Monday, April 22, 2013

Reflections on the Profession of Teaching

Spring--time to reflect upon the school year. As the end of school draws near, it's time to think about some of the issues affecting today's teachers.

"Why They Leave" , an article by Cynthia Kopkowski for the National Education Association, states:

     "Nationally, the average turnover for all teachers is 17 percent, and in urban school districts specifically, the number jumps to 20 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future proffers starker numbers, estimating that one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and 46 percent are gone within five years"  (1).

Perhaps you graduated from a traditional teacher education program at a four-year university. In 1999 at the University of Oklahoma, the teacher education program required five or more years compared to four-years graduation time for other disciplines, such as accounting, communications, or engineering. Yet, graduates entering into other fields made double, or triple, the salaries of first-year teachers. In Texas, a first-year teaching salary was approximately $32,000.00 compared to a first-year engineering position that started at above $80,000.00. Although teachers do not join their professions for monetary reasons, it would be nice to have proper currency amounts attached to the field. 

A 2012 comparison chart from the United States Department of Labor reads:

As educators, few teachers, other than top administrative positions, earn salaries equal to those recommended by the United States Department of Labor. In fact, there are instances reported in the plains' states of districts' whose teacher employment applications included food stamp applications due to low pay. Those not in the teaching field might ask: what about evaluation and performance pay? It won't be received if subject matters taught are not state tested, so often times those who work hardest with behavioral students, ESL or special education students will never see evaluation or performance-based pay.

The argument that teachers work only "nine-months of the year" has many crying "Foul!" Employees in regular workforce positions often receive same amounts of vacation time although it may be spread out over the course of one year. For example, employees at banks, cellphone/technology companies, and oil related professions may acquire and roll over time accrued that may amount to as much as six-months or more. Plus, there are no bus or cafeteria duties, no extra-curricular afterschool activities, no open houses, and no parent-teacher conferences to attend. There are no individualized lesson plans to write, and no state tests to prepare for. Also, during the off-peak summer months, teachers must attend professional developments to renew certification hours, and they re-write lesson plans for upcoming school years.

Although this article may be "preaching to the teaching choir", hard facts, personal stories, and startling statistics are difficult to ignore. The nation-wide movement to reform education begins with value being placed on the profession of teaching. Until then, the question remains: how can we help fellow teachers survive their first three, or more, years? 

Write your congressman with suggestions on how to change/improve education and how to place more value on teachers. Invite your congressman to visit your classroom and school. Finally, join local and state efforts to address issues affecting education and teachers. 

Do you have suggestions as to how to improve the teaching career field? What were your beginning teaching years like? How can co-workers help first year, and other, teachers survive? How can the profession of teaching become more valued in the work place? Leave us your comments...

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Is Adaptive Learning the Wave of the Future?

21st century learners are waiting for educational institutions to catch up to their technological needs. That's why adaptive learning is so important--it allows 24/7 access with personalized learning plans and life-like coaches, who answer questions and explain concepts. It allows for flipped models of instruction, encourages teachers to use visual aids, and let's students work at their own paces.

The push to use computerized learning software has increased as Common Core State Standards are implemented across the nation. Even states that opted out of federal guidelines to develop their own state tests realize the inevitable--students will someday test solely on computers. Fight the trend if you must, but it may be a losing battle if funding can be acquired to outfit the nation's schools with low cost tablets and updated networking systems.  

At the forefront of research on adaptive learning is Dr. Ulrik Christensen, founder of Area 9, from Denmark. He continues his work of finding an "improved, highly individualized way of learning" that meets 21st century learners' needs. The result of Dr. Christensen's research was LearnSmart, a learning adaptive platform designed to adjust to students' skill levels and learning traits. For students, this means the more they interact with LearnSmart adaptive learning programs, the better the programs become at understanding their learning styles and meeting their educational needs. For teachers, it aligns to Common Core or state standards with a few key strokes. It breaks down data and takes the guesswork out of assessment. Want to know what concepts students should focus us? Run group or individual data. 

                                  See a lesson in action

There are many software programs with features that individualize learning for students. After students take their diagnostic tests, lessons are customized for them by the program or by the teacher, who sets up lessons aligned with objectives. Reports can be run to determine which skills students need to improve. However, LearnSmart breakdowns include: completion, items missed, metacognitive skills, and more. It recognizes what students need to study, what style of learning is best, and when materials need to be reviewed. An interactive e-book, or Smartbook, asks questions as students read text then directs students to passages for proof. It highlights important materials, which can then be added to digital clipboards, and it helps students focus on what's important within chapters. Best of all, students can access LearnSmart from Android/Ipad/Ipod apps and from PC and MAC; it is open 24/7 and the virtual coach is always there!

                                          Instructor Reports

21st century learners want individualized tutoring and non-traditional classroom settings, so adaptive learning seems to be the wave of the future.

                                              Real Students Talk About LearnSmart

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