Category Archives: professional judgement

When zero is not allowed, what is the difference between a student who doesn’t do assignments and a student who is on an Individual Education Program?


It is common to accommodate a student on an Individual Education Plan due to a disability either intellectual or physical, by reducing her workload if that is appropriate.  For example, an English teacher might require a student to answer one of two questions as thoroughly as every one else in the class.  For the second question he might jot down a few words to remind him of his thoughts on a possible answer, if he had time.  He will meet requirements of the assignment by thinking about both questions, but reducing the amount of writing required would accommodate his dysgraphia.

I should add that there are many other forms of accommodation.  Shortening the amount of work is only one but sometimes a useful one.

Gifted students on an IEP may have the number of questions they do for math practice reduced as they do not need as many to cement the concept.  Instead, the teacher may assign problems that take them farther into the concept.

You can see where this is leading.  What a teacher assigns and the amount she assigns is tied in to how much work she believes is needed to learn the material.  If you have read my four posts “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” you will remember that repetition AKA practice is necessary for learning skills.

If a student is not on an IEP, does a teacher have a moral right to change the program he used his expertise, experience and professional judgement to design just to accommodate a normal student who hasn’t handed in some assignments?

Consistently not doing work is a behaviour problem and those who are best equipped to deal with them should be informed: parents, guidance counsellors, principals, vice principals.  In the meantime, teachers should be allowed to get on with what they were trained to do.  And that includes assessment

Do we really want our future doctor, lawyer, builder of bridges, electrician or plumber accepted to train in their professions even though they had missed parts of their math or physics or English classes?  If they find zeroes discouraging, let them ask for help.  If they don’t want to learn enough to ask for help, please don’t lie to the public by indicating they have actually passed a course.

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From CTV Edmonton


Edmonton teacher suspended for handing out zeros

CTV News Video

CTV Edmonton: Does no-zero policy coddle kids?
Veronica Jubinville reports on an Edmonton, Alta. teacher who was suspended after giving students a grade of 0. Some say the policy is fair, but others are worried kids won’t learn if they can’t fail.
CTV Edmonton Morning Live: Career likely done
An Edmonton teacher who was suspended for the remainder of the school year for handing out zeros feels he will likely be terminated permanently come next September. CTV’s Laura Tupper reports.
CTV Edmonton: Teacher shares his side of story
An Edmonton teacher is speaking out after he was suspended from a local high school, reportedly because he gave his students zeroes.
Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

Photos

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

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CTVNews.ca Staff

Date: Fri. Jun. 1 2012 9:07 PM ET

An Edmonton high school teacher said he’s been suspended for handing out zeros to students who didn’t complete their work, bucking a “no-zero” policy at the school.

Lynden Dorval said he doesn’t agree with the school’s behavioural code that bans awarding a grade of zero for incomplete work.

Instead, the policy introduced at Ross Sheppard High School almost two years ago treats unfinished work as a behavioural problem and not an academic one.

“So of course the student’s marks are only based on the work they have actually done,” Dorval told CTV Edmonton Thursday.

“It’s just like in real life, there are always consequences for not doing things,” the 35-year veteran teacher said.

Dorval’s marking system didn’t sit well with the school’s principal Ron Bradley, who sent a letter to the Edmonton Public School Board asking for a replacement teacher.

The letter cites three incidents where Dorval reportedly went against the policy, dating back to 2011.

It also outlines a meeting where Bradley told Dorval to remove the zeros and replace them with the school-sanctioned codes.

The school board wouldn’t confirm the reasons for Dorval’s suspension. It did state it was a staff discipline issue.

However, Schmidt said teachers are expected to follow assessment plans.

“When an assessment plan has been put in place at a school level, it’s my expectation that every staff member will stick to that plan,” he told CTV Edmonton.

Dorval told CTV the zeros he gave to students weren’t permanent, saying it’s important for students to learn about the “real world.”

“The students know that in my case they’re not permanent zeroes, it’s just an indicator that they have to do something about it because this is how their mark is going to turn out if they don’t,” he said.

Dorval’s suspension has prompted a wave of reaction from parents who are calling into radio stations, penning opinion columns, as well as calling the school, the board and the Education Department.

Many have dubbed Dorval the “Hero of Zero” who has stood up to those who allow children to get away with not doing their work.

“We’re hearing from parents. They’re seeing this in a very over-simplified kind of way,” Schmidt said.

“What we’re trying to explain is that students can fail courses if they don’t do the work. Kids are not given the opportunity to game the system.”

Meanwhile, students are somewhat perplexed by Dorval’s suspension.

“If the student didn’t do their work, why should they get any mark at all, so a zero sounds fine to me,” Dimitri Muzychenko told CTV Edmonton.

Another student, Mohamad Al-Jabiri, thought the punishment was too harsh.

“What is he supposed to do? Like he’s not going to run after the kids, it’s high school, right?” he said.

While Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson is keeping an eye on the situation, he does not plan to get involved, according to his spokeswoman, Kim Capstick.

“We don’t have a policy on grading. Albertans elect school boards for this,” said Capstick.

Dorval plans to appeal his suspension on the grounds that the principal went beyond his authority. The teacher also hopes to ignite a discussion on caring versus coddling.

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Veronica Jubinville and files from The Canadian Press

Read more:http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120601/teacher-suspended-marking-zeroes-120601/#ixzz1wvfJvauT

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three


THINKING ABOUT YOUR CHILD

A session in parent teacher meeting at Lahore ...

A session in parent teacher meeting at Lahore College of Arts and Sciences. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have finally deciphered the code and concluded that the teacher is not a robot.  You are pleased with how your child has done in some things; other subjects or learning skills have you worried.  Before you go to the interview, think of your concerns and how you want to tackle them.

