Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bill Gates on Technology in the Classroom

Q: “Are you disappointed schools have been slow to embrace technology in the classrooms?”

A: “You can’t blame them, but oh yeah, I’m disappointed. The dreams of the past—whether it was public TV being rolled into the classroom to teach Spanish, or the film projectors or the videotapes or the computer-aided instruction drill systems—the hopes have been dashed in terms of technology  having some big impact. The foundation (Gates’s), I think can play a unique role there. Now, our money is more to the teacher-effectiveness thing, and technology is No. 2, but I’ll probably spend more money on the technology things.”

Comment: I think Gates has it right. Technology is a tool for the teachers and students. I might use the example of PowerPoint. It’s a clever tool. Used by someone who does not know how to organize a presentation, it becomes a boring tool. Used by teachers and students who understand how to “tell them what you’re going to tell them,” “tell them” and “tell them what you’ve told them,” the technology of PowerPoint becomes an effective tool for communication. The teacher has to use PowerPoint as part of the curriculum in explaining how to organize a presentation. RayS.

“Bill Gates Turns Attention Toward Teacher Improvement.” Stephanie Banchero. Wall Street Journal (March 21, 2011), Internet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Note: The following article appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, page A6 on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. Associated Press.

Headline: Obama: Too many standardized tests

Washington—President Obama said Monday that students should take fewer standardized tests and that school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for children, he said.

“Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or, in some cases, to punish schools,” he told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language TV network at Bell Multicultural High School.

Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation’s education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that “everybody agrees makes sense” and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.

At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate. “Young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in,” Obama said. –AP.

Comment: At last, there is hope for sanity in the field of education. If people will listen to the President. On the other hand, the final sentence sounds like a non-sequitur. I guess what he means is that if students are interested, they will attend school regularly. And high stakes tests are definitely not interesting to students. RayS. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bill Gates on Teacher Improvement

Q:”What is the boldest effort that has come from the $290million you’ve awarded to restructure teacher personnel systems?”

A: “We video a great teacher and then she watches it and comments on her video saying, ‘that kid’s foot is jerking. I’m not making this interesting enough.’ Just the narrative of a great teacher talking through what she did right, what she could have done better, is so informative.”

Comment: An interesting idea that school districts could duplicate. Of course, they have to know that certain teachers in the district are “great.” And the teachers can’t have an off-day. Or maybe they can. Because it’s the comments that will be the tool for learning about teachers’ performance. It will almost require some kind of packaging, with an introduction and summary conclusion. Or maybe it doesn’t. Just the raw footage viewed by a group of teachers could be the catalyst for productive discussions.

However, I remember demonstrating a technique for teaching writing to a middle school teacher. The kids loved the technique. Afterwards, he said to me, “I can’t teach like that.” He was a good teacher. I decided not that I was wrong for demonstrating it, but that I would be wrong if I insisted on his using a technique that he did not believe in. RayS.

“Bill Gates Turns Attention Toward Teacher Improvement.” Stephanie Banchero. Wall Street Journal (March 21, 2011), Internet.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Question: What are some techniques for reading, interpreting and enjoying Shakespeare?

Mary Ellen Dakin: Students buy inexpensive paperback editions of the plays so that they can annotate as they read.

Mary Ellen Dakin: Put a dot over all the words they recognize. Won’t seem like a foreign language any more, although the syntax will seem strange. Students learn to prepare for the unusual syntax.

Mary Ellen Dakin: Divide paper into three columns. First column, write the archaic word. Third column, write brief definition. Second column: write user-friendly definition.

Edward Rocklin: Don’t act out the entire play. Act our scenes. Alter tone to convey different implications.

Edward Rocklin: Expectation logs. Three columns. First column, summarize the first act. Second column, record expectation for the second act. Third column, write how closely their expectations were predicted.

Title: “The :Play’s the Thing: Getting the Most Out of Shakespeare.” Deb Aronson. Council Chronicle: The National Council of Teachers of English (March 2011), 20-23.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

Question: How do the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) encourage the use of reading and writing across the curriculum?

 [Note: A detailed listing of these Common Core State Standards (K-12, CCSS) appeared in this blog, English Updates from March through July 2010. To see the guidelines, click on 2010 in the Archive Section on the left of the current blog, then click on March, April, May, June and July for my reviews of individual standards. In general, I was impressed with the standards for English, K-12. RayS. ]

Answer: Essentially, this NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Policy Brief responds to content teachers’ expected objections to participating in reading and writing across the curriculum. I’m not certain that I agree with the NCTE’s responses to the expected objections, but they are worth reviewing.

A few successful strategies might make reading and writing across the curriculum more appealing to content teachers (math, science, home economics, social studies, and even shop and phys-ed).

Short writing assignments with minimal grading will overcome the objection that content teachers must grade stacks of long writing assignments.

Use a variety of different kinds of texts—essays, primary sources, fiction, reports, etc. , instead of a single textbook.

Comment: I don’t think these responses to expected content teachers’ objections will persuade full participation by content teachers in reading and writing across the curriculum. But it’s a start in dealing with the problem. I think these suggestions are simplistic. RayS.

Title: “Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum.” Policy Research Brief Produced by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Council Chronicle: The National Council of Teachers of English (March 2011), 15-18.