Hello dear people. I've had a request for work to do over the break to make you just great at English. So, I've been thinking about this over the weekend, and here are my top ten ideas:
You should all have a great Summer.
I love you all.
This after I shared "I am Wise" (see my poetry page) to the ETNI (English Teacher's Network in Israel) list:
Hey, I got this from one of our colleagues, and I don't care to keep it private:
RE: Have you heard about cultural relativity?
I would prefer that this be kept between us, but if David Lloyd, who is cc.ed, considers some response on etni to be appropriate, I can craft one.
Have you heard about stereotyping? Or cultural sensitivity? Or tolerance - or the embracing - of diversity?
These are all terms which are used widely in the Professional English Teachers' associations, which include academic and practical scholars and experts of ALL types - fat ones, skinny ones, dyslexics, small people, folks with various skin colours and ethnicities, gender choices, religious persuasions, and, as we note from this "lovable" poem, levels of sensitivity , understanding and tolerance of fellow beings , whoever they are.
Any educators today who consider themselves wise will not dare to quote some of the bigoted language of that poem in a public forum, even if in jest!
I dread to think about the reactions of some of etni's international readers. They will have much fuel for thought about Israel's teachers of English, and their bigotry.
Have you heard that “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names could never hurt me?”
Have you heard of the notion of anti-fragility? Are you aware of the crap that's going on in universities because people “should” be protected from language that might trigger them?
Do you think it's wise to try to bubble wrap children instead of giving them tools to deal with what's out there in the world? Have you heard the songs they listen to anyway? This is tame in comparison.
I thought the poem was very sensitive. The midget neither worked in the circus nor jumped through hoops.
The bottom line is if you don't like it, don't use it. And if you want, talk to the powers that be and do your best to banish me from this group. That would be a good way to show your tolerance.
And by the way, I consider myself wise, and I am deeply hurt by your suggesting I might be otherwise. Are you aware of the hurt that your language causes?
And further, I take offense on behalf of our international readers, and I apologize to them for your comment suggesting that they will somehow view Israel differently based on the comments of one wise – or is that unwise – English teacher.
David R. Herz, March 27, 2109
Response on etni list, July 8, 2009. The etni archive can be found here.
First, I really do want to acknowledge the commitment of the people who have taken on and are promoting the HOTS program. It is rare to see people taking to a ministry directive with such passion. As many have said, and I am sure I agree, there is a lot that is good about it. I am all for the use and inclusion of HOTS. Though it may be a new acronym, its underlying tenets have been advocated for centuries. And as Mr. Tzur and others have indicated, literature has always been a part of the curriculum.
That said, I really wonder if the method of bringing this work into the classroom is the most enrolling, least anxiety raising and least intrusive way to bring this work to fruition. The teachers in the pilot program were for the most part master teachers. For many of them, and probably even for most of the people who take enough of an interest to be on this list, a lot of this work IS already familiar. However, one can easily imagine the teacher who will be overwhelmed by this.
What would be wrong with spending more time giving the kind of continuing education that Fran and Penny and Avi have given at ETAI conferences about tweaking one's lessons to using higher order skills? Or instead of funding a whole new program, including the money for implementation and writing and evaluating more tests and giving more required education, using that money to actually provide enough “inspectors” to get out in the field and support and work with teachers to make sure they are teaching at the highest possible level.
First, do no harm. I agree with the concept, but not Mr. Tzur's conclusion. While I have no reason to question that students are doing better, and even becoming better people, under the new program than the old, I must question why he uses the old program, or the status quo, as the starting point of his analysis, and then I must question whether the allocation of resources in support of this program is the best way to achieve the results we want.
Research may show - I have yet to see the committee cite us to valid peer-reviewed research (though I haven't looked too hard either) - that explicit teaching of HOTS does have a positive effect on some result we want to measure. But depending on the measure - pro-social orientation, motivation to continue learning on one's own, capacity to synthesize and analyze - there is also a lot of research that shows that the underlying system's design works against those same values. Some of you are familiar with my positions on the bagrut, grades and homework, but we need not go to that level to question the allocation of resources to this program.
Let's look at what we want to encourage - yesterday Ms. Steiner mentioned citizenship - and then look at various ways and their costs to achieve the results. It might be that training teachers to more effectively use groups correlates positively. It might be that explicit teaching of HOTS does. It might be that grading the explicit teaching of HOTS or putting it on a test has a positive effect, or it might actually reduce the positive effects of the explicit teaching.