START WITH WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP YOUR CHILD

We all tend to be good at coming up with a shopping list of things that other people should do.  The problem is that we are the only people we have control over.  You can’t change the teacher’s personality or create more time for her to help your child.  You can’t make your child smarter or quieter.  What you can do is create a good environment to prepare her for school and encourage her to study when she gets home.

I have been there.  My children were not perfect about doing their homework every day but most of it got done and they were usually attentive in class.  That isn’t to say that sometimes their teachers didn’t get annoyed with them but these six things worked for them.

1.  Breakfast– they had to have it. Because it was cheaper I often made oatmeal but they were welcome to eat anything healthy.

2.  Lunch – they made it but all the fixings were in the fridge and I tried to make sure that most were healthy.   They eventually got smart and worked together to make the weeks sandwiches on Sunday and freeze them.  They learned that lettuce doesn’t freeze successfully.

3.  Sleep – was more important than homework.  “I haven’t finished my homework” was never an excuse to stay up late.  Any child who had to be hauled out of bed in the morning wasn’t getting enough sleep and went to bed earlier.

4.  Television – no more than half an hour on a school night.  Homework is a lot more interesting when there is no television (or computer or video games or other electronic distractions)

5.  Quiet time– right after dinner so we could all work.  Kids stayed in their own workspace.

Mathematics homework

Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6.  No incoming phone calls half an hour before bed and no outgoing phone calls an hour before bed.  It gave the kids time to calm down so they could sleep.  If they didn’t inform their friends, then I did when I answered the phone.

As you can see, # four and five were about the importance of homework and the rest were about the importance of their health so they could do well.  We didn’t stand over them while they did homework because it was their job.  We were available to help but they were responsible.

FIGURE OUT WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT

These worked for my family; something different may work for yours, but the same principles apply.  If you demonstrate that you will do everything you can to create an environment where your child can get his homework done and acquire healthy habits, eventually things will begin to fall into place.  If you are unsure of what role you, your child and your child’s teacher should play in your child’s homework, the attached chart copied from Dr. Maggie Mamen’s excellent book, The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Recognize It, How to Manage It, and How to Avoid It, should help.  responsibilities for homework

LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD’S THOUGHTS ON HIS REPORT CARD

Now you have thought about where you can adjust the things you have control over, see if your child has some thoughts.  The best way to get good ideas out of a kid is not to expect anything you would approve of but sit back and listen as if your child was a respected colleague.  It is surprising the insights kids have when they aren’t worried about parents or teachers getting angry with them.

WHAT DO YOU WANT THE TEACHER TO TELL YOU?

With some thoughts from your child and some ideas about what you could do, think about what you would like the teacher to tell you.  This is where it gets tricky.  A lot of parents come away from interviews without anything useful because the teacher has sugarcoated everything.

Why would a teacher do that?  She does that because she has been literally yelled at too often when she told the truth.  If you have an evening interview after she has taught all day, fatigue is beginning to set in; she will be even less likely to be frank.  You may be tired and hungry as well and not open to any suggestions that your child’s behaviour is not perfect.  Bringing some muffins and tea might be a smart move.

HOW TO GET PAST THE SUGARCOATING

Ask your questions.  When the teacher’s response seems to be sugar coated and you reckon you can deal with the truth – in fact you will probably have a good idea what the truth is, then state it as a question.  “Johnny is a sociable boy” from the teacher might translate to a question from you “are you finding that he is talking and distracting others when he should be getting down to work?”

VOLUNTEER ONLY FOR STRATEGIES YOU CAN FOLLOW THROUGH ON

When you have agreed on what his main strength and weaknesses are, ask what you can do at home to help.  You might not be able to do anything but give the teacher moral support as she tries the various strategies in her repertoire.  Moral support is a lot, however, if a teacher does not feel she is going to have to justify every strategy.  If you do agree to do something, make sure it is something you can follow through on.  If you travel a lot, then signing your child’s agenda every night is not going to work.

FOR SERIOUS PROBLEMS EXPLORE THE OPTIONS

If the problems seem to be serious and you wonder if they have more to do with the child’s ability, you are within your rights to ask the teacher about your concerns.  Sometimes parents see things that teachers don’t.  You can ask the teacher to bring your child up at an in school team meeting to make sure there aren’t other things that can be explored.

If the problems are the normal ones of a normal child, thank your lucky stars. No matter what, even if you have disagreed about the next course of action, let the teacher know that you appreciate her efforts.  She may not be perfect and she may not always teach the way you would like, but she cares about the children in her class and she works hard to do her best for them.  A thank you or a kind word goes a long way.

Parents and teachers need to remember that they are both on the same side: the success and well-being of the student.

For More Information

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure) to understand what an R on the report card means.

R on the Report Card Does Not Mean F (Failure)


The R in Theory & Practice in Ontario

One of the good things about the use of R in today’s report cards is that it is a red flag meaning HELP NEEDED HERE!  It does not assess how well a student is learning that grade’s curriculum; where an R is assigned it means that the student will need remediation to reach a level where she can start learning that grade’s curriculum.  The R also indicates that the child’s parents need to be involved.

The questions are what kind of help, how, who will deliver it and how soon it can be delivered. It can be taken as given that the teacher is already differentiating appropriately for the student, although if she is the one teaching 29 students of whom 25 are on IEPs one could be forgiven for wondering how that is going.  (see Inclusive Education in Practice) Cleaning the Augean Stables might be easier.

