The world lost a giant of an educator on July 26th when Vivian Paley passed away at age 90. Paley was the only kindergarten teacher ever named a MacArthur genius. Her example as an educator, documented in her numerous moving and inspirational books, gave voice to young teachers. Her poignant shared self-reflection tackled poverty, racism, gender, power, peace, community, rejection, literacy, democracy, fantasy, play, and love in the classroom and beyond. Paley led through kindness, common sense, and an affection for the inner lives of children. Her work is relevant for educators and parents, regardless of the age of child you support.

“To her, teaching was not about meeting a bunch of core requirements that you can quantify; it was about being a human being.” – John Hornstein in the NY Times Obituary of Vivian Paley

I tried in vain to convince Ms. Paley to participate in Constructing Modern Knowledge, but she saw a photo of a computer on our web site and declined. My powers of persuasion were unpersuasive, even when I listed all of her friends who had participated in the past. I sure wish I could have shared Ms. Paley with our community.

In The Children’s Machine, Seymour Papert stressed the importance of sharing learning stories as a way of reforming education in a humane learner-centered direction. Vivian Paley was a master of documenting and sharing learning stories.

I strongly urge you to read several of the books listed below, but if you are allergic to books, listen to Vivian Paley on This American Life talking about how she allowed five year-olds to address issues of friendship, empathy, and even bullying with one simple rule, “You can’t say, you can’t play.” (11 minutes)

In The Classrooms All Young Children Need: Lessons in Teaching from Vivian PaleyPatricia Cooper authored a terrific analysis of analysis of Paley’s work as a “pedagogical model organized around two complementary principles: a curriculum that promotes play and imagination, and the idea of classrooms as fair places where young children of every color, ability, and disposition are welcome.” (Cooper, Patricia M. The classrooms all young children need: Lessons in teaching from Vivian Paley. University of Chicago Press, 2009.)

If you are an educator unfamiliar with the name Vivian Paley or her work, that is a great shame and diminishes your craft.

 

Vivian Paley authored thirteen books, here are my top five favorites.

Here is one more for good measure, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play.

“She helped children use the tools they have, which are imagination, sympathy and make-believe, to understand themselves and each other,” said Dr. Joshua D. Sparrow, executive director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center in Boston, which studies child development. – NY Times Obituary of Vivian Paley

Check out all of Vivian Paley’s remarkable books on Amazon.com


Veteran educator Dr. Gary Stager is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Learn more about Gary here.

I’m against rubrics. Anyone considering their use should read Alfie Kohn’s article, Trouble with Rubrics.

That said, people I respect have used the special Handy Dandy Patented Stager Super Dooper Rubric over the years. The following is the language contained in my graduate school syllabi for a decade or so.

I have strong reservations about both grades and rubrics. I believe that both practices have a prophylactic effect on learning. Doing the best job you can do and sharing your knowledge with others are the paramount goals for this course. I expect excellence.

Therefore, I am trying a new experiment this term. You should evaluate each course artifact you create according to the following “rubric.” The progression denotes a range from the least personal growth to the most.

  1. I did not participate
  2. I phoned-it in
  3. I impressed by colleagues
  4. I impressed my friends and neighbors
  5. I impressed my children
  6. I impressed Gary (the teacher)
  7. I impressed myself

On October 12, 2012, MSNBC host and former West Wing writer, Lawrence O’Donnell, dedicated his “Rewrite” commentary to the sorts of changes he believes would make presidential debates more informative, thoughtful and effective.

Once you endure the first few minutes of a clip from the fictional West Wing, O’Donnell makes a quite compelling case that the current debate format favors superficiality over substance and is a poor predictor of a candidate’s success as President of the United States. O’Donnell is making the case that the President must be deliberate, collaborative and well-informed. The pop-quiz format of the debates reward memorization and superficiality.

In school terms, the debates measure the wrong things and focus on inauthentic tasks. This misdirects resources and distracts teachers from sound pedagogical practices.

I won’t tell you O’Donnell’s recommendations, but most if not all could be applied to matters of curriculum and assessment. You should watch for yourself!

You may be able to watch the video here or here if you’re using a dopey iPad.

alfie reading smallCross-posted from the Constructing Modern Knowledge site. Web2.0pians should pay special attention to his mention of  “personal learning communities.”

Educators fortunate enough to attend Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010 got to withness an amazing conversation between two of America’s most provocative and accomplished educators, Alfie Kohn and Deborah Meier (watch this site for video in the near future). Mark your calendars for a mind-blowing Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011, to be held July 11-14, 2011. Registration details will be posted here in early September.


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Alfie began his CMK 2010 remarks by reading the draft of a stunning editorial he was preparing for publication in Education Week. The article, Turning Children Into Data: A Skeptic’s Guide to Assessment Programs, is a must read for any educator, parent or policy-maker who cares about children. Ken Bernstein also blogged about this article in The Daily Kos.

Kohn’s article begins with:

Programs with generic-sounding names that offer techniques for measuring (and raising) student achievement have been sprouting like fungi in a rainforest: “Learning-Focused Schools,” “Curriculum-Based Measurements,” “Professional Learning Communities,” and many others whose names include “data,” “progress,” or “RTI.” Perhaps you’ve seen their ads in periodicals like this one. Perhaps you’ve pondered the fact that they can afford these ads, presumably because of how much money they’ve already collected from struggling school districts

and then continues to list six questions that need to be asked…

  1. What is its basic conception of assessment?
  2. What is its goal?
  3. Does it reduce everything to numbers?
  4. Is it about “doing to” or “working with”?
  5. Is its priority to support kids’ interest?
  6. Does it avoid excessive assessment?

As always, Alfie supports his arguments with research-based evidence and common sense. Given the load of horse manure recently published by John Merrow and echoed by Grant Wiggins in a shocking display of contempt for teachers, Alfie Kohn’s column could not have come at a better time. Please share it widely.

Perhaps you’d like to leave a few copies around at Back-to-School Night along with his small book, The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools.

Share your comments below!

Alfie Kohn & Deborah Meier at CMK 2010

Alfie Kohn & Deborah Meier at CMK 2010

Some of the best minds and accomplished innovators in education are gathering at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010, July 12-15, 2010 in Manchester, NH. Popular author, researcher and fearless provocateur Alfie Kohn, was a guest speaker at the inaugural event in 2008 and will be with us again.

To help spread the word, we have posted several compelling clips from Alfie’s last conversation at Constructing Modern Knowledge.

There is still plenty of time to register for the best professional learning event of the year. Where else can you engage in conversations with the likes of Alfie Kohn, Deborah Meier, James Loewen or Peter Reynolds and design exciting creative high-tech projects with support from Sylvia Martinez, Brian Silverman, Gary Stager and John Stetson? Exciting social events are planned as well!

Don’t miss out!

Register