvement as a formal ‘system’, but it had the components and I believe many other schools and school districts already have this in place.

Gates makes the claim that, “If today’s average teachers could become as good as those (highly effective) teachers, then our students would be blowing away the rest of the world.” I am not obsessed with the achievement results of American students compared with their international counterparts. I know that I don’t want American children to have the same childhood and student pressures that a South Korean student has, even if that means we are below them in the math and reading PISA rankings. I am concerned with my students’ growth as learners and people from the day they first enter my classroom. That is a personal evaluation which is much more valuable and relevant to both the teacher and student, but less so for policymakers.

Despite some of these critiques, I think that teacher feedback as a part of professional growth is an inherent good for the education field. Every teacher should want to develop and grow their practice and I think student surveys, observation of master teachers and recording one’s own lessons are certainly integral parts of that feedback formula. If Bill Gates is desirous to put his considerable clout and force behind an effort to improve and professionalize teacher feedback, kudos to him, I’m confident some good will come of that effort. In fact, you can read about 6 tools for teacher feedback on the Gates Notes blog, where he surveys how ed tech apps and services like Edmodo and ThinkCERCA are helping teachers better evaluate themselves and their students along with developing better lesson plans. There are some very interesting sounding tools there that I will have to do further research on later.

The absolute best part of the entire Ted Talk does not include Gates, but instead a teacher, and not just any teacher. Sarah Brown Wessling is a superstar teacher featured regularly on the Teaching Channel site. Her comment about capturing video of her classes is the key takeaway from the entire Ted Talk, “I think it is a way to exemplify and illustrate things that we cannot convey in a lesson plan, things you cannot convey in a standard…or book of pedagogy.” And I furthermore agree with Gates’ conclusion following the Wessling interlude, that, “You should be able to watch a video of the best teacher in the world teaching fractions.” The Teaching Channel is good start to such a resource, but I am sure there is more and better to come.

 

 

EdSurge’s Connect & Reflect PLN Tool

I receive EdSurge’s weekly newsletter on edtech news, events, products and companies that are at the cutting edge of the technology revolution that is just beginning to sweep through the K-16 education world. This is a must RSS feed if you are a teacher just starting their career, or for any teacher that is intent on adapting, leveraging and integrating technology to fit the needs of 21st Century learners. However, keep in mind that they are a Silicon Valley based organization dedicated to serving educators and edtech entrepreneurs and investors. In any case, their newsletter is packed with good edtech lesson integration ideas, potential edtech products of use, edtech professional development opportunities, ways to expand your Personal Learning Network (PLN) and collaborate with tech-savvy teachers around the country.

I recently came across an EdSurge article analyzing the very preliminary results of a sentiment survey administered to 59 teachers, 34 technology coordinators, eight district administrators, one vice principal. The survey is part of EdSurge’s beta collaboration and professional development tool for edtech innovators and teachers called Reflect & Connect. Here is the basic premise and four goals of the Reflect & Connect tool:

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I have been working on my K-6 teaching certification from abroad for almost a year now and this has required me to lean heavily on social media, MOOC’s and other forms of elearning for my professional development. Twitter is a big component of my PLN and is a rich resource of materials, collaboration and discussion among educators. Thus, I was intrigued by the Reflect & Connect tool and gave it a try to see what, who and how EdSurge would recommend for me to connect with on Twitter. Here are the results:

 

  • Four educators on Twitter, but @bodleianItch & @TeachrRevolutns were the only ones I decided to follow because the rest had many fewer followers and tweets than myself.
  • Three Twitter chats that I was already aware of and actively follow #edchat, #edtechchat and #ptchat, the first two are self-explanatory, the last hashtag facilitates collaboration between parents and teachers on Twitter.
  • The coolest thing that I netted because of this PLN activity was discovering Yale University’s Photogrammer Map, which is the largest database of American history photos, and it is now fully searchable. Check it out, it’s a rich resource.

So, in the end, a bit underwhelming, but as I said, the EdSurge Reflect & Connect tool is still in beta. At this point it is more of a data gathering tool for EdSurge than a PLN tool for educators and innovators. But, I’ll keep an eye on it and watch how it develops. In the mean time, here are the results of the EdSurge Reflect & Connect sentiment survey to date:

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