Planning for a Child Assessed with an R

When a student is assessed with an R, a plan must be created to address how the student will acquire the necessary remediation.  That plan must indicate what the teacher will do and how the parent will be involved.  Both stakeholders and other relevant members of the staff will have input, but creating the plan is the unspoken responsibility of the teacher.

Pedagogically, this is a sound idea.  The student is regarded not as a failure but one who needs help.  The school and family join forces to see he gets that help.  If they can identify ways and means to do it without anyone, and especially the parents, made to feel that they aren’t doing enough, then the child’s remediation might prove effective.

Parents and Teachers Working Together

It takes a lot of tact to discuss simple things at home that can make a big difference at school. All that apple pie stuff about good nutrition, a good breakfast, enough sleep, sufficient time, quiet and place to do homework, consistency and patience are true.  There is a reason children are not born able to stand on their own two feet.

More than anything, most teachers would love to include the following in the plan:

o      Bobby’s parents will continue to work with the school to create an educational and behavioural plan to help him improve.

o      Bobby’s parents will not give up after three weeks involvement in a plan because:

§       They don’t yet see improvement

§       Bobby says his teacher says he doesn’t need it

§       Bobby drives them nuts with his complaining about the plan

§       It’s too much work

Consistency isn’t easy but it makes a difference in helping children.

Teachers and parents often choose the one or two things they see as most important and focus on those.  Further, they tend to choose concrete items.  A favourite is the agenda.

In that case the plan is clear and simple: the teacher will check that homework is written down accurately in the child’s agenda and initial it.  At home, the parents will check the agenda, see that the listed homework is done and initial the agenda.  (see Should Students in French Immersion Need Tutors? for Dr. Maggie Memen’s model for shared responsibility for homework)  The teacher may add that she will follow-up with an in school team meeting and seek the advice of her colleagues.

The In School Team Meeting

The in school team meeting as it is usually called is often a good resource for teachers.  The principal or vice-principal attends as well as a special needs teacher and often an out of school resource person.  Their questions are brief, relevant and helpful.  In addition to practical advice they may encourage the teacher to start the process for educational and psychological testing.

Looking for Help Outside the Classroom, the School and the Board

Not all the suggestions require teacher or parent action.  Some require the board to act, for example, by providing psychological testing, but the child may wait six months to a year for board action. Since that kind of delay is too long in the short life of a child’s education, teachers might advise parents to pay for testing privately if they can afford it; this, of course, cannot be written up as part of the plan to help the student.  A teacher who is known to have suggested to parents that they pay out of their own pockets for a service boards are expected to provide is risking a reprimand.

Even assuming he qualifies for help, the right placement might not be available for the student.  Other kinds of help require money, public or private.  Sometimes a social worker can chase down some support; sometimes it is a question of getting in line; sometimes it just isn’t there.

An R May Not be Used Repeatedly

Finally, teachers are instructed that an R may not be used repeatedly. This is a puzzle; what if the student continues to work at this level?  What if the parents and teacher are doing their part of the plan but waiting for the board to do its part?  How does a teacher avoid putting an R on the report card in these instances?  This does sound like a thirteenth labour of Hercules!

R as an Improvement in Attitude on F

In spite of some of the practical difficulties an R creates, it is not the dead-end that an F for failure was.  The spirit is that if a child is not succeeding she either needs remediation or support or is in the wrong program.  It does not preclude the possibility that the child needs to change her behaviour.

As you can see, like a lot of well-meaning pedagogical ideas, the R on the Ontario report card requires solid support to be effective. Whether sufficient support exists in every Ontario school for every student with an R is another story.

For more Information on Report Cards:

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part One of Three to understand how marks are derived.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Two of Three to understand how comments are generated.

Getting Ready for the Teacher-Parent Interview: Part Three of Three to reflect on how each of the three parties involved can work on any issues brought up by the report card.

Should Elementary Teachers Work Longer Hours for Less Pay than Secondary Teachers?


A Reply to Olivier’s Comment on

Have You Ever Wondered Why Your Child’s Elementary Teacher Looks So Tired?

If we were merely imparters of random knowledge from aging textbooks, Olivier, I might find your argument interesting; after all even you could drill children in exercises until they had memorised facts.  The difference is that we prepare the students who will go into high school to learn more difficult subject matter.  We equip them with the tools to learn:  not just reading and writing and arithmetic, but also thought and imagination and questions.

Ages & Stages

Elementary teaching requires an understanding of the stage that the child is at for example between the ages of two and seven a child believes that a tall glass holds more water than a short glass regardless of their diameters.  Thirteen year olds, on the other hand, go through a stage that lasts roughly a year in which they cannot process facts using the scientific method; in other words, once they have a theory, they have great difficulty accepting facts that disprove the theory. A teacher who is unaware of the pedagogical and psychological realities of the stages their students are in is going to have great difficulty teaching most subject material and especially any subject material which requires the children to do more than just memorise facts.

Critical Thinking: Not Just for High School Teachers

In fact, the Ontario Ministry for Education and Training requires that every subject from Grade One up be taught and assessed with a critical and creative thinking component as well as a knowledge and skill component.  This makes sense, Olivier, when you realise that each discipline has its own way of thinking about the world.  A scientist creates a hypothesis, a well-designed experiment to test the hypothesis (and anyone who has done this will tell you that experimental design is not simple), observes the results and draws conclusions from the results.  On the other hand, an historian can’t do experiments to demonstrate truths about historical events; facts such as writing, artefacts and drawings are collected and the historian considers what conclusions can be most logically drawn from the evidence.

I could go on to discuss the other subjects we teach, but I am sure you see my point.  The historian must, even more than the scientist, consider the biases of every one involved in contributing to the conclusions. Elementary teachers must understand and train their students in the kind of thinking experts do in each discipline.  Facts can be found in books, videos and sometimes on the Internet but thinking about it cannot.

