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Welcome and thanks

Welcome to the blog site for discussions related to the Education in Transition team of '64 members.  Thanks to Dave Stringer '64 for arranging this method of communication among classmates.  Our team is conducting conversations in preparation for the reunion event that will feature the topic of American education and how we as classmates might help address its future development.  The team has chosen to focus on K-12 education, and in particular on how best to enhance the profession of teaching and learning.  A critical element of our considerations is how we can encourage more highly talented men and women who have enjoyed a liberal education to enter and contribute to this profession.  In particular, we are looking at ways to promote and strengthen the new Amherst Careers in Education.  We hope this focus will trigger broader discussion of the challenges faced by professionals in education.  We have identified to date severall aspects of the profession that need improvement, including: preparation and professional development, compensation and other rewards, working conditions, and the process and delivery of teaching and learning.  With this blog we invite all members of the class to offer their perspectives on these issues, or additonal areas of the profession that need improvement.  Regards to all who join us

-- Dave Potter and Gil Schmerler, co-conveners of the Education team

 

Let's Do This! -- Gil Schmerler

Submitted by David H. Stringer on Saturday, 4/5/2014, at 3:27 PM

We're pleased finally to have our blog up and running and ready for your responses. We can imagine that, if debate can heat up so quickly over a few degrees of global warming - which still remains an abstraction to most of us - how quickly will temperatures rise when we discuss the condition in the teeming schools we've all studied in, or have our grandchildren in right now.

Our behind-the-scenes discussions so far have been fascinating and provocative for us, and we'll begin to make them public to you now. Central to our Task Force work will be helping to make more prominent the remarkable Amherst work of Robert Siudzinski and his Careers in Education Professions program. (Siudzinski has been brought to Amherst to support and motivate the small but growing corps of prospective teachers.) But equally do we recognize that conditions in the world of schools and learning need to change significantly if there is hope for a new breed of teachers to emerge.

In the coming days, we hope to bring you in on the conversations and ideas we've been in the midst of. Here are some of the contributions that just might follow:

  • Chuck Lewis, discussing the wide reach of his foundation targeting educational change, including Amherst, University of Chicago, and Grinnell;
  • Dave Potter, recounting, among other things, his recent experiences with Amherst's prospective educator group;
  • Dave Stringer, describing his idea for a truly interactive summer institute at Amherst for current and future teachers, and the need for far better pedagogy in the schools.
  • Joe Wilson, a former high school principal, hoping to promote leadership - and tougher standards - in the schools.
  • George Sussman, making the case, based on his work with community college students, that we ought to be focusing on K-14;
  • Bob Frank, explaining with conviction and from personal experience why our problems come at least equally from a huge equity gap in the schools;
  • Bill Weary, assessing the challenges of engaging liberal arts faculties in the preparation of K-12 educators.

I might even chime in myself with tales from the front lines of educational leadership preparation (and my own long-time employer, Bank Street College). And you can be sure I'll have a lot to say about those who are presently claiming the mantle of "reform" and "accountability" in American schools -- and how their misguided focus on test-based evaluation (of students, teachers, and schools) is making real education even harder to come by.

--Gil Schmerler

Summer Workshops for Teachers

Submitted by David H. Stringer on Sunday, 3/30/2014, at 7:51 AM

I propose that Amherst host summer workshops for teachers, staffed by alums who are teaching or have taught. The "students" would have to apply, and they would receive a modest stipend, plus room and board, for their attendance. The format would not be top-down from profs to the unwashed, but rather an exchange of success stories and strategies. Professors could be involved as peers. It would also be a good opportunity for Amherst undergrads to be involved. A publication would follow each session, perhaps in digital format. If the undergrads were mainly there as observers, then they might be the ones to write the summary observations. There might be a series of, say, two-week sessions each summer, each focused on a theme and/or age group. Some possible themes that come to mind: Writing, the Internet, Creative Thinking, Project-based Learning, the Disadvantaged.

 

I would have welcomed kind of enterprise when I was teaching. I'm not sure how funding would work.

Teaching Students to Ask Questions

Submitted by David H. Stringer on Monday, 3/31/2014, at 10:27 AM

Education in the future needs to emphasize teaching kids to ask good questions. Much of what we do now constitutes the generation of answers (think: standardized tests) with penalties for errors, but the revolution in technology suggests that computers will, one way or another, generate a lot of answers by processing and analyzing data. But as far as I know, computers are not very good at asking questions, and questions are what we need for the deep innovation needed to stimulate cultural and economic change. 

I recall an exercise I did with my 10th graders where I assigned each one to "lead a class discussion." I suggested that a good discussion springs from a good question. One kid asked, "Do you mean a teacher question?" 

"What's a teacher question?"

"A question where the teacher already knows the answer."

We went on to make a distinction between "teacher questions" and "real questions," with the understanding that while the former may be useful, the latter should underlie any good discussion.

How do we teach students to ask real questions? Here’s one technique I used: After reading a play or novel with my 12th graders, I would break my seminar into groups of 3 and ask each group to come up with 3 essay questions for the upcoming exam on the book. Each group would have 20% of each student’s grade determined by the quality of the questions. A conversation ensued, of course, about what constitutes a good question. The best questions appeared on the exam.

I am reluctant to prescribe any pedagogy to teachers who know their students better than I do (mine were college-bound high school seniors in Ann Arbor), but I do think teachers need to be exposed to success stories of their colleagues.

--Dave Stringer