Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Home to the state's top high schools

My friend's mom, a long time educator in Mississippi, sent me this link to a NOLA.com article naming Thomas Jefferson High School as Louisiana's top ranked high school. The article is news from the recent U.S. News and World Report article. Thom Jeff is a selective-enrollment, gifted school in Jeferson Parish. Great school, with a nice, new campus at the old site of Archbishop Blenk high school. I wondered about the ranking, though, knowing that Thom Jeff was chosen over Benjamin Franklin High which is actually a national competitor, and so many other parishes whose schools out rank the New Orleans metro area. Everything you need to know is always in the data. For a person who hates mathematics, I trust in data and statistics wholeheartedly (it was the only math course that I ever got an "A" in-EVERYONE should know how to read and analyze data). In the complete pdf report, U.S. News details the methods used in ranking the schools.

In the methodology I found that these rankings hinge upon the number of disadvantaged students in a school and how much better those students performed on state tests than expected. There seems to be no determinant for what is the "expected" performance for "disadvantaged groups", which includes minorities and low-socioeconomic families. The last stage of factors is if the school carries AP or IB courses, which are considered college preparatory. This aspect makes sense in considering the effectiveness of a high school, however, it just isn't enough data to print national rankings based on diversity.

My own school was recognized, as it is still an "A" school by Louisiana's standards but does not meet U.S. News' standards because we are not diverse. The student body is primarily Black and we are 84% free or reduced lunch. While I know that our AP scores are less than stellar, falling below the radar as compared to a more diverse and selective enrollment school (which my school was when I attended) feels like a cheat when such standards seem like they're in place to assist in benefiting the minority and poor children. My school consists of those very children!

I can appreciate the rankings, whether I agree with the standards or not. I wonder how other people feel about their own school and district rankings and if other districts, especially teachers who have taught in multiple districts, feel that New Orleans is really doing it better than the rest.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Utilizing direct instruction

A former coworker shared this short article about keeping instruction direct.

I found it and the comments interesting when considering my own teaching and teacher training. One of the commenters agreed that scripting your lessons can help you say just what you want to say in the amount of time that you want to say it. Another commenter disagreed that if you don't know your content well enough to teach exactly what you need to in that moment, then maybe you shouldn't be teaching. The original commenter replied that he often asks his new teachers to script their lessons. The second continued to disagree.

Is scripting a lesson helpful? Should all teachers do this? What IS direct instruction, anyway?

I was trained to teach a lesson in the "I do, we do, you do" format. However, this format doesn't always apply to English class, especially the higher up in grade level that you go. This method is essentially "direct instruction". You teach, uninterrupted, for some amount of time and THEN you check for understanding,students are invited to ask questions and do work with teacher assistance. This was taught to me at a charter school with a very high number of new teachers. Doing this also helped me to learn how to break broad skills into smaller skills. However, scripting my lesson, which I no longer do, did not make me any better of a teacher nor any more able to anticipate student misunderstandings. I hate lesson scripting. I think it is another way to manipulate teachers into devoting every possible second to work rather than having any down time. One colleague of mine wrote a 19 page lesson plan for one week of teaching. ABSURD.

Despite the fact that this is a very common way to structure lessons, my students HATE to follow this. Just yesterday they were in an uproar because I asked them to listen only so I could clarify their misconceptions about a skill (character archetypes). I couldn't get a sentence in edgewise without arms shooting up and students yelling questions. Despite doing exactly what is mentioned in the article, my students can not follow that format, even at this point in the school year. My opinion, though, is that it is the best way to teach new skills. It is the best way to keep pacing on track. It is the best way to ensure that you teach only what you mean to and not muddle the lesson with unnecessary details.