On becoming a teacher

Kevin had a great answer to the question, “should I become a teacher?

Yes, if your passion is to change the lives of young people one day at a time and if you’re willing to see the results of your daily work only years into the future, then yes, you should become a teacher.
But don’t do it for yourself. Do it for that lonely child whose family is in shambles and your classroom is the only safe place to be. They may not show the appreciation now, and maybe won’t show it ever, but you could be the most important anchor in their lives. Do it for the gifted child who is bored and needs someone thoughtful to pull and push them in new directions. Do it for the kid who always pays attention and does their hardest, no matter what you ask of them. Do it for the ones who resist you at every turn. They all need you.
Yes, become a teacher. It won’t make you financial rich like your Wall Street friends, but being a teacher will allow you to sleep at night, knowing you are making a real difference in the world (unless you are wide awake, wondering about tomorrow’s lesson plans)

– Kevin

I became a teacher because I wanted to make sure every kid had a chance to learn how to read. I’ve stayed a teacher for many more reasons but mainly because I still want every kid to have an equal chance at being their best selves.


Changing how we evaluate…utopic?

I was asked to think about this statement and how it can be considered an assumption:

The notion of systemic change in how we evaluate is utopic since it goes against parent expectations and societal values.

If this were true then women would never have gotten the vote and black people would still be riding the back of the bus and children would still be working in coal mines.

Any kind of systemic change is challenging but certainly not utopic or impossible! If that were the case then nothing would ever change. For this statement to be qualified as true then I must assume the following:

One at a time now.
Parent expectations and the values of society are homogenous and fixed
In my experience working with parents I know that their expectations are not fixed in favour of the stagnancy of how we evaluate students. Parents of students who have test anxiety, for example, would love to see formal, high-stakes summative evaluations bite the dust. And societal values? Which society are we talking about? Is there an assumption here that all societies have the same values when it comes to education and evaluation? I’ve worked in a few different social arenas myself and each one held different values. Even within the same school community I’ve experienced some parents who were in favour of rigorous testing while others were in favour of less rigorous practice. Oh and wait, don’t my values as a teacher fall into the realm of societal values? Am I not part of society?

The whole system of education is formed by these two elements alone.
As soon as we talk ‘systemic change’ we can not base our ideas on only 2 elements of a system. Theories about how systems work tell us that a system is made up of many parts and that none of the parts can be looked at in isolation in order to gain a complete understanding of how the system works. This is because each of the parts affects each of the other parts. Think of your own body. Do you think we could get a good understanding of why you have that headache by only looking at your head? A friend of mine’s headaches ended up being as a result of high blood pressure. If his doctors had only examined his head he may never have found out why they were happening.

By its very definition, a system is an arrangement (pattern, design) of parts which interact with each other within the system’s boundaries (form, structure, organization) to function as a whole. The saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” reflects the notion that it is not enough to focus our evaluative gaze on single goals, objectives, actors, processes, activities, and the like, without attempting to understand the larger system in which the initiative lives. From Evaluating Systems Change by Hallie Preskill

What educators have to say has no affect on any other element of the education system (esp. parents and society)
This assumes that as teachers/administrators/consultants we have no power within our own workplace, that our beliefs and practices do not count. When looked at within the concept of systems thinking, as briefly explained above, we see this is nonsense. While we may sometimes feel this to be true, we know that if we need to change something we can. Look at how a group of Catholic educators changed public policy on the teaching of ethics and religion in Quebec, look at the number of hits that come up when I google teachers as change agents.

What do you think? Is it erroneous to think that we can change evaluative systems in education?
What would you like to see change in how we evaluate in schools?

What do you think when you think Ă©valuation?

Here are my explanations. Translated into English below.

Continuel – l’Ă©valuation est un aspect de mon enseignement que je suis toujours en train de faire.

Conversations – l’Ă©valuation pour moi est comme une conversation entre moi et l’Ă©lève, ainsi que leurs parents. C’est une conversation qui permet l’amĂ©lioration continuel.

Rubriques – On parle beaucoup de rubriques en Ă©valuation. Je ne suis pas très pour les rubriques. Je trouve qu’ils limitent l’imagination de l’Ă©lève. En mĂŞme temps je crois que c’est important que les attentes soient claires, alors c’est une idĂ©e dont que je pense souvent.

Bulletins – Souvent les Ă©valuations sont liĂ©es aux bulletins et il y a beaucoup d’enseignant(e)s qui les font seulement pour les bulletins.

