Monday, November 14, 2011

R is for "Remodeling" and for "Rethinking Education"

I tend to like change... when it's on my terms (which is not always easy to navigate).  I like shaking things up just a bit as I get bored of the same routine easily.  Hence the changes you see here.

I wanted to remodel this blog for some time and, while I had hoped for more significant changes, I could not figure out (yet) how to do what I wanted and so have resolved to keep the change cosmetic (at least for now).

That said, I think remodeling is important.  After all, it's about 'improvement' (or the hope of improvement). It feeds creativity and helps us see our worlds differently.  It adds perspective.  It also, in some way teaches us  how to negotiate change.

With my personal remodeling out of the way, I came across an article about a more drastic remodeling - in The Wall Street Journal's Review section (Saturday/Sunday, November 12-13, 2011) "My Teacher is an App:  More kids than ever before are attending school from their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. The result: A radical rethinking of how education works" (by S. Banchero & S. Simon).

According to Banchero and Simon:
"In a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school, states and districts nationwide are launching online public schools that let students from kindergarten to 12th grade take some or all of their classes [online]... Thirty states now let students take all of their courses online...
Advocates say that online schooling can save states money, offer curricula customized to each student and give parents more choice in education. A few states, however, have found that students enrolled full-time in virtual schools score significantly lower on standardized tests, and make less academic progress from year to year than their peers. Critics worry that kids in online classes don't learn how to get along with others or participate in group discussions.
The amount of teacher interaction varies.  At online-only schools, instructors answer questions by email, phone or the occasional video conference...Teachers give short lectures and offer one-on-one help, but most learning is self-directed and online."
Note that the authors reported primarily about two companies, K12 and Connections Academy which currently dominate the public cyberschool market. They note that some schools offer part classroom-part cyberschool options as well, although the article focuses on cyberschool alone. They further detail that while reading scores of online students match traditionally taught peer scores in reading, they fall short in math and writing.

I was disappointed that this 'radical rethinking' of education merely addressed funding and and did not adequately discuss education per se. And, while not to diminish the importance of financial issues, I believe there are larger concerns such as providing meaningful and effective education for all. Making learning meaningful requires a personal element, as does addressing diverse student needs and skills.  

Furthermore (from what I understood from the article), it is the delivery that has changed but not the content, the curriculum, the goals or the philosophy.  As our culture and times change, so too must education.  And, meeting and addressing diverse student needs should not only deal with allowing vertical movement in reading and math levels  - it must address learning skills (such as attention, memory, visual and verbal literacy, sequencing skills, critical thinking) while incorporating various learning profiles and affinities of diverse student bodies and cultures.

Radical rethinking of education should address issues of our multi-media world and promote classrooms that:
  • Incorporate real life issues (making the curriculum meaningful) - this demands knowing your students and tweaking discussions and projects to embrace their affinities, diverse skills, and cultures.
  • Demand original critical thinking - also requiring a personal touch - one where teachers help push comparisons, expose gaps in reasoning, and encourage creative perspectives.
  • Present materials via multi-modal methods involving visual and verbal literacies - so that various student strengths and weaknesses are met in lessons.
  • Focus on writing and communication skills through essays, letters, poetry, creative writing, critical analyses involving peer and educator feedback.
  • Motivates students - with online courses motivation must come from the students.  The programs rarely inject enthusiasm.  And, while many classrooms also fail to inject enthusiasm,  dynamic teacher - class discussions frequently spark the'fire'.
  • We must stop teaching to the 'average' student.  Who is that student, anyway?  Educators must push students to reach lofty goals, and goals must vary according to skills and affinities.  Sometimes this means smaller homogeneous groups (when teaching specific content that is dependent on previous knowledge and abilities), and sometimes larger heterogeneous groups (when discussing broad issues where divergent opinions help develop critical thinking). 
The critics' worries that "kids in online classes don't learn how to get along with others" - is a bogus criticism (especially when there are so many better ones) Having worked as a teacher and a consultant in private and city schools, I know that there are many students attending traditional classrooms who do not get along well with others.  The reverse is also true - most homeschooled students do not have social issues. I taught a summer course for Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth summer program, and before the course began I was informed that I had a homeschooled student in my class and I should look out for social issues that may arise. That homeschooled student turned out to be one of the best socially adjusted students in my class - a true leader socially and academically, and was one of the most popular kids on campus.  

