Monday, July 10, 2006

is the summer institute exceptional?

I did learn from Todd this afternoon how to include citations in a blog entry. Sort of. While it's more complicated than I'd anticipated, it's a coding system I expect I'll learn as I use it more frequently.

In order to put into practice what I've learned about how to use this code, I'll use this entry to consider the summer institute's "exceptionality," especially in relation to Laura's comment on my initial blog entry. While my reference to Laura's comment will simply appear as "Laura's comment" in this blog entry (linked to a page that includes both the original blog and the comments on it), it will appear in the "edit" version of this blog entry in all it's complicated glory. That way I can go back to the edit version of this third entry to check to see how to perform this rather convoluted operation.

So here's the entry:

Thanks to Laura's comment on my initial blog entry, I was reminded that teachers already experience something akin to the summer institute, at least occasionally, in their places of work. We all have memories of times in our teaching lives when "creativity, conversations with colleagues, room to experiment, community with a purpose, [and] trust that best practices are better than teaching to the test" were the norm rather than the exception. My sense is that these school environments are becoming more and more infrequent, however, as the "mania for testing" gradually invades almost every aspect of our teaching lives.

My attention in the next few blog entries, therefore, will be to isolate and describe those components of the summer institute that can be replicated most realistically in a traditional elementary or secondary school setting. I'm not suggesting these components are always absent from our school year teaching lives, but I am suggesting that we've forgotten their collective power and essential nature. These blog entries can be viewed a counter argument, that is, to the pernicious influence of "accountability" measures in education today, especially in the way these measures have had the effect of creating divisive and distrustful school environments.

I'll begin, in my next blog, with the writing component of the summer institute.

1 comment:

John said...

A few moments for this new blogger to post before some long-awaited shuteye. Jonathan wrote:

"We all have memories of times in our teaching lives when "creativity, conversations with colleagues, room to experiment, community with a purpose, [and] trust that best practices are better than teaching to the test" were the norm rather than the exception. My sense is that these school environments are becoming more and more infrequent, however, as the "mania for testing" gradually invades almost every aspect of our teaching lives."

One thing we haven't touched upon yet (in my spotty hearing at least) is the small schools movement. I wonder if any other participants this summer teach in schools with federal smaller learning communities (SLC) grants. Ironically, this national move to break large comprehensive high schools into smaller, more personal learning environments for students with rich professional development components for teachers comes from the same federal department that pushes the NCLB test mania Jonathan rightly decries. American High School where I teach is coming into its third and final year of our SLC grant. Our four SLC goals are Rigor and Relevance, Personalization, Powerful Teaching and Learning, and Community Engagement.

The thing is (again, ironically) that large amounts of federal dollars have come to us to break our freshman and sophomore classes into four houses apiece. To support us in this work, we have an ample budget for professional development, and have hired several consultants (my favorite one from SJSU). Even more surprising to me is that our SLC goals--especially Rigor and Relevance and Personalization)--are right in line with the approach I have been developing in the Creed Project, Two Legged Learning, and Purposeful Reflection. (I wish I'd managed to share these ideas more sucessfully in my ISI presentation!) And so the school is actually embracing these ideas (not necessarily with my terminology) as we redesign our programs. I'm hoping to find space to describe this process in the article I'd like to send to English Journal this summer. (Anyone like to read drafts of this? Thanks to Grant for volunteering.)

So while the test mania rolls onward, there seem to be ways high schools at least can use the government's own energies (cash) to develop more meaningful learning in schools.