To teach thinking we use tools that aren’t always found in textbooks.  You would not recognise an elementary math class today because students will often be using manipulatives to learn such things as algebra.  We don’t just get them to memorise equations, we let them discover why they work, why they are helpful and why the rules of solving equations matter.

[For an fascinating and in depth discussion of thinking in different disciplines see  World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence by Stephen C. Pepper]

Curriculum Updates

It is not obvious where you live.  The Math and Language Arts curriculum I am referring to is the one in Ontario, Canada; it was written in 2005 and 2006 respectively.  It was supplemented with marking exemplars in math, reading and writing.  Recent curriculum is no guarantee of good curriculum but it does demonstrate that the powers-that-be are paying attention.

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/elementary.html

Textbooks:  Not for Every Grade or Every Subject and Never Enough for French Immersion

The Trillium List is a list of textbooks approved by the ministry for use in the schools.  Although there are textbooks approved for almost every subject in every grade, the reality is, as one teacher wrote to me today, that there are seldom texts used for math in grade one and two.  Subjects such as science and social studies in the primary grades do not have textbooks although there may be some teacher guides.  These subjects are taught through hands on, carefully planned activities.  And I have yet to see a text beyond an anthology for Language Arts for any elementary grade.  If that sounds like enough, I should remind my readers that students in Language Arts learn grammar, spelling, composition (for a variety of audiences), participation in group discussions, public speaking, reading non-fiction, reading for information, to skim or scan and much more.  French Immersion teachers have access to fewer texts than those teaching in English (see Does Choice in Education Divide our Children by Class?) and find themselves frequently translating materials for their students.

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/trilliumlist/

Elementary Teachers as Diagnosticians

You are right in one sense, Olivier, we do teach children first.  Their well-being and safety is our first mandated concern but it requires an expertise beyond a normal caregiver’s. Elementary school is where a lot of diagnostic work happens.  If by the end of grade eight a learning disability or behavioural problem has not been diagnosed, it is not likely to happen in high school, no matter what the severity.  I speak from both experience and observation.  Elementary school teachers use their knowledge of child development, the subjects they teach, their observational skills and finely honed abilities in multi-tasking to spot anomalies in student performance and investigate further.  Should the child be diagnosed with a disability or any other kind of problem, it will be the teacher who carries out any suggested accommodations or modifications.  She will also be the one who will continue to adjust the delivery of the curriculum to allow the child to learn it.

And Creative & Critical Thinkers

Notice I say adjust the delivery of the curriculum, not adjust the curriculum.  Most children with learning disabilities are perfectly capable of learning the same material as their classmates.  All they require is the ingenuity of their teacher in finding an alternate way of for them to learn or demonstrate their understanding of the topic.  I should not really use the word “all” as sometimes this is quite a challenge and requires considerable negotiation with student, parents and experts and experimenting with methods until one is found that is effective.

Teaching Many in One Class, One Curriculum (Have You Ever Seen a One Man Band)

The elementary classroom includes students of a wide range of abilities.  There may be a range as much as two grades below and two grades above intellectually.  Some students may be barely functional in English.  Some may have emotional and behavioural problems that require professional help, but may or may not be receiving it.  We teach in a public school system and therefore we teach every child.  Currently the default placement for any child with special needs is the regular classroom, so that is where most of them are being taught.  The teacher has a curriculum to teach AND she must consider the nature of her students’ abilities as she plans how to deliver it.  This is not usually the case for high school teachers.

For more information about the administrivia that a teacher deals with, I refer you to Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching? I have not outlined the rest of a teacher’s duties such as supervision and meetings.  I will finish this incomplete summary with one additional expectation of all elementary teachers:  no matter how weary, how sore, how ill she is, she smiles, speaks softly and puts the kids first.

For Even More Information about Elementary Teachers’ Working Conditions:

http://www.etfo.ca/CloseTheGap/TWC/Pages/default.aspx

My astonishment is no longer that people believe that elementary teachers should be on a different pay scale from high school teachers but, meaning no disrespect to my secondary colleagues, that people aren’t agitating to have elementary teachers paid a great deal more to work fewer hours.  Could it be that young children are considered women’s work and women’s work is not accorded much value?  If men dominated elementary school teaching would the job still be valued less?  Do we pay pediatricians less than urologists on the grounds that they deal with young children?  Are people who make cribs paid less than those who make beds?

A Modest Proposal

Given that you think people who teach from a textbook that their students could probably read and learn from themselves should be paid less than high school teachers, Olivier, I have a modest proposal.  University professors should have their salaries divided such that the part that represents the proportion of time spent teaching courses be reduced to less than that of an elementary teacher (as they don’t have to diagnose learning difficulties or supervise playgrounds).  After all, if the high school teachers have done THEIR job, university students should be perfectly capable of reading the texts and learning the course work themselves.  And we all know that either a computer or teaching assistants do their marking.

And a Chuckle

A few years ago I saw an amusing analysis of the comment that elementary teachers were just glorified babysitters.  I don’t know if this is the same one, but it comes to the same conclusion:

Ok- to the people that say teachers are babysitters- and we know that during the school year the teachers probably see the children more than their own parents…soooooooooo if teachers are babysitters….then teachers should be paid as babysitters…back when I was 12 (oh…say 23 years ago) I charged $5.00 per child per hour, and I am sure the price has gone up, but you know what…..so let’s pay these babysitters $5.00 per child per hour, for every day they have the children. No holiday pay, nothing like that. There’s 180 school days, right? 7 hours in a school day (we won’t let the teacher get paid for her lunch). A teacher has…let’s say 20 children. Holy crap- that’s $126K a year!!! Yeah!!! Please please please pay teachers as babysitters.

http://www.city-data.com/forum/education/158935-why-teaching-profession-so-often-looked-7.html

Rethinking “Education for All” Charts: Does Paperwork Improve Teaching?


