My Stance on “Ed Reform”

-Cross posted from the Cooperative Catalyst-

(I was asked a few questions on my involvement with the Student Voice movement and my opinions on edreform for a documentary. Here’s what I said)

I think education is extremely important, but that the definition of what education entails, is changing as we speak. To me, getting an education is still the means of acquiring the knowledge to succeed and survive once you leave school and enter the “real world” with all the “big kids.” education, in countries less fortunate than the U.S, is a ticket up and out if you take advantage of it. Education can, and should continue to, be revolutionary.

Initially, I simply focused on using technology to maximize our learning potential. This interest on maximizing learning in school evolved into thinking about an ideal school containing a mix of elements picked up from my past school experiences thus far. My ideal school would break out of the egg shell culture where teachers stand and lecture to a passive audience. It would feature problems and situations where subjects such as math and science are used in real life. In an ideal school, the growth mindset could act as a mission statement, and the school would not put such a large focus on grades and studying for the test. Simply by working towards this ideal school, I soon got interested in ed reform without realizing it.

There are lots of schools doing well but since I was given opportunity to be a part of one of these “good” schools, I wanted to spread these positive qualities to to all schools. In schools that aren’t doing that well in that their focus is on test scores and they don’t value the individual needs of various students , I believe that making a curriculum more based in reality and shifting the large focus on grades to a greater focus on comprehension would help. Personally I think that it’s mainly a huge mindset shift that’s needed. Out with the focus on 100 and in with a focus on “I understand” (Understanding such that one could explain the concept like a week later without any help etc).

In US, I believe standardized testing has affected the teaching of a lot of school, sadly. This pressure to have a high scoring class has led to cheating (like in my city’s public school system), and a mindset of teaching to the test. I believe that it can definitely be fixed, if we put less emphasis and weight on these tests that truly do nothing. We set the standards and manipulate it so kids meet them. Is that actually Iearning? How does that show that kids are learning? It doesn’t, so why do we still rely on these tests as indications of learning success? I realize that downright abolishing standardized tests will be practically impossible, but it’s always worth a try!

I think that in general, private schools are doing pretty well especially in relation to other schools, though I know they’re not perfect. I want to help everyone have the kinds of opportunities I’ve had and help everyone have a good education (one where they learn what they want and the “important” things). I dont like all the pressure on the wrong things- learning for the tests as an example. I wish learning could be mainly for our improvement instead. It’s a lofty goal- one that I haven’t reached yet. In this culture it’s easy to slip back into the realm of tests as the pinnacle, I know.

I took up blogging as a means to use my love of writing to get my thoughts out there. Initially, my blog itsallaboutthejourney97.com, attracted my family and the teachers who inspired me. Eventually, other people found me through twitter and I also learned of other blogging opportunities thanks to my new connections. Once I knew some people who were writing for the Huffington post and I realized the attainability of such an opportunity, I thought I’d give it a try. And suddenly I’m in the middle of this education movement and recording the first pieces of what I hope will be outstanding change.

As a student, I’ve always been a big supporter of students being heard and putting the students back into the school picture. After all, the core idea of school is geared towards the students it’s educating. I wanted to start or be a part of a unique blog designed to channel this student energy that would be by students about students. I eventually connected with Zak, who had the twitter chat with Allison, then Stephanie contacted us and we were on our way! Stuvoice.org was born and is now gaining steam.

In my opinion, the current education reform movement is a sea of educators, students, admin and patents (every and any body who wants a fair say) who want to bring our Education System into the 21 Century and all that entails. In my opinion in the 21 Century, our schools ought to have Technology, Social Media, Standards Based Grading, and leveled practical assessments instead of cut and dried tests, among other things.

If I was a teacher, ideally, I would like a classroom with no (or less) focus on the tests, and a standards based grading system. I think that curriculum wise, we as a whole are moving already in a great direction with more practical real life problems and less simply ideological teaching. I would try to stay away from what I relate to as the Umbridge philosophy, (inspired by J.K Rowling’s government official turned teacher) that it’s enough to simply know the principles and practicing the concepts is unnecessary.

If I were Arne Duncan, the first thing I’d attempt to change is the mindset that grades are the end all be all. I would try to encourage people to try and not worry about if they fail, that it’s ok to mess up.

I know I’m not an expert on Education, Reform, or any permutation of the two, by any stretch of imagination. I believe in making a better school available to all but my opinion on Ed Reform is not necessarily the same thing everyone else is saying. I hope my viewpoint can provide another piece to the puzzle and bring us one step closer to putting it all together.

My First Interview

This past Monday I spent a lovely half hour being interviewed by an eager class of sixth graders about what it means to be a writer. First of all, I was pretty excited to be acknowledged by others as a writer, which was a first for me. Additionally, the questions they asked made me think about aspects of my writing in ways that I’d never thought of.

Here is the video of my interview- .

After they interviewed me, the students reflected on what I said and what they thought about it. Below are a few of their insightful comments.

