Apparently Roxanna Elden has been sneaking into faculty meetings and professional development sessions all over the country. She has nicely captured the essence of what is currently being transmitted to teachers in public schools as valid, reliable, accurate, and uncontestable information. This information is actually passed along as useful, helpful, and practical. It is mostly imparted by administrators, academic coaches, and subject support specialists as The Gospel. These messages are communicated in solemn voices and with grave faces–and always with a sense of urgency. Someone somewhere said it was based on brain research. Oooo–Eric Jensen.
The details are, of course, delivered via PowerPoint.
My colleagues know what I think about the overuse of PowerPoint–especially the ones that are ineffectively designed with a too-small font, too many words per screen, way too many slides, confusing or difficult-to-discern charts and graphs, and done in white writing on a beigey background.
And, then to top it all off, the presenter reads each screen aloud to the assembled group.
Throughout the room or auditorium, staff members are rolling their eyes, signaling each other, passing notes, mindlessly doodling, or sitting with one index finger pressed firmly into the philtrum–the slight groove at the base of the nose above one’s upper lip. This trick is purported, according to one AWAD reader last week, to keep one awake. The rest of the room is setting up a sloppy grid of nine or sixteen boxes for the next round of Bullsh** Bingo.
This unique parlor game was created in the early 90’s as a response to the constant gush of buzz words passed along by corporate types to their underlings at various and sundry meetings. The first employee to get three or four items in a row was supposed to jump up and shout BS. Well, folks, buzz words are not the private purview of the business world. Oh, no. We education-types harbor our own compendium of tedium and redundancy. See below.
Roxanna Elden has a highly-regarded book titled See Me After Class–now available in paperback. Y’all can borrow my copy when I am done. The following is from Valerie Strauss’s blog site The Answer Sheet found at washingtonpost.com known as “a school survival guide for parenst (and everyone else). That would be you and me.
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 01/12/2011
By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Roxanna Elden, the author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers. She teaches high-school English in Miami and is a National Board Certified Teacher. This first appeared on Rick Hess’s blog, Straight Up, on the Education Week website.
By Roxanna Elden
It often seems that edu-decision makers and teachers have trouble communicating. Maybe it’s because sometimes we really do speak different languages. At the very least, there are a few phrases in the policymaker-reformer-researcher dialect whose meanings change when filtered through everyday teaching reality. Those hoping for educator buy-in on the next big idea should first consult the translation guide below, which explains some catchphrases and buzzwords that set off warning bells for teachers.
“Failure is not an option”
Actually, failure IS an option. Ironically enough, it tends to be an especially popular option at schools with giant “Failure is not an option!” posters in front of the main office.
Teachers are all for research. In fact, our jobs include an ongoing struggle to get students to do more (and plagiarize less) research.
Outside the classroom, however, “research based” roughly translates to, “You aren’t allowed to point out obvious flaws with this new mandate.”
For example, teachers are inundated with research-based instructions about how to group students for learning and what activities address different learning styles. Students, unfortunately, have not read this research. When faced with a choice of assessments, they tend toward the “I want to do the easiest project” learning style. Similarly, when offered the chance to choose their own learning partners, they often group themselves homogeneously by loudness, or heterogeneously by such factors as “desire to copy work from one another.” Teachers must account for these tendencies before we can use peer-reviewed studies to our students’ advantage.
If you sit through one of the new district-mandated trainings on the importance of rigor–and I don’t recommend it–you may notice that the concept would be better described as “not sucking at teaching.” Most teachers are on board with this. In fact, some of us have been complaining for years that pressure to replace real teaching with drill-and-kill test prep gets in the way of rigorous instruction.
Imagine our excitement when rigor is introduced as a brand-spankin’ new idea in professional development sessions with names like, “Unlock the Sunshine! Shedding Light on the Opportunities Created by State Assessment 2.0.” Usually, these sessions use PowerPoint presentations to explain rigor as something like “teaching interesting things and expecting students to know stuff.” In this context, telling teachers that rigor is important suggests we’ve spent most of the year training our students to make different colored Play-Doh balls. Good thing we had this presentation.
This phrase is generally used when accusing someone of defending it, and those are fighting words. (“Boo status quo! Hooray (your reform idea here)!”) Meanwhile, the number one piece of inherited wisdom in teaching is the need to be consistent. Imagine, then, the chaos that erupts when class rosters are shuffled three weeks before test day or rival gangs are squeezed into the same high school cafeteria while a school is closed for restructuring. Even potentially positive changes, such as the introduction of a new reading program, have an adjustment period in which the school spends extra money, and teachers spend extra time (and sometimes money) to make the program work as advertised. Most teachers are open to growth and change, but we have also experienced changes so poorly planned, last minute, and disruptive that the status quo doesn’t seem like such a bad alternative.
This term originally referred to discoveries so mind-boggling that they threw science’s fundamental beliefs into sharp new perspective. Here are some moments in history that might be appropriately described as paradigm shifts:
• “Lo and behold, Copernicus, you might just be right about the whole ’Earth orbiting the sun’ thing. Sorry I called you a heretic. No hard, feelings, right?”
• “So, diseases are caused by tiny organisms we can’t even see and that can be killed by antibiotics? Then what am I doing with these leeches on my skin?”
• “You win, Columbus, we didn’t fall off the edge of the Earth after all.”
Now, the term paradigm shift is used to suggest the groundbreaking importance of statements such as this:
• “As you can see, we’ve rephrased box number sixteen of this evaluation rubric to include the phrases rigor and research-based. Plus, we added a graphic of a smiling apple waving a flag that says, ’The status quo has got to go! Failure is not an option!’”
As a result, the term “paradigm shift” has undergone a shift of its own. It has become a code word in any presentation that means, “You can stop listening now.”