Having just posted a number of charts based on Education for All, (See For Teachers: Some Charts Based on Education for All) I find myself appalled at the amount of paper work a teacher deals with. These charts add to the already increased load of paper a teacher might find herself dealing with in the course of the year.  If it improves learning in the classroom, I am all for it; the question is does it improve learning?

First let’s review some of the paper a teacher deals with in the course of a normal year:

1.     Set up marking records

2.     Collect tombstone data about students and pass on to the office, recording relevant information for own files beforehand.

3.     Reviewing students’ OSRs  (Ontario Student Records) for information about the children.

4.     Collect and record money – school fees, Scholastic books purchases, milk for lunch, hot dog day fundraisers, school field trips, photographs; it is expected that the teacher add up the money, record who paid what and record the amount of change, dollars, cheques & totals before submitting it to the office.  Often she is expected to hand it in to the office on a daily basis for safekeeping.

5.     Write a detailed description (after researching and reserving activities and possibly buses) to apply to take her class on a field trip.  Her principal and superintendent review this; if either of them wants a change, it must be rewritten and resubmitted.  This means that the teacher does every thing she can to speed the approval process along, as she is anxious to have approval quickly to retain her spot and bus.  Field trips include anything outside the school grounds which means that even a walk around the block must be written up and submitted for approval.

6.     Locate, price and write up an order sheet for textbooks for an application to the principal to purchase on the off chance the money is available.

7.     Record sufficient notes about behaviour and academic performance of each student in the class so she can support her comments in any interview with a parent.

8.     Write up her notes for the next day’s plans in a clear fashion with reference to textbooks etc. so a supply teacher can take over her class in event of illness or accident.

9.     Prepare materials for lesson plans manually in the event suitable textbooks are not available.

10.  Do attendance at least twice a day and see that it is sent down to the office.  No, students may not do the attendance.  A mistake can wreak havoc, either worrying a parent or not alerting the school & parents to a child’s absence.

11.  Notes from parents about children’s absences.

12.  Everyday memos from the board, the union, the parent council, colleagues and the school, catalogues and flyers end up in a teacher’s mail slot; some require action, some request help, some are merely informative.  I have a bumf file and put everything in it in case I need a memo later on.  At the end of the year, I can usually throw the whole lot in the recycling.  Still, some of them are important so each must be scanned and the key ones dealt with, responded to, pinned on the bulletin board, information provided, door decorated, children informed or taught, time allocated or lesson plans changed.

13.  Report cards are largely done on computers these days.  The programs change yearly or every two years, mainly in response to bugs in the previous programs, but each new version requires time spent learning.  In some schools, the teachers print them, in others it is done by the office personnel.

14.  Report cards – sign, fold, put in envelopes, give to children; Make sure all the comments sheet with parental signatures are collected from children the following week, then filed with a copy of report card in the OSRs – every term

15.  Write IEPs for every exceptional student in the class, copy filed in the OSR and a copy is sent to the parents – by the teacher, every term

16.  Record number of hours each child has spent in French class updated on a card in the OSR in June – by the homeroom teacher.

17.  Photographs of each child in the class stuck in place in the OSR and dated

18.  Tidy contents of OSR into a specific order in June

19.  If the students are in a class that is leaving the school in June, bundle the students’ OSRs according to which schools they will attend.

20.  Of course, teachers photocopy their own material, create or buy signs, posters and other decorations for the classroom.  If the equipment is available, they also laminate them.  If they are lucky, money is available for decorating the classroom.  Either way the classroom is empty when they arrive and they are expected to decorate it appropriately.

Now add the documentation from Education for All

So what is all that paperwork for?  The two main reasons are records and accountability.  When you think of it, they overlap in spots: report cards both record and account for student progress and marking records and teacher’s notes support the more formal report cards.  Even recording hours of French is necessary given the number of different programs.  It wouldn’t be sufficient to record the program as students frequently drop out into other programs. (See French as a Second Language is not Taught in a Vacuum; How Do We Teach All the Children?)  Recording hours of French is a form of accountability although it is not related to the teacher recording them.

The question is, how much paperwork is necessary to provide sufficient record keeping for the sake of accountability?  Just looking at the incomplete list above, you can imagine what proportion of a teacher’s time this requires.  Which of these activities would be better replaced with planning, helping children before and after class and assessing the students’ work?  I can list several items of which all or part are not directly related to teaching:  #2, 4, 6, 11, 13 to 20.  As you can see, much of it involves filing.

When I first started teaching, my principal believed that teachers should have goals for their students written down.  This only came out when some teachers were evaluated and expressed their indignation at what was an unusual expectation.  Most teachers have goals for their students tucked in the back of their mind, goals that change as the child changes, but few think of writing them down any more than they would write down the criteria that determine where they seat a child in the classroom.  Believe me, that can be a long list, including sight, hearing, behavioral and learning factors, friends, distracters, need for cues from the teacher and so on.

As a new teacher, I was also being evaluated, so I quickly jotted down my thoughts on my students and casually stuck the page behind the half a dozen pages that formed my notes supporting my plans for the day and week.  Naturally, when the principal went through my day plan, he found them and I earned brownie points.

