Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A New Kind of Classroom

In any event, advocates argue, the current education system is not working.

From the NY Times, A New Kind of Classroom (that sounds a lot like SPS' Nova):
Moheeb is part of a new program that is challenging the way teachers and students think about academic accomplishments, and his school is one of hundreds that have done away with traditional letter grades inside their classrooms. At M.S. 442, students are encouraged to focus instead on mastering a set of grade-level skills, like writing a scientific hypothesis or identifying themes in a story, moving to the next set of skills when they have demonstrated that they are ready. The only goal is to learn the material, sooner or later.

For struggling students, there is ample time to practice until they get it. For those who grasp concepts quickly, there is the opportunity to swiftly move ahead. The strategy looks different from classroom to classroom, as does the material that students must master. But in general, students work at their own pace through worksheets, online lessons and in small group discussions with teachers. They get frequent updates on skills they have learned and those they need to acquire.

States like Vermont and Maine have passed laws requiring this type of system.  Many states and cities are piloting it like New Hampshire, Idaho and Chicago are piloting it.  But the biggest program is in New York City. 

The city has a growing program called the Mastery Collaborative, which helps mastery-based schools share their methods around the city, even as they adopt different styles. To date, there are eight lab schools, whose practices are being tested, honed and highlighted for transitioning schools.
Now this is the kind of personalized learning I can support.  But, naturally, there are downsides:
Several factors are driving this. The rise of online learning has accelerated the shift, and school technology providers have been fierce advocates. It’s no surprise that schools adopting the method are often the same to have invested heavily in education software; computers are often ubiquitous inside their classrooms.
Most classrooms have computers; the software investment may be the biggest cost.
Government policy has also contributed to its adoption. Under the federal education bill passed in 2015, states are permitted to forgo single end-of-year subject tests for nuanced measures. In the mastery-based learning world, this is largely seen as a positive move.
Amy Slaton, a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia who studies the history of science and engineering in education, worries that the method is frequently adopted to save costs. (When paired with computers, it can lead to larger classrooms and fewer teachers.
Jane Robbins, a lawyer and senior fellow at the American Principles Project who has written critically about mastery-based education, said she finds the checklist nature of the system anti-intellectual. While it may work to improve math skills, it is unlikely to help students advance in the humanities, she said.
Even proponents say the system has its problems. Switching to mastery-based learning requires a great deal of coordination.  

To make the system work, teachers used New York State curriculum guidelines and Common Core standards to develop a rubric of every skill students needed before they could move to the next grade. In Moheeb’s sixth-grade class, there were 37 skills designated in math and 37 in English.

In lieu of grades, students are assessed on a color-coded scale: Red means not yet meeting the standard; yellow, approaching it; green, meeting a standard; and blue, exceeding it. The scale is designed to be visually appealing and to encourage students to think of learning as a process. To meet grade level for each skill, students need to prove three times that they have acquired it.
Parents, however, remained skeptical. While students received end-of-year report cards with their mastery points translated into percentage grades (necessary when applying to high school), many parents were confused by the frequent progress reports detailing dozens of outcomes for each subject. Some simply wanted to know whether their children were passing.
Mastery itself?
Elliot Soloway, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Education, contends that students learn by slowly building on knowledge and frequently returning to it. He rejects the notion that students have learned something simply because they can pass a series of assessments. He suspects that shortly after passing those tests, students forget the material.
I would have to ask teachers - ignoring the logistics of switching - what they think on this point.  I think proving you know it - in different ways three times - seems to be as good as a single test.

Interesting.  Thoughts?


Anonymous said...

We tried to move in this direction years ago, at a school which had received a Gates small schools grant. I was on the steering committee for the small schools implementation, and one of the things we worked on was what was at the time called "competency-based learning." The math and science teachers were enthusiastic; as an English teacher, I was overwhelmed. There are so many components (or "competencies") to good writing, thoughtful reading, and clear oral expression, and at the time I was teaching 170 students. The thought of "testing" these competencies and keeping track of where students were in their learning was completely enervating.

It's a compelling idea but quite difficult to implement for certain subject areas. Hopefully this isn't yet another unfunded mandate for the schools and teachers in the article.


JS said...

I like the idea of kids moving along at their own pace. But it sounds eerily like ST Math, which our elementary school has used. There were several problems with ST Math, including:

* one student spent an entire month of math class trying to learn her personal password to get into the system
* some kids had access to the Internet to work on it at home and some didn't which was unfair
* the system was slow and clunky. You spent a lot of time watching it spin Jiji the penguin around or whatever.
* you couldn't ask the system questions, so, not really as good as a teacher on that front
* if you were really good at one skill, it still made you go through the required number of exercises (not adaptive enough)
* the school hadn't paid for the next couple of years' worth of material or couldn't sign first graders up to use second grade or something, so students who finished the assigned year's worth of math were just... done.

In the school report they describe ST Math as "a non language based visual orientated electronic intervention
program that will be used to provide additional support for those students who are below standard," but all students were required to do it, even the ones who were AL qualified or participating in walk-to math and they had to do it for the grade level they were physically in, not for their walk-to grade math class.

SusanH said...

This sounds like the Summit charter schools method.

Curriculum Adoption said...

A good reason for the school board to consider on line learning in relationship to curriculum adoption. I think a lot gets passed the board with on-line learning.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Susan H, yes, Summit Basecamp - we will talk about that.

Anonymous said...

Oh sigh. Issues with the District never seem to be actually resolved. They just fade from view for a while, only to reappear at another time, when the problem festers a bit more. Usually with new people.

If we don't have an agreement with a tenant, and they're not paying rent, and we don't yet know if they are having a positive impact on students, is there any reason why we don't lock them out?

- The Obvious

Owler said...

I think this method is great, but it's not something that can work on a grand scale. It works best with a 1:8-12 ratio of teacher[mentor] to students, and honestly at that ratio, a lot of teaching methods work.