Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teaching and Learning

Yesterday's PTA Advisory Council meeting was a bit disappointing. Our speakers, Annette Gurley and Claudinette Schwarz, each spent what felt like very short periods of time with us. It gave us just enough time for an overview, but not for the rigorous, deep dive discussion that I've come to expect from the monthly PTA Advisory meeting. 

Annette Gurley introduced herself by saying that the title of her office (Office of Teaching and Learning) is actually quite descriptive and accurate of the work done by the office. What her office does is to enhance teaching to provide better learning for the students within the system, she said. 

All this talk of Common Core and emphasis on college, career, and life success is actually important. The rigor of teaching in the 21st century focuses on teaching students to think critically and solve problems--the kinds of tasks they'll need to perform daily in our post-modern, meta-data, information-obsessed economy.  In other words, the very opposite of what Esmee Greenfeld is apparently doing at the NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies. Rote memorization--the kind of kill-and-drill learning environment that many of us grew up in--is no longer relevant, Gurley said. 

This departure from the teaching methods that brought us through an industrial age is a game changer for everyone--from teachers to students to their parents. There is a renewed emphasis on experiential learning. Gurley quoted Richard Elmore's "task predicts performance" philosophy, saying that the professional development sessions her office are conducting focus on helping teachers to design tasks that help students think critically. (I've since read a bit on Richard Elmore, and it's nice to see a CPS Central Officer quote someone who actually makes sense. )

Gurley also acknowledged that the current academic year is a huge transition year for her office. She suggested that parents take time regularly to learn more about Common Core and its ongoing implications for children and families. 

She spoke about the changes in cut scores for the ISAT, a state decision to mitigate the collective shock we'll all feel when the District switches to the PARCC assessment next year. I prefer to think of the PARCC assessment as a way to make sure our schools are teaching our children what they need to know--not as an opportunity to trip them up and spit them out. I suspect Dr. Gurley has a similar philosophy. She told us that she doesn't want children to get to the PARCC and then not be able to complete it.

She told us that a sample 5th grade question on the PARCC tripped her up, and that her office has found the rigor expected of the PARCC to be "an eye-opener." 

In addition to preparedness for PARCC, Gurley reviewed the emphasis on the NWEA assessments, saying that these tests are diagnostic in nature and the baseline tests from last year are being used to develop Learning Maps that are aligned to each individual's learning growth targets. Only children who didn't take the NWEA in the spring last year had to take it this year, Gurley said. These Learning Maps allow a teacher to customize learning experiences to each child, providing time for acceleration or intervention (remediation) during times built into the school day for such work.

Gurley told us that CPS typically categorize learners into three tiers: ones get the lesson 80 percent of the time; twos need a little extra support to get the lesson 15 percent of the time; and threes still don't get it even with extra support. Gurley estimates that there are 3 "threes" in every classroom in CPS. Oy. The recommended intervention for those threes are 3x45-minute sessions each week. Although Gurley noted that good teachers differentiate anyway, I can't help but to wonder how any teacher with 37 kids in his/her classroom has the physical space or the head space to devote to 8% of the class, 5% of the time.  

With Greenfeld's article fresh in my mind, I asked Dr. Gurley about homework. She told me that the individual learning can take place in the classroom, but that it doesn't have to. Sometimes it takes place in a pull-out class, but sometimes it takes place at home via homework. What she said about homework is fuzzy within my notes, but I was left with the impression that the new Teaching and Learning paradigm is going to drag me into the role of after-school/homework tutor. Homework is an opportunity for students to reinforce and practice what they've learned at school, and for parents to preview and understand the concepts their children are in the process of acquiring. If I look at the bright side, it's possible that I may finally learn higher-level math.

No comments: