The NETS and Good Teaching

Cross-posted from the ZIS “COETAIL” group blog.

When I read this question seeking a gauge of how important the NETS are to good teaching, I experienced a massive wave of cynicism that was broken by returning to the standards. Promoting creativity, designing progressive curriculum and assessment, modeling skills, engaging with ethics, and continually learning are lofty and important goals. Are these essential for good teaching? Yes.

I heard the term “common formative assessment” this weekend from a fine educator in the States, which seems like Orwellian English for standardized test. In too many US schools, students are treated as interchangeable parts, completing identical tasks or tests for data. Data makes great spreadsheets, but I’m not at all sure how that is formative. For the love of all that is sacred, can we not cultivate creative acts? How much more interesting for everybody – pity these poor teachers delivering the assessments, too – if kids spend common time in school or between schools working on a self-directed or cooperative creative, authentic activity. The data could be gathered in a celebration of creativity, an exhibition, and/or a website, if not shared in a more organic, authentic manner. Just NET Standard 1 is a powerful reminder that school can be real, based on actual problem solving driven by students. If all teachers and administrators stopped at #1, school would be a more dynamic place, full of uncommon formative assessments.

NET Standard #2 is fine. It’s probably the least important of the bunch for me. I do this, but most schools don’t rain iPads and software, so I’m going to give everyone else on Earth a pass on this one, in terms of being a good educator.

NETS numero tres is fantastic. What I love about this statement is that it begins with demonstrating fluency and then moves into collaboration, communication, and critical research skills. By demonstrating fluency, I imagine this standard to mean that we don’t write a blog post and then behave like we’ve pulled a rabbit out of a hat, but rather use a blog platform to do what blogs do – communicate information. We make a video to share information that benefits from a visual platform. We snap photos with our cell phone when we need a photo. So we model fluency because we are fluent; the environments that we use this fluency, at whatever level of proficiency we have, to build are what matter most. If I ask students to write a descriptive essay about Genghis Khan or a pterodactyl using the five senses, I wonder if I am fluent in using my senses or in writing (have you tasted a pterodactyl? To be fair, it’s probably a lot like chicken). If I ask students to burp into a Voicethread and call it a project, I wonder if I am fluent in project management or design (the Voicethread bit is easy enough to learn). Anyway, that’s why this standard is essential, because it transcends the digital.

NETS number four, ethics. Essential. We should treat ethics as a vast field for exploration and reflection, not as a whipping post for the unwashed, of course. There are no children who I have met without a finely honed sense of justice, and if you doubt the accuracy of that statement, hand out brownies of different sizes tomorrow in class. However, students are rarely encouraged to explore the foundations of their belief and value structures, much less to use these as a means for engaging with the world beyond their heads. Making real-world issues available for exploration in the classroom lights students on fire and teaches important skills like reading, writing, arguing, and critical analysis. While it’s hard for me not to jump up on the soapbox when class discussions range into ethics, for example, or responsible, active citizenship, I also make a point of exposing my own biases and their ethical foundations, as well as how these ideas create a lens through which I encounter information online or elsewhere. Sometimes I appear as a real person to kids, I think, which is powerful. I also like the focus in this standard on using technology appropriately to reach out to peers and communicate openly. All around, #4 is good stuff for good educators.

And finally, #5. If you ain’t learning, you’re dead. And dead educators are often less effective than live ones, but not always. Zing!

 

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