Sitting in a classroom with other students does require greater social skills, but that does not mean these skills aren't also learned through church groups, sports teams, book clubs (to name a few) that require both working and at times competing with others. These options can provide similar 'socialization' process that classrooms serve.

While I am not familiar with K12 or Connections Academy, I do teach a critical reading course for Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth Online Division (for 4th-6th graders).  I have 8-12 students per ten-week session.  There is a set curriculum requiring students read three books and respond weekly with a creative writing piece and two discussion essays related to that week's reading.  I give detailed feedback of their writing mechanics, critical thinking and creative content, and am available via email or phone.This is a program that is both in schools and available on an individual basis.  

There are good online learning programs.  The trick is finding them and, at this point, integrating them with other forms of learning.  Teacher input and feedback must be personal.  Like all other educational programs and fads, it must be balanced.

What do you think?  Especially my homeschooling followers/readers. I'd love to hear from you. 

[And please comment on my 'remodeling' along with suggestions if you have any.]


  1. Your remodel is nice. More inviting. But the old one didn't bother me.
    HATE remodeling in the house; feels endless.
    But remodeling is probably warranted in education, though daily homework for a 2nd grader is a stone drag - for her AND me!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  2. Life can be boring without change, and it's important to continually rethink curriculum and methods of teaching for the benefit of students. Also, one of my biggest complaints in some curriculum was that it is not relevant to the kids. I appreciat your comments on making learning meaningful and believe that is one of the most important issues. When teaching writing skills to the students I tutor, I help them to write what they know, be it biking, soccer, dogs, or travel...once they are able to choose a topic they're familiar with, the mechanics start to flow properly. I'm not sure how total online learning would work, although I know for kids who live is really out-of-the-way areas (i.e. Australian outback) can only do schoolwork that way. And, I can see that it might be used more often in the future.

    Love your new wallpaper! Very cheery...have a resounding week,

    abcw team

  3. Remodeling is a great choice for the theme. I don't know how I feel about online classes as the main form of eduction for some lower grades. I have concerns about it but I realize it could be good for some. I like the idea of enrichment classes and advanced classes online for students who can do higher level work than their grade level but whose parents want them to stay with their age group in school.

  4. Love the new "do"! The green is a welcome site as everything here is settling in for a dormant winter. I've been thinking about freshening up my place as well. But, we are "freshening" up the house right now and I'm exhausted!

    I believe online learning will become more popular, and be more successful on the university level. I don't know too many junior and senior high school students self-disciplined enough to make it work well. Great post and very thought-provoking.

  5. School of the Air has been working for decades in Australia. With the advanced technology at our disposal today, this method of learning will soar. As a once public school teacher, and homeschooler, it is my opinion that a lot of learning happens just as well,(sometimes better) outside the traditional classroom, once the basics have been mastered.
    Love your new look!

  6. Well I don't know what I think of online schooling. Some of my Grandchildren were home schooled and liked it. They are very social and have many friends.

    I like the new remodel, it is much easier on the eyes, The small print was much more difficult to read. I like this larger print much better.

  7. Change is a part of life! I love to remodel too! In fact I am thinking of remodeling my page! I am looking for bloggers to participate in 25 Day's of Christmas Blogshare...check out the post and leave a comment if you are interested in participating!

  8. thanks for linking up your R to tina´s wordless wednesday :)

  9. As a homeschooling parent who loves technology yet realised its limitations I believe that online learning is here to stay and will grow and develop.

