# pedagogy

## My Philosophy On Math Pedagogy, And Other Tidbits [Edutopia]

by on March 21, 2013

Here’s an excerpt from my latest at Edutopia (including a diss on Robert Marzano and the like). It’s about engaging math teachers:

Keep This Rule of Thumb: Complete, Consistent, Correct

By “complete, consistent, correct,” I mean we should allow multiple pathways to a correct answer that a) allow for full understanding of a given procedure, b) can be used time and again without fail, and c) actually have a sound basis in math. While it sounds constricting, it removes some of the limitations we’ve set for ourselves when looking at student work.

For instance, when finding 25% of 80, the most basic thing we can do is turn the percent into a decimal (0.25) and multiply that decimal by 80. The result is 20. Yet when I presented this problem to a seventh grade class just learning this, one of the students astutely observed that 10% of 80 is 8, and 25% is just 10% + 10% + 5%. They doubled 8 (16), then took half of 8 (4), and added the results (16 + 4 = 20).

Some teachers might mark that incorrect because it doesn’t follow the exact procedure they asked for, but we really should accept such a response fully, not just because of the answer, but because the procedure the student used works time and again.

Mr. Vilson, who wants Friday to be over already, and it’s only Thursday …

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## If You’re Teaching Black History Month This Way, Please Stop

by on January 31, 2013

Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson with wife Rachel, Hall of Fame

First, I’d like to acknowledge that, on the chance that you’re actually celebrating Black History Month, congrats. You haven’t let the Common Core madness deter you from celebrating culture, whether it’s your own or someone else’s.  The decorations will spring up. Common faces like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Benjamin Banneker, and Will Smith will border the walls of a few classrooms, and probably a few hallways. There might be a fact-a-day in the announcements, and one in 400 schools might have someone who knows the Black National Anthem. (I know you’re mumbling it after the fourth line.)

But, has it ever occurred to you that, as well-intentioned as this might be, we ought to take the next step and celebrate Black history on March 1st as well?

We already know that Black History Month wasn’t meant to stay as lack History Month. Carter G. Woodson intended for this celebration to happen until it clicked for curriculum creators to speak to the story of the American Negro as part of the American history, and not just in platitudes and the Civil Rights movement.

People often argue that, when we stop celebrating Black History Month, people will start celebrating year-round, and there’s no way I’ll ever argue that. In fact, we should start celebrating all cultures and colors year-round so the need for specialized months for our marginalized groups would look antiquated. In other words, put John Steinbeck and Malcolm X quotes together, and celebrate The Beatles and the Temptations simultaneously. We can celebrate Michelle Obama as part of the lineage with Barbara Bush and Eleanor Roosevelt.

To Kill a Mockingbird in English class is a start, and so is having a Black president. Yet, we have so much pushback, I always wonder if we’ll ever not need a Black History Month. The “civil rights issue of our time” has a severe lack of sincere educators willing to tackle on the issue of diversity without trying to let go of their privilege, too. With the decline of black teachers happening all over the country (Chicago a prime example), it’s time for our White brethren to teach with compassion and understand on the issue of race if they aren’t already.

So jump into Black History Month, and get your feet wet with some of this history. Do your research a bit and drop the dime in a child’s ear, because that might inspire them to aspire. But once February 28th hits, leave those chapters open and bookmark those links.

The kids still need to know that there were, are, and will continue to be people who look just like them that positively impacted the lives of others, role models for the lack thereof in present times.

Jose, because this is to the memory of Hadiya Pendleton …

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## If Every Other Word Out Of Your Mouth Is “Common Core”, You’re The Problem

by on January 15, 2013

Oh come on now! Really, Kentucky? REALLY?!

Do me a favor and stop it. Just stop it, you.

Yes, you.

You’re ridiculous now. Every other word out of your mouth is “Common Core.” That’s enough out of you.

I’m all for people having a voice, a seat at the table, and entitlements to opinions and such, but you’re not going to sit there and use the words “Common Core” 58 times in a meeting and not have me either burst out laughing, walking out for a break every 20 minutes, or worse, throw you an eye roll.

I get it, too. The Common Core State Standards, by many accounts, is an internationally benchmarked set of standards developed by coalition consisting of governors, education professors, and other people interested in seeing the United States compete academically with the best and brightest from countries all over the world instead of the middling status we’ve had for decades. I get that it proffers a certain amount of authority and gravitas, in “If you think this is just another fad, but it’s not. It’s going to stay, we’re going to do this all the way, and there’s no turning back” sorta way.

Except, for the classroom teacher, none of that resonates.

For the classroom teacher, the act of planning lessons, teaching those lessons, observing and recording student behavior, grading papers, and reflecting on our practice stays consistent, no matter how often you drill the words “Common Core” into the zeitgeist.

For the classroom teacher, few of us actually know what it is. A few of us think it makes our work easier than our original individual-state standards do. Some others think it might be complete crap but that we’re just going to ride with it because we teach … for a living. Others still just want to see what the publishers do with the assessment, because the things they’ve done with the textbooks have thrown everyone for a loop including the CCSS creators themselves!

For the classroom teacher, the best bet, as has always been, is to focus on professional development in a meaningful way, with teachers actually having more natural discussions amongst each other about students and the assignments we give them without feeling like we need to listen to the Marzano-DuFour-Danielson crowd anymore.

I’m not here to delineate because who’s real and who’s not, either. I’m just saying that you look disingenuous when you see something that might look exciting / rigorous / difficult to you and say, “Oh look, Common Core.”

