Slice of Life Tuesday: “With Fidelity”

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I’m upset about the word FIDELITY in education. This word has given me headaches for at least 2 years now, as I attend meeting after meeting, session after session, on how, if teachers would just use “the program” or “the strategy” or “the textbook” “with fidelity,” that students will be successful in school. Teachers are evaluated, schools are graded, and the one thing that is reported about education is if we could all just make this one change — fidelity — then we could all succeed in life. I looked up “fidelity in education.” Here’s what Google showed in the first pop-up screen (a Google definition of “fidelity in education”):

“Fidelity of implementation occurs when teachers use the instructional strategies and deliver the content of the curriculum(s) in the same way that they were designed to be used and delivered.” (Yep. It said, “curriculums.”) Does that ever happen? (A question for another time)

The second intriguing link (from the Center on Instruction’s RTI CTRL:http://www.rtictrl.org/files/Fidelity%20Checklist%20A.pdf showed a Fidelity Checklist — a checklist/worksheet that an observer can use to collect data on if a teacher is using curriculum “with fidelity.” The sheet includes Instruction/Presentation, such as “teacher and student materials ready,” “follows steps and wording in lessons,” “provides students many opportunities to respond,” and “completes all parts of teacher-directed lesson.” The checklist also has a category for General Observations of the Group, including “student engagement in lesson,” “student success at completing activities,” and “teacher familiarity with lesson formats and progression through activities.”

Well…

Oh, wait! There’s more! A third link at www.rtinetwork.org/getstarted/evaluate/treatment-integrity-protocols says this about Fidelity Checklists:

“These protocols have been developed by a variety of sources (publishers, graduate students, practitioners) and no claim is made for their sufficiency or thoroughness. They are posted as an aid to practitioners and researchers and should generally be considered as experimental products that require research as to their psychometric characteristics.”

What does this mean to me? Well…

  1.  This means that “fidelity” to anything in education, especially a curriculum (program, what have you), is following the program to the letter — even “following steps and wording…” — which makes me so angry that I spent thousands of dollars receiving my license to teach! What this says to me is that as long as I can read a script, and “provide students many opportunities to respond,” I can be a successful teacher. This is WRONG! According to the checklist above, teachers should also be “familiar with lesson formats and progression through activities.” Many teachers are not trained in this way. Teachers do not know WHY they are reading this script, doing this lesson, following this instruction. They just do it. They are observed as working “with fidelity.” This is MADDENING, as outcomes for “success” are shown as minutes using the program, NOT how well a child learns the material (or if the child even uses the material once the program is over).
  2. This also means that “fidelity” includes students themselves — “student engagement in lesson” and “student success at completing activities.” Have you ever seen a group of students use a program with fidelity? Really? I haven’t. A whole group of students mindlessly completing activities is NOT LEARNING, and I’m sorry (not sorry), but one or two members of any group at any one time are NOT fully engaged, nor are they successful at completing activities. Students (or teachers, or politicians, or whoever) completing activities does not equal success. Can you say a group of people — let’s say teachers, for instance, are teaching with fidelity when they watch their students (proctor – that’s the word) take a standardized test? NO! Those same students don’t pass the test, and then everyone is up in arms about the lack of “quality education.”

Let’s all take a hard look at “FIDELITY” in education. Please. Let’s go back to the question of “WHY.”  WHY do my students need to work with this program? WHY will they gain more if they complete this task, rather than that task? WHY does minutes with a program mean more than an intelligent conversation (I’m thinking here, a conversation around a book’s theme, for example.)?

WHEN will society change?

(Just my evening of rambling. Please take this post with a grain of salt, or respond intelligently, as you wish. Thank you for reading.)

 

Curriculum Tip Tuesday: Don’t Stop Believing

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Dear Parents,

Thank you for the opportunity to share in your family’s life by being your child’s teacher. I appreciate it! Not only do you trust that I know what I am doing, you support me by speaking with me (and your child) on the phone, by attending choir and band concerts, and by stopping by to check in on us when you don’t feel comfortable with what your child says is going on in the classroom.

Here’s my tip of the day: Don’t stop believing! Education is truly an opportunity, and we all need to take full advantage each day.

People around the world are fighting for what we already have. People are speaking out, acting out — even facing violence — for the right to an education. There is nothing more important.

“Dream a little dream.” Dream that my classroom is a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Dream that reading and math (and all the other subjects, of course!) are enjoyable, and yet necessary, at the same time. Dream that your child, one day, will be highly educated and able to rule the world. I will dream with you.

Your education advocate,

Mrs. S

Student Engagement…Defined?

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Administrators are looking for engaging lessons. Outside observers are looking for engaging activities. Teachers want engaging activities for their students. “Engaging” – a buzzword in education, to be sure.  What is “engaging” in classrooms, anyway?

The dictionary defines engaging as an adjective meaning charming and attractive. Hmm. Are lessons not engaging because I don’t write neatly on the chalkboard? Am I not dressed attractively enough to engage my students in the learning? Am I not charming enough? I tried synonyms for engaging: winsome, fetching, alluring. Now I’m supposed to be Prince Charming to be engaging? How am I ever going to get my students to learn anything? Then I changed my search to “student engagement in education.”

According to Chapman (2003), “the term ‘student engagement’ has been used to depict students’ willingness to take part in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class.” In my search to define student engagement, I also found Skinner and Belmont’s more comprehensive definition (1993): “[Students] who are engaged show sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”  If students are engaged in lessons because they choose to select activities, initiate action, exert effort, and show positive emotions, then how can teachers help them to choose these desired behaviors? Is it really a “dog and pony show?” I say, “No.”

My continued goal is to implement engaging activities where students choose to act, exert effort, and show positive emotions during the school day. I made a list of Dos and Don’ts to guide me in my journey:
DO                                                                                                     DON’T
use activity and movement in the classroom                 use worksheets to teach
show students how exerting effort leads to success      assign “busy work” I won’t grade
set the purpose for each lesson/activity/reading            sit down at my desk and watch students
communicate clearly                                                     tell students to “figure it out” themselves
create choices                                                                assign every student the same work
show positive emotions about learning                         give the “evil eye” to students
give opportunities of time to learn                                 hurry students to get the work done

Some of these Dos and Don’ts may seem vague or uncertain (of course I’m going to give the “evil eye” to a student who is wasting time, but only after I have clearly taught the procedures, lesson scaffolds, etc. and he/she is still not exerting effort to get the task done), but it’s a starting list for me to remember to be engaging in the classroom.

What is your definition of student engagement? How will you teach engaging lessons this school year? It’s almost time to start!

Chapman, E. (2003). “Alternative approaches to assessing student engagement rates.”Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(13).

Skinner, E.A., & Belmont, M.J. (1993). “Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4). p. 572.

 

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