Heck, it might be sufficient if we could encourage teachers to teach English for its own sake and trust that an appropriate and maximized Bagrut result will follow. My point is that an improvement from one program to the next is not necessarily a sufficient reason to change to that program, and is certainly not an indication that no harm is being done. If a diabetic stops eating a lot of sweets but continues smoking, does that mean that no harm is being done? The programmatic change should occur after the review of all, or at least a number, of reasonable options have been investigated. These should then be vetted for their cost effectiveness and the opportunity costs should be taken into account. This analysis should extend to include questions of whether having a national curriculum or requiring teachers to teach in a certain way correlates positively or negatively with the outcomes we are seeking.
This didn't happen here. Anat Zohar had some bright idea and Judy Steiner jumped on it. It is not that there is anything wrong with the idea itself, but rather that we have yet to actually look at our practices, weed out those that do wrong or are inconsistent with our goals and then do a rigorous analysis of the best means to accomplish our goals, which we must also define.
in response to an entreaty of mine when I was more actively seeking to eliminate the Bagrut system in Israel.
Dear Inspector _______:
First, I thank you for responding and for even being willing to engage in this conversation. While my viewpoint may at first seem strident, I am fairly convinced of its truth. This is not to say that there are not other impediments to a great education here, like reasonable pay, better teacher in-service training, more school psychologists, a rational system of accountability, etc., etc., but the Bagrut raises a whole host of problems, and what it gives us is questionable.
You speak to “reliable assessment data,” but it is difficult for me to see what exactly we are assessing. I am a native English speaker, and turn to other teachers to make sure I am answering module C questions according to what the testers want. I have students who understand texts, but are too specific or general in their answers, and others who have mastered test taking, but are not so sure what they have read. Indeed, when I train students for tests, I tell them what is important is the right answer, not understanding. The results may be statistically reproducible, but this does not mean they tell us much. A module C, for instance, does not tell us what tenses a student has learned, what grammatical structures he is familiar with, or how well he can put two thoughts together. I would love reliable assessment data, if it serves the purposes of education. For me, that would best be an assessment of what was taught close in time, with prompt evaluation, such that I could use the data for redirecting my education efforts. What we have now does not do that. I am not sure I am well trained to provide the kind of assessment I just spoke about, and I suspect many of my colleagues could also work on the matter, so give us in-service training. Let’s set up standards responsive to the needs of our customers, the students, on a local level, with our students, with our subject matter teams, with our principal, etc. See “A Balanced School Accountability Model: An Alternative to High-Stakes Testing” Phi Delta Kappan 85(8):584-590 · April 2004
This is not limited to English. I speak to my students about history and math as well. They may know facts or have formulaic understandings, but often lack the desire to put two and two together to deepen their understanding. I ask history questions close to what they are doing, and if it is not on the Bagrut, they have no idea. They are logical and do what is necessary to pass a Bagrut, which typically requires a superficial knowledge of numerous things instead of in-depth knowledge in any.
So what we are assessing seems to be a teacher’s ability to prepare a student for an exam that is not representative of life, unless we say that the purpose of life is to get over this hurdle so we can tackle the next. My goal is a populace that loves to learn, that is satisfied and happy in life and passionate about its undertakings and its participation in our society. The Bagrut does not train for this. Indeed, training for the Bagrut runs counter to this purpose.
I teach English. Because many of my 11th grade 4 point students didn’t do their work and then moaned to the principle, all my independent evaluation was erased, leaving me with the privilege of giving ten percent of the grade for participation. My students who worked like dogs to do the literature tasks I requested and who really put their all into their projects and homework ended up feeling like suckers, because in the end their grade was composed of two unseens and the project (half of which I would not have accepted because they were garbage, but I was over-ruled there as well). My school, and I suspect many others, are about getting students over the Bagrut, good work ethics or anything else be damned. I think a far better lesson would have been learned if some of my students had just been allowed to fail or been stuck with a lousy magen because they didn’t participate. And why should we accept 50%? We are closest to the students. We are in a position to monitor and guide progress. We are in a position to evaluate on more than one one and a quarter hour test. Let’s work on the quality of our teachers instead of looking at the test scores after the fact.
I am not familiar with ANY quality nationwide system of assessment. What I am familiar with is bureaucracies which think that they can raise the standard by imposing a series of standards.
An early version of my manifesto; it's just enough for a two-sided flier.
Our society claims it wants to foster educational excellence. We, as teachers, do our best to try to make this happen. There are, however, institutional influences that hamper our progress. The most nefarious is the Bagrut system:
We stand for the inspiration of lifelong learners, people who care, ask critical questions, think deeply about issues of importance, question authority and the status quo, engage with their world, and stand up to make it a better place. The Bagrut system is simply unacceptable.
Below is the full text of my letter to the Jerusalem Post, a significantly edited version of which was published on Thursday, August 7, 2008. I follow it with the comments received via the Talkback facility of the Jerusalem Post and my responses. I thank all for their comments and the Jerusalem Post for its publication of my opinion.
This is my letter of righteous outrage. The Bagrut must be eliminated. Everyone knows it, but no one thinks it can be done. We should be up in arms, but we are not. Why?
Israel was built on the backs of people who put their lives on the line for a cause. My heroes are people like Theodor Herzl, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, David Raziel, Avraham Stern, and Menachem Begin. My joy is that we do not need to be like them. We have legal, acceptable, recognized channels by which to effect change.
The future of our children – if not our state – is on the line. This goes well beyond any concern for Israel’s economic prosperity based upon its vaunted “intellectual capacity.”
My vision for our educational system is one in which we have happy, intellectually curious, morally upright students joyously growing into successful, satisfied and committed adults, people who have a passion for their work, their families and their country. The Bagrut system is fundamentally at odds with this vision. It stymies the students, it limits the teachers, and also reduces our collective intellectual capacity.
The Bagrut is not effective at ensuring that students have any particular base of knowledge. What our students learn is that passing the test is all-important, that collaboration is cheating, that someone else has the one right answer, that they need to reproduce it, and once they have done so, they have done their job. They do not learn to think deeply, they are not trained to collaborate, and come to doubt the knowledge they already have. Then we lament that no one has respect for anyone else and that people disregard others in their quest to get ahead.
Some students might recognize some of my “heroes” as figures from history class, but few could cogently argue whether these people were terrorists, builders of a state, statesmen or a little bit of all of these. What’s worse is that even fewer care. They might know the formula for an ellipse, but fail to recognize that this shape characterizes the orbits of planets. They can look at the sun in the morning,, but don’t wonder why they can’t at noon. They are taught the basics of science, but the miracle of life is lost on them. Quite simply, they haven’t been taught to ask questions or take initiatives. They are uninspired and join the rat race for money, status and possessions instead.
Often, when they do know a subject, that knowledge is not reflected in the Bagrut grade. I teach English, and frequently find myself asking other English teachers what answer the Bagrut examiners want, even at the three point level. I have students who understand a passage without difficulty, but then lose points because their answers are too specific or general. Some just don’t take these tests well or lose credit based on errors in interpretation or computation, while others may know a formula or fact and get full credit without any real understanding, We are left with the question of whether the Bagrut really measures anything that matters in life. Even if it does, is it worth the cost?
On the other hand, teachers are expected to teach what is on the test. To cover all the material, they may not have the time to delve deeply into any particular matter, or even to determine whether students truly understand the concepts underlying what is taught. In many schools, what’s left of the school year after Passover – probably a fifth of the year – is given over almost entirely to test preparation and Bagrut examinations. Even though most of us know that substantive teaching will give us the same results in the short term and greater ones in the long term, we are strongly encouraged to “prepare” our students for the test, in other words finding the right answer, whether they understand or not.
While this is sufficient cause for outrage, it is not my inspiration for writing this letter. What is is the lack of willingness to do anything about it. Instead of taking action to effect changes, we make excuses why things are the way they are and why no one is willing to change it. Further, we live in fear of the system. We claim we have a free press and freedom of expression, but our inspectors do not feel at liberty to give their opinion on the Bagrut system, school administrators and teachers won’t take a stand for fear of losing their jobs, and students don’t act because they have been given no model to follow. We are willing to be victims instead of agents for change, and we all lose out.
It is time for a change. We know that one person can change the world. We have seen it time and again in Jewish history. It is our turn to be that one person, for our own futures, for our children, and for the health and continued prosperity of this country.