The thing is that writing down my goals for my students hadn’t created them; they were there all along, otherwise I couldn’t have hastily written them down before the principal’s visit.   The most that writing them down had done for me (besides improving my evaluation) was to clarify them a little.  Within a week or two, the goals were no longer accurate because the child was changing, showing new strengths or weaknesses or I was gaining greater insights.

Where writing down observations and goals did help was when I had students whose difficulties seemed beyond help in my classroom.  Then, I worked to write them down accurately and clearly because I was going to turn to my colleagues or principal for help.  If they did not know the child, then I was going to be the sole source of information.  At that point, the information garnered through the Education for All Charts would be useful.  Virtually nothing is left out.

Is it necessary to fill out all the charts on literacy and numeracy for every child?  Most teachers are very aware of the basic academic and learning skills of each student in their class by the end of the first term and many have them pegged much earlier than that.  As long as each child is learning well and assessed accurately both formatively and summatively, is a learning profile worth the cost in time?

To explain:  formative assessment is evaluation used to figure out how much the student has understood.  This helps the teacher determine how to teach the next section; it also helps the student understand what needs reviewing.  Summative assessment is used for final evaluation i.e. marks.  In theory, these are separate assessments; in practice, they may cross over as when a teacher allows redoing assignments for mastery or when the most recent, highest marks in a unit are used for final assessment.

Returning to paperwork: time is most effectively spent on learning profiles when a student is struggling.  At that point, a thorough understanding of strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as a starting point in determining the next steps in helping the child.  Time spent observing, reflecting and writing down the points in each part of the learning profile may provide the basis for useful insights.

A learning profile as an aide memoire in preparation for report cards or a guide for planning units may also be helpful.  The danger is that principals who don’t trust their teachers to use their professional judgment may jump on the Education for All bandwagon and ask that all these forms be used.  It will look like accountability, but it will be no more accountability than asking teachers to sign time cards.

Am I saying teachers shouldn’t do any paperwork?  No.  I am saying that before teachers are asked to do any paperwork, the usefulness of the paperwork as records or a measure of accountability should be weighed against the usefulness of the teachers’ time spent teaching or planning or assessing or consulting with colleagues.

For More Information:

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

Gifted and “Education for All”



Part 4:  Education for All
and the Academically Talented Child

Before I start, I would like to comment on the notion that many people hold – even some teachers – that gifted children will do well no matter what and do not have special needs.  A child who is capable of working two years above her chronological peers will be bored in a regular classroom and may look for ways to alleviate her boredom.  One may be to see how much she can get away with in terms of poor behaviour or not doing homework or beating the system.  Another might be to challenge the teacher on knowledge, procedure and any minutiae of school rules.  Some students will take pleasure in figuring out how to be absent as long as possible without being caught.  This may include everything from day-dreaming and reading books under the desk to playing hookey, disappearing off to the washroom and working the holes in the absentee system.

The students who decide to play by the rules may do their best to conform; this includes not doing much better than their peers and playing down their abilities.  Either way, the students are not being themselves academically and being something you are not is stressful.  There has been a lot written on the effects of stress so I will not go into the details of the potential ill effects such as dropping out, drug abuse and depression.  Stress caused by this kind of frustration should be distinguished from healthy stress created by challenge students believe they can meet with serious effort and thought.

So yes, the academically talented student does have special needs that should be met.  Gretzky wasn’t left to play hockey with boys his age who weren’t as good as him on the theory that he was so good he would do well anyway.  All students need to be nurtured and have their needs met as much as we reasonably can.  Academic talent needs it as much as athletic talent.

The purpose of Education for All is to promote the inclusive classroom.  The concept of the inclusive classroom is that all children who can be taught in the regular classroom, should be.  These children include most exceptional or special needs children and gifted children are included in the definition of exceptional. Ontario ministry requires that the default placement of children identified as exceptional be the regular classroom.   (see Inclusive Education in Practice)  If the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) chooses to place the child elsewhere, a written explanation is required.

Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom: the Default Placement

This creates difficulties for many children with special needs and gifted children are no exception.  Most boards have three ways of providing for the academically talented child: the first is the default, placing her in a regular classroom.  A skilled teacher, trained in teaching bright children and especially in techniques such as compacting the curriculum and contracts would be successful if the child in question was a good independent worker and thirsty to learn.  Not all gifted children are either.

There are two or three advantages to this method.  The first one is that the child may continue to attend the home school and make friends with children within walking distance.   I believe that this is very important to children and necessary to the growth of their independence.  My observations as the parent of three (now grown) children have brought home to me how important it is to children to have friends within walking distance.

The child’s capacity to work independently and propose her own projects will have the opportunity to develop in a regular classroom.   Many gifted children are weaker in one academic area than another; being in a regular classroom would allow them to work with fellow students and perhaps turn to them for help on occasion.

There are often bright children who haven’t been identified as gifted who might benefit from compacting the curriculum and being allowed to pursue a subject in greater depth.  The gifted child in the classroom may open the opportunity of enrichment to these classmates as planning for a handful of motivated students is usually not much more trouble than planning for one.

Finally, one gifted young man told me that when he started to work in the real world he felt frustrated because ordinary people couldn’t think as fast as he could.  He understood that it was his problem and made every effort to be courteous while he learned to adapt.  The problem was that having spent his formative years surrounded by bright schoolmates, parents, siblings and relatives, he hadn’t learned how to deal with all levels of intelligence.  Cultures, religions, ideas, lifestyles – yes – but not a lower level of intelligence.  Being taught in a regular classroom would have given him that skill.  He is still working on it.

Education for All barely discusses the academically talented child in the regular classroom and other options are not discussed at all.  Below are some traditional options and one which would require some flexibility in school organisation but result in providing enrichment for more than the top 2%.

