Monday, June 26, 2017

High Stakes Testing

High Stakes Testing

High stakes testing is now almost ubiquitous, and it is not hard to see why; it is the most efficient way to test large groups of students, in some ways it is “fair” because all students are asked the same questions and given the same amount of time to complete those questions, and it is easy to make comparisons across test takers. Indeed very important decisions are made based on these scores. Lives can be forever altered by a score that is better or worse than expected. Because of the tremendous consequences of high-stakes testing in the lives of children, their parents, and their teachers, it becomes important to look a little bit closer and discuss the implications.

I have taught in China for nearly 10 years. This is a country full of great test-takers. And they know it. Chinese (along with Korean and a few other Asian nationalities) are so good at taking tests that colleges do not admit them based on the same standards they would for other students from other parts of the world. A deeper investigation here reveals that Chinese students do indeed perform exceptionally well on tests. It is important to know why they test so well, however, because the devil is in the details.
Why do Chinese students seem to outperform Americans on standardized tests?
 Much of the superior test scores come simply from the numbers of people competing for the spots in the schools that are taking the international tests.  Consider this; there are more honor students in China than there are students in America. Combine the massive numbers with the system students follow, and the reason for the high test scores becomes more obvious. The system I’m referring to is an established process for placing students in schools. Public schools are the most competitive and cheapest. Only the best students can test into public schools. Students who do not test high enough will need to pay 20 or more times more money in order to attend a private school. Public schools are also ranked, with the highest testing students entering the best public schools. This testing, shockingly, begins in grade school. So the best test takers in 4th grade move into more competitive classrooms and more competitive schools for 5th grade. They also test into middle school and high school. Finally, they test into university with the infamous “gao kao.” Obviously this process is far from the “no child left behind” mentality in America which seeks to give immigrants and mentally challenged students a fair shake at a good education, China’s system is ruthless. And there are plenty of students competing for those top spots.
Second, students are hyper focused on their studies, at the expense of a balanced life. My middle school students begin class at 7:50 each morning (earlier on Mondays) and are in the classroom until 9:00 PM each night. They have breaks for lunch and dinner. There is some space in the schedule for some students to take music or art lessons, but far more time is committed to studying here compared to middle schools in America where students are generally released from school before 3:00 PM. Many of those American students only play games or lounge around after school, but many more students participate in sports, clubs, music, and even part-time work. This is the kind of well-rounded approach I hope my children can have in middle school.
Third, students spend a disproportionate amount of time preparing for tests, instead of learning content and training to apply that learned content in their lives. This type of test cramming can happen in America, but not at nearly the same pace or to the same degree as it happens daily in China or Korea. In fact the after school test prep industry is a major industry here. Students have Saturdays off, as well as a half day each Sunday, why not spend that time in cram-school off campus? In fact, most students do just that.
Finally, because the stakes are so high, there is a lot of cheating. This is not unique to China. Cheating has increased in America when the stakes were raised with No Child Left Behind. Teachers in Atlanta cheated to improve their student’s scores. Students around the world cheat as well. But the stakes in China are much higher than what I have seen in America. My co-teachers in China depend on student test scores for their paychecks. Students feel tremendous pressure to perform well in China in order to save their parents tuition money and to give “face” or pride to the family name. This stress is palpable.

But there is a reason why parents of these students are fleeing China’s education system by the hundreds of thousands. Parents do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their children into American schools because China’s education is so great. They are paying the big bucks precisely because the Chinese system is failing its children. Only the best of the best of the best are able to study at the elite high schools which participate in the international tests. Meanwhile they are competing against the AVERAGE American student, including non-native English speakers and children with disabilities.

I understand that there are few testing methods capable of providing large amounts of information as efficiently as standardized tests. I also realize that teachers and students need to be held accountable. I’m not convinced, however, that high stakes testing is the best solution. I think educators will continue to refine alternatives to high-stakes testing, like inspections, stealth assessments, sampling, portfolios, or live performances.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

plant function ipad lesson

Teaching this plant function lesson would be a lot of work, but a lot of fun, both for me and the students. I will be teaching this 4th grade class about the function of the stem and reviewing the function of leaves. Because we are adding to previous knowledge, I think the students will be ready to jump right in. We will have both an experiment with celery, and an ipad activity to help the students stay fully engaged throughout the class.

Advantages: Students get bored quickly with worksheets, and diagrams or videos on the board are not individualized enough, so having an app on the ipad where all of the students can individually identify elements of the plant both keeps them more engaged and more interested, and also helps me know how well they understand the material.
I think the lesson really comes to life when we add the experiment with the ipad (and other teaching elements.) Each student will be responsible to conduct their own experiment, and this is always fun for students. After the experiments are completed, the ipad app will reinforce what they just learned, and also tell me that the students not only had fun with the experiment, but also learned what they needed to learn.

Drawbacks: This is about a 6:1 preparation to teaching time ratio, and the preparation can be exhausting. Also it  can be so easy to forget to charge the ipads, or to arrive and find that one of the ipads is buggy. At my school, using ipads is particularly challenging because student use their own devices, and they are of all shapes and sizes. So before the lesson we need to make sure that everyone has the correct app installed and that it works with the operating system in place.
It is always a risk to bring ipads into a classroom where there is room to hide. With so many students doing experiments and worksheets, and ipad work, it will be important for me to monitor the ipad use to make sure that no one is playing with the devices instead of doing their work.

All in all I am very excited to try this lesson out!

Incorporating culture in business class

In some ways, business is business. It doesn’t matter where or who you are, the same economic principles apply. But in many many more ways, culture, language, geography, and many other factors make doing business around the world quite challenging. Next year when I teach business, I feel like one of the most important takeaways for my students will be helping them understand some of the ways business is done in many parts of the world, and asking the students to make connections so they can navigate through their own journeys when the time comes.
I still own 10% of a 20 million dollar per year company in America. When I was CEO of a billion dollar project last year, most of the funding for the project (being built in America) was from China. I will be teaching non-Chinese students in my classroom, which will be located in China. I help fund a non-profit that does incredible humanitarian work in East Africa, and I have advised or mentored a few people in Northern Europe. All of this experience gives me some ability to share useful ideas with the students, but it barely scratches the surface on ways that culture influence business practice. My first responsibility will be to help the students understand how important these differences are, so they will be motivated to learn them and respect them.
It is very important for students to learn and respect cultural differences in business in order for these students to succeed later on. All of my students will be children of expatriates and will understand right away much of the significance of appreciating other cultures. I hope that we will have enough of a diversity of students that we can actually build on what each of the students bring to the classroom. These will be well-travelled students who appreciate culture and diversity.

How will I know they are developing cultural competence? I think the best ways to assess this will be to integrate Chinese and other cultures into the business projects we complete. As I have touched on earlier, I plan to have the students compete in small groups to form effective businesses. While it is entirely possible some of these students will be creating online businesses, most will likely be doing something in the community. I will also ask students to reflect on the impact of culture on their multiple projects, and I think making culture an area of emphasis will help me to determine how well the students are integrating culturally.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

differentiating and anticipating student needs

Next year I’ll be teaching business studies for the first time in my life. I will be at a new school, with new administrators, and different students than I am used to (I have worked mostly with native Chinese-speaking students who are learning English as a second language, but the school I will teach for next year is a true international school where Chinese passport holders would not be allowed admission.)  With all of this uncertainty, it is a good idea to plan out some objectives and both formative and summative assessments for lessons taught according to those objectives.  In my previous post you can read about that. While I don’t yet know which challenges I might have with my students, I do anticipate needed to integrate differentiation strategies in my teaching. Today I’ll discuss that focus.

Because this is a new school for me, I do not know for sure what challenges my students might have. However I anticipate that there will be some students with mild to medium learning disabilities like dyslexia or ADD/ADHD. I also anticipate some (but not all) students will be English language learners.