    My children have always been homeschooled, except for my second eldest child who attended school from Yr 8 onwards. Currently my 16yo son attends a school which is held online. His classes are done over the phone and online using a moodle type environment. It has been working very well for him.

    All my children are very well socialised. Of course I am completely unbiased with my point of view ;) Seriously though, they have attended Church, youth groups, sports, cadets, etc and also participate in local community events and activities. They are adept at communicating with all types of people from the young through to the elderly.

    A school or homeschool environment can limit socialisation. It isn't an either/either. It depends upon the family and the nature of each child. And let's face it, everyone has their own uniqueness - not everyone is a social butterfly, not is everyone meant to be! What a boring world that would be.

    Thanks for an informative blog, Meryl.

  10. love to remodelling of the site - so lively - great post for this week

  11. Hello.
    I know change is good sometimes, but I'm a creature of habit...I have a set way of doing things. I drive to & from work the same way every day and if I have to be diverted for whatever reason, my anxiety level rises a few notches (even though I have a GPS).

    I do like the larger text here, my eyes are not what they used to be.

    A most insightful post.
    Thanks for sharing & visiting. I appreciate the comment.

    Raining Flowers Upon You

  12. Nice verdant remake, just like sitting under a tree in the agora.
    In common with a few comments here it reminded me too of the Australian Outback schools of the air. Just think they only had a crackling short wave radio when it started in the mid 20th century. Should be a breeze with modern technology.

  13. the new look is great and an insightful post to got with it. I too think online learning is here to stay and will only grow. I believe it can be done - I did my own masters degree this way and learned so much more than I did in my 4 yrs of college.

  14. I love going to school it's fun, maybe when I grow old, I'll take online classes.

    My R is about Raking Leaves, please come and see.

  15. Your new blog look is nice, the old one was nice too. Thanks for the homeschooling bit. I am seriously considering homeschooling my 7-year old, though I have yet to determine if that's the best option for someone like him who does not like to go to school.

  16. I think home school is good for some students, but not all. in my experience some kids just need to be around their peers, esp to develop social skills. but so many public schools are dropping in educational value it makes for a hard choice. I do not think I could of done it with mine.
    is the background of your remodel a photo of your yard? very colorful.

  17. thanks for stopping by my blog! I look fwd to looking around your blog a bit more. We use some online games and learning, but I limit it quite a bit. My son would stay on the computer or watch TV all day if I let him...but I don't.

  18. Thank you so much for writing this. Wonderful points and I really enjoyed reading it. Schooling tends to be such an issue now.

  19. My oldest son does some online courses and I don't approve of them. It seems like there is alot of multiple choice and guessing involved. It is also easy to click the wrong answer then go back and fix it without ever learning it.

  20. Great Blog. This is my first time here--so I can't comment about the remodel. I was googling that article and found your blog--and have yet to read the article. . . .

    I am actually a Principal of an online K-12, school. Yes, we use and love the K12 curriculum. Yes, I love online learning. I've taught online for over 5 years.

    This is the future of learning. K12 and Connections are great programs--they just need more competition in the market place!

    A blended model of learning at home and coming together to discuss ideas, share, and solve "problems" or activities seems to be a really nice way to merge the 2 worlds of online and traditional education.

    I predict education moving more towards online or blended approaches. Students just naturally "get it" --it's the adults who struggle with the electronics and idea of learning from a laptop.

    Students can learn more, faster, and easier with online learning. And with the overall universal knowledge level rapidly growing, we've got to keep up, or be the dirt in path of those who move with technology.

    Love teaching online. Love K12 and what it has done for students--you should SEE some of the success stories we have. Wow.

    Cheers--thanks for a great blog.

    Charlott Reid,
    Administrator for an Online School

  21. inetersting post. thanks for sharing.

  22. Interesting post. Education is definitely changing.

  23. Very pleasing remodelling - green is very restful.

  24. Very nice entry for R day!
    Thanks for sharing;o)

    Happy weekend****