Auto-Ă©valuation – C’est important que je m’Ă©value comme enseignante tout le temps. Les Ă©valuations pour moi sont un genre d’auto-Ă©valuation, car ils permettent une rĂ©flexion sur comment j’ai enseignĂ© le sujet qui est en Ă©valuation et comment je pourrais le modifier pour amĂ©liorer les situations d’apprentissages.


Ongoing – evaluation is a part of my teaching that I do all the time.

Conversations – I see evaluation as a conversation between me and my students, as well as their parents. It’s a conversation that allows for continual improvement.

Rubrics – I don’t really like rubrics because I think they limit the imagination of a student. At the same time I believe in the importance of clear expectations, so this is something I think about often.

Report cards – many teachers only evaluate when it is time to write report cards.

Self-evaluation – It’s important for me continually evaluate myself as a teacher. When I evaluate student work it is a way to reflect on how I taught the subject being evaluated and how I can improve learning situations in the future.

Another big question re: learning styles

This question is an add-on to my last post: I no longer believe in learning styles. You? It might be a good idea to read that to put this in some kind of context :)


If we cater to individual preference in terms of how to receive input

aka match our teaching style to students’ preferred learning styles

how can we possibly properly develop the multiple intelligences that, according to Gardner, we all posses?

If all we have is a hammer all we will see are nails. What happens when we come across a screw?

If Johnny, the supposed visual learner, receives only visual input most of the time (as part of his formal learning, since his teacher will be matching how she teaches to his preference…), he will only be able to deal with what can be dealt with visually to any degree of depth.

Sounds pretty uni-dimensional to me.

ESPECIALLY when we know that for knowledge to enter long term memory it is most successful when dually encoded – visually and verbally! The more diverse the input we have, the better the learning.

I no longer believe in learning styles. You?

A few years ago I had a series of … conversations … with my then PhD adviser about the notion of learning styles. The conversations included a few of us candidates who were also elementary or high school teachers. He maintained, and would not budge, the stance that there was no evidence to prove the existence of learning styles or the value of learning about individual student learning styles in order to improve their learning in a classroom setting. We maintained that we had seen the value in our classrooms! What was this nonsense about learning style theories being wrong? How could I give up all of the work I had been doing around learning styles in my professional and academic life (a portion of my MA included examining learning style for work in organizational development)?

So now it’s a few years later and my coursework for this week falls under the theme of, you guessed it, learning styles. And guess what? My thoughts have changed on the subject. I realize that I have stopped testing for learning styles in my classroom. What I used to see as proof that the individual learning styles existed I now see as proof that learning happens when we have a variety of stimuli or input methods. I focus more on making sure there is a diversity of input – that the material I am presenting (if it is me presenting it) is being presented in a variety of manners. Rather than thinking of each students as having a dominant learning style, I think of how multiple forms of input help to solidify learning in everyone.

And then I did some research and found a number of documents on how learning styles can not be measured, that there is no proof of their existence. Of course, we do always find what we are looking for, don’t we? Regardless, the more I think of this, the more it makes sense.

Yes, it is possible to supply input (material, lessons, ideas, whatever) in different modalities – visually, kinesthetically, aurally, reflexively, actively, tactiley (according to dictionary.com that is a word, I’m not convinced), [add your -ly here] – and I would argue that this is a good thing BUT that the decision to do so is about good teaching and not about accessing the preferred learning styles of students.

It’s good teaching when we

Another thought, not so well thought out so give me some room here but if we think that learning is a social activity, why the emphasis on individual learning styles? Like I said, it’s not so well thought out yet so all I really have is the question as a starting point.


Here are some of those documents I wrote about earlier, in no particular order:

Do Learning Styles Exist? by Hugh Lafferty & Dr. Keith Burley

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students by David Glenn

New Research Shows Learning Styles Are Nonsense by Keiron Walsh

Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence by Harold Pashler, Mark McDaniel, Doug Rohrer, and Robert Bjork (right sidebar has pdf download of full article, free)

Learning Styles Re-evaluated By Rick Nauert

Doubt about learning styles by Jay Matthews

Learning Styles: A Teacher Misunderstands A Paper, and A Psychological Scientist Explains by Liz Ditz

Idea of Learning Styles in Education Further Derided by Psychology Researchers by Mike Smith

Different Strokes for Different Folks? A Critique of Learning Styles (1999) By Steven A. Stahl (pdf)