Classrooms in Other Countries (and Other Differences)

This article from Slate is mildly interesting, and mildly horrifying, in spots. It says:

Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones—circa 1989 or 1959. Children sit at rows of desks, staring up at a teacher who stands in front of a well-worn chalkboard.

“In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms,” says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). “I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets.”

There are others, quoted in the piece, who suggest some reasons for the comparative differences. Just be sure to mentally insert “on standardized tests” immediately after each use of the word “performing” when you read the rest.

Sustainability Alliance (It’s a Committee)

Just in case you didn’t see it, Jen Asimow is looking for some committed people for the Sustainability Alliance.

She wrote:

If anyone is reading this out there, I am trying my darnedest to convene a group of committed people sometime in the near future. I have had limited interest (13 people are interested in serving on this committee, including 2 staff and 2 administrators). Please let me know if you would like to participate, even on a part-time, little-time, only via emails, as an observer, basis.

You can reach her at if you are interested in participating in any way shape or form with them.

Tuesday Teaching Question

I always hated the old “What did you do this summer?” assignment when I was a student, and usually tried to subvert or resist it some way (big surprise, right?), but now, here on the other side, I am perpetually tempted to throw it at my students, even while recognizing that most of them don’t have proper summers in the sense of being free of work responsibilities. It’s this last fact that makes the question even more tempting to ask, I think.

When I was 8 the answers were less interesting and far less varied–I think I played Wiffle Ball every day that summer–than they are coming from people with real lives. I recognize, too, now, the utility of the question for getting people to reveal a little something about themselves to a room full of strangers in order to begin the delicate and difficult work of building a nascent trust among the students and create a social, functional learning environment. I hesitate to throw it out there at the beginning of the fall semester, though, because I always wonder if it crosses the line from playful and fun to infantilizing–I don’t want to start out the semester giving the impression that I’m patronizing them. Consequently, I usually resist the temptation and throw something out there like, “Tell the rest of us about something that happened to you in the last six months,” and I’m never really happy with it.

So I’m looking for some great first day/week questions that you ask when you’re taking attendance or to get a writing sample or something–questions you use to get your students talking about themselves so you can get to know them a little bit (and/or they each other). What have you got?