Archive for Teaching

Evidence Based Teaching

Wu-Tang Clan: 1993 Teachers of the Year (Image: Ruth Gwily)

Evidence Based Teaching

January 21, 2013  |  Culture, Teaching  |  1 Comment

My respect for The Wu-Tang Clan has been well discussed. Hip hop had me reading Assata Shakur, John Henrik Clarke, and Sun Tzu before any of my teachers ever required it. I remember studying every allusion on Enter the 36 Chambers as if it were an AP History course. All this to say that I owe much of my education to the 9 Brothers from Shaolin, so when called upon to serve schools in Staten Island, I viewed it not just as work, but as repayment to the borough that invested so artfully in me so many years ago.

Dr. John Henrik Clarke: The Master Teacher

Dr. John Henrik Clarke: The Master Teacher

I was at work at I.S. 075 on the south shore last week, and some teachers and I started talking “assessment” and “data” — two words heavy in the discourse right now. I’m sometimes troubled by the reality that when we talk about the student data that informs our teaching, some school leaders and teachers STILL only consider standardized test scores. Thankfully that is not the case at 075.
To combat this, the teachers and I came up with a useful way to think about our collective growth toward more “data informed” (I prefer the term, “evidence based”.) teaching.
We all agree that the best kind of teaching is that which is responsive to the needs of the individual students in our classes. In middle and high school, this has proven to be increasingly complicated because many of us see 90-150 students across a day. Even with those numbers, it is important to note that we cannot lesson plan in a vacuum. Our lessons have to be based on the reality of our classroom communities, not on some imaginary notion of the “normal” or “average student”. So where do we look to find that reality?

I've known how to talk since I was infant. Assata's Story taught me how to speak.

I’ve known how to talk since I was infant. Assata’s Story taught me how to speak.

The Communication Arts teachers and I divided our answer to that question into three categories. To think about how we want to teach we can look at formal data like test or exam scores. We also have the option to consider more everyday performance-based data like student notebooks, homework, or notes. Finally, there is the option to consider more anecdotal data like questions and discussions.
We tried to think about each strand of data as informative in different ways.
  • Obviously formal data, like test and exam results, are periodic. We can count on it, and it is as “objective” an assessment as one can get in a school system designed to educate white men. The largest flaw in using this kind of information to guide our teaching is that it gets old fast. Usually big state assessments are given once a year, so this information is already months old by the time school starts in the fall.
  • Performance based data can be powerfully informative, because it tells us what kids are doing right now. Our teaching can be so much more nimble after a quick read of last night’s homework or this morning’s notes… The hard part about this is finding the time and developing the protocols for an efficient read of all that student work. Immediate feedback and response, I argue, is one of the most powerful things that we can give as educators.
  • Finally, we cannot ignore the “on the run” information that we pull from students by simply being observant. Reading facial expressions, listening to conversations or questions can help our lessons to be beautifully responsive. What makes this work hard, is that here you don’t have the luxury of an orchestrated plan. This work can feel impromptu, and teachers often don’t do their best teaching here.

We hope that this can help when thinking about the insight that can fuel your lessons.


The Man Right Here

All that needs to be said.

The Man Right Here

January 20, 2013  |  Culture, Family, Teaching  |  No Comments

There’s not much more that we can say that has not already been said.

Thanks, Dr. King.



I Believe the Children are Our Future...

...teach them well, and let them lead the way.

I Believe the Children are Our Future…

January 16, 2013  |  Culture, Family, Teaching  |  No Comments

“The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston¬†Randy Watson featuring Sexual Chocolate is one hell of a song. If you went to a church service in the 80s or 90s, some lady in your gospel choir (your mama?) probably sang it… The first two lines of the song are a plainly stated call to action, and they burned themselves onto my consciousness off the sheer repetitive strength of the black church.

The classiest.

The classiest.

“I believe the children are our future/Teach them well and let them lead the way…”

Whitney’s classy version

They sang that song so much, I thought it was a Bible verse. Damn, (Saint?) Whitney.

Eddie Murphy brilliantly brought the song to the masses in his movie, Coming to America. I don’t know how Randy Watson and his Band, Sexual Chocolate, became the torchbearers, but whenever I think about my professed obligation to the youth, I do so in Randy Watson’s voice (either his or Ol’Dirty’s — “Wu-Tang for the children”).

Randy Watson’s Bootleg (literally) version

There are also those who look out for young people in ways that are more aurally agreeable, and that, really, is the subject of today’s post.

My work takes me all over the world. I’m blessed to spend each day with educators and their students, and though there is a lot that still bothers me about what we, as a society, choose to do for our young, each day I am left awestruck by what goes on in classrooms from California to New York to Singapore.

2013-01-13 17.30.13

Randy Watson: The Ashiest

When it comes to teacher heroics, we often hear the big stories — time invested, money spent, conversations held, programs instituted… All this hero-discource creates an artificial binary between those we perceive to be “good teachers” and the rest of us. People feel left out of that narrative, simply because they gracefully and dutifully perform their jobs.

I argue that “simply” performing our jobs is pretty damn miraculous. I am further convinced that what matters most in the lives of young people are not the heroics, but who we are. Essentially, the regular things that we do in our classrooms and in our lives consistently over time.

There are lots of educators that I admire deeply. Among them there are two teachers in Seattle that I’ve been trying to emulate recently — Mr. Marcus and Mr. H.

What I’ve come to love most about these two gentlemen is that they both have¬†high expectations that they wear on their sleeves. So many times the intellectual work of school is guessing what the teacher wants. What kids end up learning is how to game the system. As I’ve followed their work, I’ve seen them take the “gaminess” out of the system by constantly reminding kids about specific expectations, and helping them to set interim goals. These gentlemen reward progress, and in a society obsessed with big triumph and wild success, it has been powerful to watch their students track and appreciate incremental growth toward eventual mastery — in all things, academic and beyond.

In my recent work, I’ve taken a page from the Mr. H/Mr. Marcus playbook. Thinking about what I want from students in terms of skills practiced and growth achieved can be insanely powerful. The work of naming expectations that are not tied to trivial details like ink color or where to put the date, but to larger, transferable skill-based goals holds huge implications for the lives that our students will eventually lead. That’s why we teach, right? Randy told y’all that the children are the future…

– Corn