To accommodate for these students with learning disabilities, I plan to use multiple visual aids, speak slowly when necessary, repeat instructions, use non-verbal signals, and be as expressive as possible.
For the ELLs, I will allow and encourage language dictionaries or apps in class, and include instructions on the PPT so students can read instructions after I give them orally.
I also plan to have the students work together for the majority of the project. Their goal will be to understand several aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship well enough to be able to effectively analyze a business situation and give a presentation to the class about the best ways for a small business to adapt a new technology. This will require a deep level understanding of innovation, the barriers to adaption, and the enterprising elements that help overcome those barriers. I will group the students so that students with disabilities or language barriers will be able to work together with stronger students in order to learn from each other.
I will also be monitoring and providing feedback to individuals and to groups throughout the project. If I find that some students understand the material very quickly while other students really struggle with it, I will ask stronger students to take a leadership role inside the groups. Each member will need to present, so groups will need to work together and teach each other in order to succeed.

Resources I will make available to students include: language dictionaries, emailing the PPT to students to be able to review on their own, access to my personal Wechat account to ask questions after class, and partners within the peer groups who can teach/explain concepts and debate ideas in new ways.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

formative and summative assessments for 5 objectives

Next year I’ll be teaching business studies for the first time in my life. I will be at a new school, with new administrators, and different students than I am used to (I have worked mostly with native Chinese-speaking students who are learning English as a second language, but the school I will teach for next year is a true international school where Chinese passport holders would not be allowed admission.)  With all of this uncertainty, it is a good idea to plan out some objectives and both formative and summative assessments for lessons taught according to those objectives.  In this quick post I’ll mention five objectives as well as both forms of assessments for each of those objectives. All of this is based on the standard “Demonstrate knowledge of innovation and entrepreneurship in business contexts.”

Objective #1: By the end of the lesson, 85% of students will be able to differentiate and identify different business types given specific information on a worksheet.
In class I will teach the class the different types of businesses and discuss the elements that differentiate the businesses. Formative assessments include asking students questions, monitoring students' independent work, and asking one-on-one follow up questions if it appears someone is confused. Summative assessment will be a worksheet given as homework that the students must complete individually.
Objective #2:  By the end of three class periods, 85% of students will be able to sort many different ways to add value to business through case studies of real-life innovation.
This lesson will include introduction of business case studies and class discussions about how innovation increased profitability or didn't, and why. Formative assessments will include class discussion, monitoring group discussions, and asking follow up questions, and begin an anecdotal record because this lesson is an important foundation lesson and it is important to know which students might be struggling.  Summative assessment will be a individually completed case study where students will identify and classify (sort) several different value-add opportunities from within the case study.
 Objective #3: By the end of the unit, all students will be able to orally explain what innovation is and why innovations sometimes are not adopted in society in a presentation to a group of peers according to a peer-evaluated rubric.
Formative assessments will include monitoring student preparation and giving feedback to students before their oral presentations. I will also follow up with students who have shown signs of frustration or struggle. I will need to keep notes in anecdotal records about student preparations and performance. Meanwhile the summative assessment will include both an oral presentation and peer evaluation according to a rubric.
Objective #4: by the end of two class periods, 95% of students will be able to list 10 enterprising behaviors and identify them in case studies. 
During these two periods, class instruction will include introducing multiple "enterprising behaviors" and how they manifest in real life. This learning will be reinforced with case studies. Formative assessments will include classroom interaction during the lecture and me monitoring the students during group work. Summative assessment will be a quiz where students will be asked to list all of the enterprising behaviors they can remember. Additional homework to be completed individually will be of a case study where students will be asked to identify evidence of the enterprising behaviors in the description of the case study. This homework should be completed between the first and second lessons.
Objective #5: By the end of the unit, all students will be able to evaluate effective business opportunities within a case study about a new innovation and the barriers to market adoption in an essay. 

During this unit students will be showing they truly understand the content on a deep level by breaking down case studies to create their own solutions to another, new businesses problems. Formative assessments will include class time interaction and feedback as well as anecdotal note taking on any struggling or outstanding students. Summative assessments will be the actual essay that is written by the students.