“I felt that Tara (a soft moor from Westminster) had given me (myself and the rest of the class) some good tips to use in my writing. One of them is that if I have writer’s block, to take a break or listen to music. Also, I really feel inspired by her because she got some of her work published, and I feel that I could do that to, now knowing that she got her work published starting just a few years ago. I also now think that I should start writing some non-fiction instead of only writing fiction. I really enjoyed talking to a writer who is not much older than me, it was nice to think that if she was so successful, than I might be to. I was a little bit surprised that she would have some one else edit her work because she was so familiar with her work that she wouldn’t do much to it, but then again, I am much the same way.”

“I think that her stratagy for when she has a writers block was a good idea. It was to take a break and think of some more ideas in your break time. I also thought that she was a really good speaker because she did not stumble or mumble and was very clear which what she was saying. I think that also she has a good way to get ideas which is that she takes photos and uses them to make stories. She also is setting writing goals for herself. She also likes to listen to music to keep her focus and I do that to.”

“A soft more from Westminster named Tara came in and talked to us about writing and what she writes about. I was so pleased about what she told us because when she told us what she does when she write was just so interesting. I thought that most interesting thing she told us was about how she edits and that someone will edit for her and she will go back through and make sure there are no more corrections. I was so amazed when she told us that she was published online. I was inspired by what she said and now I am going to try to write more.”

“Tara had some very unique and smart ideas. All of them were very helpful. She covered how to make your story longer, how to use good words, where to note notes and many more things. First, she said that whenever she thinks of something to write about, she just puts it in her phone. What I think of this is that that is a very smart idea. It’s very smart because she always has her phone with her so she always has something to write her ideas down with. Also, she said that she often takes breaks. I know that that will help me in the future. I’m so glad that she said that because, it will help me. She said that taking breaks makes her be able to focus more and get new ideas. Then, she mentioned that she has her family help her some of the time. Her family will sometimes help her edit it. She said that it’s hard for her to edit her own writing at first. Tara said some very helpful notes.”

“This morning in writing class, we watched an amazing interview with 15 year old, Tara. She is a truly inspiring writer who answered many questions we had and gave many suggestions. A few of the most helpful suggestions she made was, “When you have writer’s block, take a step away from your writing piece and go for a run or play around outside”. She also helped me as a writing student by saying, “Reading and writing correspond to me because when I can’t think of anything to write, I read other author’s published books and pay extra close attention. I can maybe get an idea from their writing, that may relate and fit in well with my writing topic”. These to statements were important to me because sometimes when I am writing, I get distracted. I can’t wait to use these help me.”

“Tara is a great writer and here are some things I learned. One thing I learned was that she used her iPhone to jot down notes and that authors need to have somewhere to jot down notes. Secondly I learned that music sometimes helps when you write. I learned that when you write for a long time take breaks to do other things, don’t just write because you can run out of ideas and when you go and do something else you think of more ideas. She told us that it is hard to edit your own work and let more than one person edit your work. She said that if you read a book read it two times and look at the authors type of writing.”

“Today in class a writer came in and we asked questions. The question that I would have asked is “how do you edit your writing”? Her answer was “Sometimes I edit my own piece and it turns out alright but, I have learned that if you let a peer edit your piece then they will see it as the reader and be able to make changes that will make more sense. But after they edit it then I go over it one more time.” Her answer to me, helped a lot because I usually have trouble with editing for my own pieces and when I read them out loud they are confusing so, now I get a peer to edit it and it makes much more sense to everybody else.”

“Another question that was asked is How do you focus for a long time while you are writing? She answered that as If she doesn’t stay focused she either plays soft music in her room or she she sits outside without any distractions. This answer was helpful to me because it is hard to sit in a room and write for an hour straight. I can write for thirty minutes straight in a classroom with 15 people in it but not an hour. One of her suggestions was to sit outside and write by herself and now that is what I do because It has way less distracting. ”

Their comments really touched me and I’m glad to know that I could make an impression on them. I hope they know they certainly made this “soft moor’s” day, besides having given me the opportunity to talk and learn more about my writing.

The Construction of Time

As I was flying over the Pacific, I was wondering what the time was in my upcoming destination, how much sleep I’d actually gotten and for which night. Then it hit me. Time as we perceive it, with differences between place to place is irrelevant. I say this because time is currently a man made concept. Sure, times of day- morning, evening, night- exist as part of nature. But times and days, concepts that we cling to and work around, are merely numbers or labels that we as humans have given the feats of nature. Who says that when it’s 12:00 am in Atlanta, it’s 12:00 pm in Beijing? What if I were to change the numbers that I followed? Who decided that 2 o’clock would be at a certain time of day and that every sixty Mississippis is one unit closer to the next big unit (minute) and so on and so forth?

Maybe this is old news or my slightly sleep deprived brain spouting craziness, but the thought that time could be removed and the world would keep on turning as per usual intrigued me. So did the fact that the human race invented time. If I could go back in time and ask the “inventor” of our current system of time (not days and such but hours and minutes) one thing, it would probably be, Why’d you do it? And how?