Withdrawal

Withdrawal is probably the worst method of providing for academically talented children.  Usually this is done on the basis of a half day or less a week; the student is taken by another teacher for gifted programming.  Many of these students are already aware that they are different.  Being withdrawn from the classroom makes many children feel singled out and will add to a bright student’s sense of being outside the norm.  She will often balk at a withdrawal program and prefer to stay in the class full time.

Although the theory is that the child should not have to make up for work missed in the classroom, the reality is that sometimes the timetable can’t be managed that way or the teacher does not buy into the theory.  If the teacher sees gifted programming as elitist, then she will be less likely to go to the extraordinary effort of co-ordinating classroom work with the withdrawal timetable.  In fairness she is stuck in a catch-22 situation: the student should not miss learning experiences in the key academic subjects, nor should he miss out on anything he might regard as fun such as gym or art.  One should forgive a teacher for believing that all time in her classroom is educationally relevant and occasionally outright fun.

The teacher who does the withdrawal should be a specialist in giftedness, but too often a principal may be tempted to give the job to someone who needs a .2 or .1 position to complete her timetable.  All the teacher needs to be qualified is part 1 of the special education certificate.  There is much less flexibility in staffing today than there was twenty years ago, so shoehorning a teacher into this position is not necessarily indifference or ignorance of the children’s needs but a case of making do with the staff provided.

Withdrawals are usually done on a once a week basis.  In theory, enrichment should relate to and enhance the curriculum but without very close work with the classroom teacher, this would be almost impossible for the withdrawal teacher.  The withdrawal teacher may have several grades at one time and inevitably students with talents varying from the mathematical to the verbal. The compromise is that students end up doing individual projects such as family trees or creating a fantasy land or something else that will allow them to stretch.  In the past, these projects were irrelevant to the assessment of the students’ academic levels.  Perhaps there is closer co-ordination now.

The only truly positive thing I can say about this method is that it allows the child to stay at his home school and in the right circumstances may open the school to the Renzulli method, of which I will write later in this post.

The Congregated (Segregated) Program

This program brings academically talented children together in one classroom.  The criteria varies but the frequent standard is the 98th percentile on an intelligence test or equivalent.  This means that the child tests as higher in academic ability than 98% or 97.999% of all other children.  This can be done with expensive one on one testing with a psychologist trained in testing intelligence or it can be done with a paper and pencil test which can be supervised by anyone.  The choice depends on what is available to school boards.  Most choose the latter but that, unfortunately, leaves them vulnerable to parents who can afford it pursuing the psychologist route if the paper and pencil test does not show their child to be qualified.  (see Another Curious Statistic)This is an inequity in the system that school boards such as the Ottawa Carleton District School Board are aware of and to which they would like to see a solution.

Done properly with trained teachers who are hired by knowledgeable principals, the congregated program can be effective.  The biggest problem is that students who are not used to challenge are often unhappy when they are required to think.  Many programs provide more work or in depth knowledge without requiring students to work their way up on Bloom’s Taxonomy from learning facts and skills to analysis, evaluation and application.  The programs end up being effective only in terms of allowing students to work with their intellectual peers.  If that is all a program does then those who finger gifted programs pejoratively as elitist are justified.

A second problem is that the children usually must attend school at a distance from their own home.  This makes forming friendships within walking distance of home difficult and group work outside of school dependent on parental transport.  Without companions close by, their freedom to explore is restricted and the relaxed friendships bound only by their preferences rather than the availability of parent chauffeurs is impossible until their teens.  By that time, many students will have lost the impetus to take the initiative in their social lives or the will to find transportation besides the parent chauffeur.  I even know of students with university degrees who will not take public transportation.

One family who had four children in gifted programs ended up installing a second phone line just for the children as they needed it to discuss assignments as well as stay in touch with friends.  Friends and family of the parents were unable to get through when there was just one phone in the house.

A third problem is that the children are visibly separate from the rest of the other students.  They are singled out as enrichies or richies and seen as privileged and resented as such.  The best schools make an effort to integrate all the students through sports, drama or music programs to avoid this kind of thing.   A congregated class may reinforce any sense of entitlement the students or their parents might feel thus continuing the circle.

Finally, the younger children in the program must be bussed if the school is not within walking distance.  This adds to the cost of the program, to the length of the child’s day and the isolation from the local community.  Because parents do not belong to the community, their voices at school meetings are concerned primarily with the gifted program.  In one school the parents of these children insisted that they be allowed to go straight to their classrooms from the buses in the morning, as the parents were uncomfortable with their children being on the playground in an inner-city school.  This was in spite of the fact that there were teachers supervising the playground at that hour and that no other children were allowed in their classrooms.  I don’t know whether the other parents ever picked up on the insult to them as their own children were walking past each others’ homes in this inner city on the way to school

The flip side is that parents of gifted children can be energetic in fundraising or willing to donate to school projects.  The other students do benefit from the extras the money provides and in the attention paid to the physical plant when there is a congregated gifted program in place.

Acceleration – Out of Fashion and Now Returning to Fashion

Acceleration was probably the earliest form of handling academically talented children.  People of a certain age will remember the children who skipped a grade.  Sometimes it was done by putting them in the lower grade of a split class and the following year sending them on with the upper grade of the split.  It had the advantages of moving a child ahead academically, but the disadvantage was that the child was no longer with his or her chronological peers.  Sometimes it still did not provide the intellectual challenges needed and sometimes the child might have floundered in areas of weakness.  Usually, these issues were considered in making the decision to accelerate a child.

