Crossing the Threshold

In honor of the end of the school year, here is a picture of the shadow of my cat Aengus, who has started to contemplate emerging from the den.

Here, also, is a link to my most recent article, “Curriculum: A Springboard to Creativity” (The Core Knowledge Blog, June 20, 2013). In it I discuss a piece by one of my students. Well worth reading for the latter alone!

To top it off, here is a photo of the Philosophy Roundtable held by fifteen of my students on June 5.

I will post a new piece here soon.

aengus shadow

The Low-Inference Room

seatbeltOne Tuesday morning in June, a cohort of one hundred novice principals was escorted into a classroom, ordered to fill out a checklist, and then herded into the Low-Inference Room, where they were assigned seats by number and told to fasten their seat belts. “These seats come with seat belts because systemic change is quite a ride,” said a booming voice through the loudspeakers. “You probably don’t want to change, and the teachers are even more resistant than you. So be prepared for some discomfort.”

Bewildered, the principals looked up, down, and around them. Their escort, a consultant named Gil Hines, walked slowly around the room, inspecting the seat belts.

“Which component in the Danielson rubric are we evaluating today?” the voice fairly screamed. “Number 24, provide the answer.”

“Number 24, that’s you, Nina Perotta,” said Hines. “Everyone check your seat numbers, because there won’t be any excuses next time.”

“Which component are we evaluating? It’s on the tip of my brain, it’s something about assessment…”

“Unprepared!” bellowed the voice. “Number 24 receives zero and a warning in the file. Number 96, which component are we evaluating today?”

“Today we are evaluating Component 3c, ‘Engaging Students in Learning'; specifically, the second item, ‘Grouping of students.’”

“Correct! Now, everyone say that together. “Component 3c, second item, ‘Grouping of Students.’”

“Component 3c, second item, ‘Grouping of Students.”

“Are we looking at anything else today? Number 57, are we looking at anything else?”

“Well, I always try to see what’s going on in a lesson when I….”

“Zero for number 57. This brings us to our lesson for today. Today we are going to learn low-inferencing. By the end of the lesson, all principals will be able to deliver a five-second low-inference evaluation of component 3c, item 2.” The objective suddenly appeared on a large screen. “Number 63, read the aim out loud for us.”

“All principals will be able to deliver a five-second low-inference evaluation of component 3c, item 2.”

“Correct. Number 15, read the aim aloud again.”

“All principals will be able to deliver a five-second low-inference evaluation of component 3c, item 2.”

One principal was sobbing. A few others tried to turn around but found they could not move. Two more straps had somehow emerged and fastened their shoulders to the chair.

The voice in the loudspeaker was now accompanied by a steady, quiet electronic drumbeat. “Now, I am going to deliver the lesson on low-inferencing,” the voice said. “Low-inferencing goes against everything you have been taught. You have been taught to interpret the world around you, to make judgments about what you see, to fill in the blanks in order to make sense of things. Low-inferencing is just the opposite. Low-inferencing is about reporting what you see, no more, no less, and refraining from any and all interpretation. Now, I am going to give you an example, and then I will give you an activity.”

A video of a classroom appeared on the screen. Students were working in groups; the teacher, who had been circulating from group to group, paused and said, “You have been grouped today according to your proficiency in graphing, but if any of you feel that you have been put in the wrong group, you are welcome to move to a different table right now.” The video stopped.

“Now, did anyone see the aim on the board?” the voice continued. “Number 88, did you see the aim?”

“It was to graph the sine function, I think,” said Number 88, the one who had been sobbing earlier.

“Good. Therefore, is the grouping appropriate to the aim of the lesson?”

“It appears so.”

“Not ‘appears.’ Yes or no.”

“Yes.”

“So I am going to rate the teacher as ‘effective’ in this category, at least. Now, what about students’ own control over their grouping? I am going to answer this for you, in the interest of time. For a teacher to be rated ‘highly effective’ in this category, the students would have to initiate changes of grouping. Here we see the teacher giving the students the opportunity to change groups, but this did not come from the students. Therefore, the teacher will be rated ‘effective’ but not ‘highly effective.’”

“But—“ Several principals began to speak up at once, and then shrieked in pain.

“This is for you to implement, not to question. Everyone must implement it in exactly the same way. Now, think back on the classroom you visited this morning. What did you see in terms of grouping and in terms of grouping only? Number 7, what did you see?”

“This doesn’t seem fair because—“ Suddenly Number 7 let out a long, agonized scream, through which the throbbing of his chair could be heard.

“Number 10, what did you see?”

“I saw no grouping at all. It was a whole-class lesson.”

“Wrong, but you get partial credit. A whole class is still a group. The question is, is this grouping appropriate to the students and to the instructional outcomes, and do the students have control over it? Number 34?”

“It’s impossible to tell, because…” Number 34 winced.

“Wrong. You may have seen a student looking out the window. This means the student was not engaged. This means the grouping was not appropriate for that student.”

“But that’s an interpretation!” Number 34 exclaimed. Her chair began to shake and buzz, and she didn’t speak again.

Engagement is engagement,” said the voice. “There’s no interpretation there. Either the students are engaged or they aren’t. If even one child is unengaged, we can low-inference that something is at least slightly wrong with the grouping. Now, using your clickers, give this teacher a rating. If you get it wrong, your chair will tell you, and you may try again. The results will show in a bar graph on the screen.”

At first the bar graph showed many “effective” ratings. Then, after many screams, cries, and groans, the “Ineffective” bar grew to 100 percent.

“I am very pleased with you,” said the voice, as a soothing melody began to play. “You have all achieved the instructional aim of the lesson. What’s more—pardon the joke—you were all engaged.”

The principals were then escorted into a lavishly decorated room with appetizers and champagne. “Change is painful at first,” the voice said over the loudspeaker, “but as you see, there are rewards. After this reception, you will all go together to a spa for the rest of the day; the buses are waiting outside.”

Later that morning, the teacher received notice that one hundred principals had rated her ineffective and that she no longer had a job.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 151 other followers