Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Raising Student Achievement

There is so much talk of the reform ideas that are being implemented to raise student achievement: charter schools, integrating technology, creating benchmark tests to be used throughout the school year… but let’s take a minute and focus on the goal of raising student achievement.  Let’s not jump straight into ‘what tool can we use?’  We see that all the time in our own practice when we look at an outcome/standard and immediately think of a cool demo/activity that we think will be good to teach it.  If you’ve learned about backward design lesson planning (‘Understanding by Design’ Wiggins and McTighe) then you know we seem to be skipping some steps if we jump straight to the tools.

I feel like we’re skipping these same steps in education reform.  Student achievement is such an abstract term.  We need to deconstruct that goal.  What I see is that we want to increase student learning.  In other words we want to increase the amount/depth of concepts/skills that we are able to help a student attain during their time with us. In other words, aren’t we all just trying to increase the effectiveness of classroom instruction?

This word difference seems to matter to me, it’s been stuck in my head lately…  We have control over increasing classroom instruction. Yes, other factors come into play in student achievement, but I have no control over them. I need to focus on what I do have control over.

I’m just starting to read ‘Visible Learning’ by John Hattie. He does a crazy big meta-analysis on what research has proven will raise student achievement.  (I am very excited about the book- as excited as I was the first time I heard about Inside the Black Box by Black and Williams, 1998.  I can’t wait to reflect on what has been proven to work in the classroom and how I can apply it to my own context.)

I think the book will show that some of the tools being used in education reform are helpful in increasing classroom instruction but let’s be clear… no house was ever built by amassing tools.  Student achievement will not be raised if we only focus on which tools we think will be helpful.  We need to use a blueprint and skilled workers to actually raise the roof!!

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