For many years it was not considered appropriate to accelerate a child for the social reasons raised above.  This got confused by many school boards into the idea that acceleration itself was bad; certainly acceleration in specific subject areas but not others created headaches for teachers in the receiving classes or schools.  The teachers to continue the acceleration might not be available or it might prove difficult to arrange students’ timetables to take more advanced subjects.  Teachers were told not to accelerate students in any subject area – even in mathematics where acceleration is appropriate and necessary to provide enrichment for the talented.  I was even told that teaching above the grade level could be a firing offence.

Recently in Ontario, this kind of thinking has been challenged and acceleration has been reinstituted as legitimate method in providing accomodation for academically talented children in some areas.  This does not mean that we have gone back to skipping children, as the principle that children should be with their age peers still holds.  In most subjects, providing breadth and depth is sufficient challenge for a bright child. In math, some students will need acceleration whether the students are in a congregated gifted or regular classroom.

My own observation is that some elementary teachers are math phobic, not a surprise when you consider that the kind of interests and skills which drew them to young children did not require math.  A teacher’s discomfort with math will make accelerating a few students more difficult, but perhaps this could be taken into consideration in choosing classrooms for talented math students.  This takes us full circle back to the point that the teacher of the inclusive classroom will need training not just in teaching children with behavioural problems and learning difficulties but also academically talented children.

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Renzulli Method

This will be a very brief summary of the concepts developed by Joseph Renzulli.  They do answer concerns about issues such as isolating academically talented children, dealing with children who have some very strong talents but are weaker in other areas, dealing with academically talented children who are not motivated or lack creativity and elitism.  Implementing his ideas would require an enrichment teacher in each school and flexibility in school timetables but enrichment would not be as dependent on testing as it has been.

Renzulli’s model of giftedness rejects conventional concepts of IQ as a sole arbiter of ability.  He considers that its use is best applied as a guideline to determine above average ability.  He reckons that IQ alone does not predict performance and, indeed Terman’s  longitudinal studies of people with high IQs bear that out.  Terman’s subjects did go on to become doctors, engineers, lawyers and teachers but they were not the iconoclasts, the paradigm shifters, the great businessmen or politicians of their generation.  The people who were, were bright but not as bright.

So, the first part of Renzulli’s model is above average ability.  The second part is creativity.  Since this is a summary, I will simply comment that studies have shown that intelligence without creativity only takes one so far in solving problems or doing well in general.  Oddly enough, many parents of academically talented students keep their children busy with structured activities to ensure their children make the most of their abilities.  I am rarely believed when I tell them that the research shows that their children would be better off having more unstructured time to play and develop their creativity.  Even a pick up game of soccer or baseball would be better because the children would have to negotiate their teams, rules and referreeing according to the space, number of kids, quality and character of players and equipment.  They would have to be creative in coming up with solutions which everyone could agree to without taking up all of their play time.

The third is task commitment.We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare.  The hare was a gifted runner but the tortoise had task commitment and perhaps a creative enough mind to perceive that the hare’s vanity might slow him down.  We know the tortoise will not have a hope at the Olympic podium because he lacks above average ability in running, but neither will the hare because he lacks task commitment and perhaps the creativity to consider the possible ways in which a tortoise just might beat him.

Below is a copy of the Venn diagram that Renzulli puts together from these three qualities of giftedness.  As you can see, when the three overlap, gifted behaviour occurs.  This is the answer to the many teachers of the gifted who have muttered, “I know wee Johnny is supposed to qualify for this class but I have yet to see any evidence of his gifts”.    I know that this would have reduced one or two of my classes by half, at least in some subjects.

copied from http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

For a teacher it would be a satisfying model to work with but as a child’s abilities, creativity and task commitment often vary with the subject, there would be few students who would qualify for full time enrichment.  Renzulli’s answer is a school-wide enrichment model.

The idea is that all children would get some enrichment in their areas of interest; this is where Education for All’s Learning Profiles and Questionnaires would be very useful.  Other tools such as a learning style assessment would prove useful, too.  Using these tools, the students would be placed in multi-grade clusters which would meet regularly (once a week?).  All staff and parents would be encouraged to join these clusters.

There would be more than one level for a student’s involvement in the enrichment model depending on interest – talks or lectures might be sufficient for some students.  Discussion groups for others and further research, model building or other development for others.  There are detailed discussions of how programs are already working and how they might work.  In the end, the model needs to be worked to fit with the school using it.  What does have to be done is to train staff, assign a member of staff to it part or full time, depending on the size of the school and have that person do the two week training course.

There are lots of sites on the Internet about Renzulli’s model, a great number of articles in peer-reviewed journals and books to turn to if you want to know more about this form of enrichment.  It is certainly worth exploring if you want to see as many students as possible develop their talents beyond what they normally would in a regular classroom.  It is worth it if you want to see students of all ages and abilities learn to work together.  It is worth it if you want to see the elitist stigma removed from enrichment and bright children.  It is worth it if you want to keep children in their home school and reduce the financial, social and environmental costs of bussing.


For more information:

For the Zenn diagram demonstrating Renzulli’s model of giftedness

http://www.uni-bielefeld.de/paedagogik/Seminare/moeller02/06hochbegabung/Renzulli.html

The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:  A Developmental Model For Promoting Creative Productivity Joseph S. Renzulli

http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/pdf/The_Three-Ring_Conception_of_Giftedness.pdf


http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/sem/semexec.html

Education for All: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6, 2005

For a summary of long term studies on the academically gifted see

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/eric/faq/gt-long.html

NEXT:  Potentially Useful to Teachers: Charts and Tables Derived from “Education for All”    August 28

Should Elementary Teachers Work Longer Hours And Be Paid Less than Secondary Teachers?  A reply to Olivier’s comment.   September 4