I get it, too. If you don’t use the word “Common Core” a lot, don’t speak for or against it, you risk irrelevance. Like, look at these people over here really engaging in “the work” (few people define it to start) and you’re not, so you’re not Common Core aligned and you belong over in this corner. Way over here. Like an imaginary dunce cap.

But if you’re willing to engage in the Common Core zealotry (on either side) that I’ve seen, maybe you ought to find another cause to feel this passionately about, like how kids learn.

Alas.

Jose, who’s finding moments of honesty more often than not …

source for image: http://bluegrasspolicy-blog.blogspot.com/2010/07/fordham-study-trashes-education.html

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## Five Ways You Can #OccupyTheClassroom [It's About Time]

by on October 6, 2011

OccupyEverything

For World’ Teachers’ Day, all the big edu-wigs broke out in song about saluting great teachers, trying to stretch their arms out their offices far enough to find a teacher they’d consider effective and Kumbaya them to death.  The billows of hollow praise doesn’t whittle away the troubling issues with education.On that day, teachers all across this nation were given the day off, the week off, and the entire year off without pay, and possibly forever, for lack of investment into the neediest areas. Mayors and governors shook whole public institutions into test-prep mechanisms and called it 21st century learning with 19th century thinking with paper and computer apparatuses expert pedagogues wouldn’t recommend. Schools continue to suffer and close their doors under the premise that they cannot singlehandedly defeat abject poverty with the limited resources given.

On that day, teachers saved up a check’s worth of their disproportionate salaries for supplies their schools can’t provide them. With little or no recompense.

Before teacher-bashers filled the coffers of national education committees, people stood boldly in the classroom and decided upon pedagogy for all. With the introduction of the Common Core State Standards, some reformers have found a way to inject themselves into the pedagogical side of teaching. They’ve made a lasting impact on policy via No Child Left Behind / Race To The Top and these pieces have cemented a corporatist view upon all educators’ jobs. All the while, by recent research, nine out of 10 teachers across the nation have been rated satisfactory. Akin to the #OccupyWallStreet movement, this movement makes us the 90%, doesn’t it?

Now it’s time to take things back.

This year, I’ve focused less on policy and more on pedagogy, as have many of my fellow educators, as a proactive measure, not reactive. Pedagogues to speak up about their classroom and the board room. We can’t leave it up to others to voice our opinions for us. So, here are five ways to #occupytheclassroom:

This scares even some of our best teachers. Rather than sharing what’s happening in their classrooms with their colleagues, they rather work behind closed doors. While there are times for that, sharing best practices as experts frequently creates better relationships among colleagues. No matter how you share, please do. Come to think of it …

## 2. Start a Twitter … or something …

Right now, some of the best professional development is coming out of spaces like Tumblr and Twitter, where people are picking up tips and best practices from teachers all across the world. While some have jumped off the ledge called ed-tech, others genuinely give people timely and expert advice in whichever topic you’re covering. Give it a try.

## 3. Get a website, preferably a blog.

Despite the plethora of essays I’ve written, and the [hyperbolic] billions of shares and comments I’ve received over the four years I’ve had this blog, some of my most popular work comes from actual artifacts that I’ve left for teachers here. Lesson plans, bridges to practices, and other resources make for rich discussion and critique that’s often not possible in person.

## 4. Create your own professional learning network.

Believe it or not, a few friends sitting down over dinner discussing how to teach the next unit is, in essence, a professional learning network. Some have taken it to a more intricate level, using the Internet to connect people by subjects and regions to discuss what’s happening in the classroom. Right now, there are collectives of people forming associations based on their subject and creating teacher-led PD sessions. These sorts of meetups based on common interest inevitably creates a community of collegiality that pushed others to do better.

## 5. Empower yourself.

Lastly, make better critical decisions. There is something to be said for a teacher who constantly seeks to improve themselves, so the natural progression from being an expert is to speak like one. We owe it to ourselves to speak up about our experiences in the context of pedagogy. One of the main reasons absurd words like differentiation and inquiry have made it into the educational zeitgeist is because we as educators allowed non-experts to control the language of what we do … and make millions off our perceived weaknesses.

We ought to rebel. Our best rebellion must come in the form of assuring our students do as well as possible. Outside politics have deteriorated, not elevated, the classroom experience for far too long. Before we can truly have a revolution of any nature, we must first shore up the parts of our job we can immediately control. It starts with the 30 / 60 / 90 / 150 students we have under our care.

With a movement like this, they’ll be occupied with how to stop us.

Mr. Vilson, who encourages you to share ways that we can take back the classroom …

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## What’s Next: Auto-tuning Our Lessons, Too? [On The Future of Teaching]

September 14, 2011 Guest Posts

Excerpt: For some of our less fortunate colleagues, they may get mandated to use a scripted curriculum pre-written for them. This method has some validity with those who don’t get the training in their ed-schools (and trust me, there’s lots), but should teachers prescribe to this method? At some point, we have to ask ourselves, [...]

## Well, If You Don’t Teach It, How Will They Know? [Beware the Ides of March]

March 15, 2010 Jose

What does it mean when a teacher says, “They don’t know ..?” That’s often my quandary when I listen to the conversations about our students in classrooms all across the city (and in some cases, the nation). Topics like fractions, percentages, decimal places, and other seemingly rudimentary topics evade many of our students, and many [...]

## Don’t Speak, I Know Just What You’re Thinking. [Or Students Are Students]

February 1, 2010 Jose

“Well, not for nothing, but the student you’re looking at now has an IEP. She’s come a long way from where she was …” In my mind, I was thinking, “The next word out of your mouth when talking about my students better not classify them as ‘ELL’ or ‘IEP’.”As Ira Socol said in a [...]