About @Teacher_Fulton

I've been teaching in Taiwan since 2013. Currently the elementary science department head along with teaching 5th and 6th grade science. I've become fascinated with the ramifications cognitive science has for education. And I am seeking to develop a coherent philosophy of education that takes my Christian worldview into account. So I will mostly be blogging about education but you will also see me engage with philosophy and Christianity. Some blogs may even have elements of all three.

The Educator and the Image of God

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses
Part 4: Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education

In the previous post, I mentioned four doctrines that are integral in forming a Christian philosophy of education. They were the doctrines of the image of God, love, original sin, and work. 

As I’ve been putting more thought into it, I decided to switch up the order into something that feels more natural. The reworked order: image of God, original sin, love, and work.

We are all made in the image of God and while we have been deeply damaged by original sin and our personal sins, the image we have been made in remains intact, undamaged. These two doctrines explain the human situation and have profound implications for how we are to love one another and to go about our work.

On to the Image of God

Identifying the image of God is no small task because the Bible does not give a clear definition. This vagueness has led to all sorts of problems such as associating the image of God with physical or mental traits. Historically, when this has happened, people have claimed that those who are physically different (skin color) or disabled in some manner have less of God’s image, which naturally leads to the inference that the disabled have less intrinsic value. This has led to worse treatment of these groups.

Thankfully, the Bible does not support such views. Before original sin, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

And after original sin, we are still made in the image of God. While sin has damaged us, it has not damaged the image of God we were made in, we still made in His likeness whether we are Christian or not (Kilner, 2015).

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalms 139:13-14)

“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:8-9) 

So, even though all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), we are still made in God’s image. This means that we are still held to His standards. As John Kilner says in the introduction to his book, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, “This connection with God is the basis of human dignity. This reflection of God is the beauty of human destiny. All of humanity participates in human dignity.”

So, we are connected with God because He has made us in His own image. But we need to begin to bring this down to earth. What does this mean practically? What does this mean for teachers in particular?

The Bible points us in a direction, but it takes some effort to follow. While humans are made in the image of God, Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. While we represent Him, Christ is (Hebrews 1:3) God. And throughout the Bible, God calls us to conform to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Rubber, Meet Road

This is where theology hits the ground. We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus. The implications of this are many.

As teachers, we need to be cognizant of the fact that all our students are made in the image of God regardless of their ethnicity, mental abilities, physical abilities, sexuality, religion, and disposition. As such, we should treat our students in the above categories with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

In part, this should involve a lot of reading: books, articles, blog posts, etc. This will help you gain familiarity with longstanding and contemporary issues. It should also involve conversations with your students. During passing periods, get to know your students. This shouldn’t simply be done in order to be a better teacher, it should be done because you love* and value your students. Ask questions and encourage them to ask questions about your own life.

*Don’t get the heebie-jeebies about the word love, it’s a good thing. I will explain more in a later post.

Image and Ethnicity

Broadly speaking, you share many traits and experiences with those of your own ethnicity, you also have many unique traits and experiences that set you apart from others in your ethnicity. It is no different for any of your students. As you are reading, talking, and learning more, do not forget this fact. Do not reduce your students to a generalization or stereotype.

To do this, we must realize that while ethnicity provides a broad context, this is imprecise and lacks many details. The only way to see these details is to see and value our students as individuals who are each made in the image of God, worthy of love, with histories and cultures that God deeply cares about.

Image and Abilities

Mental and physical abilities are not spread equally amongst people. Your high-ability students and your low-ability students are of equal worth because everyone in history has the same intrinsic value due to the fact that we are all made in the image of God.

This equal value does not imply equal treatment. For an obvious example, you would not teach a first grader the same way you would teach a twelfth grader. Likewise, you would not teach a mentally challenged student in the same way you would teach a student with average abilities, even if you want them to learn the same material to the same standard. Treat students as individuals.

When we are dealing with students of different abilities, we must be careful to not reduce our expectations or standards. Low expectations are a scourge on education that must be eliminated. What we should do is identify where a student is, look to the standard we want them to achieve, and then plan out the steps and support they’ll need to get there. If a student is already at or beyond the standard, then great! Identify a further goal post and help them get there. Helping both the high- and low-ability students well takes experience and wisdom. We can cultivate the wisdom we need with a well-developed doctrine of love and work.

Image and Sexuality

This may be the most hot-button issue in this blog post. But the starting point is the same. All of your students are made in the image of God.

So, treat your LGBT students with the dignity and respect that they deserve. This needn’t mean full agreement. But it absolutely does mean being sensitive and taking their views seriously. It also means working to learn about that group’s history and your LGBT students’ backgrounds. All of this must be done with love—God commands it.

When you learn that your students have faced social and familial ostracization, sympathize with them. Enter into their suffering by being there emotionally.

Image and Religion

What one believes about God is extremely important. It’s literally a matter of heaven or hell. The stakes are high, but our emotions shouldn’t be (though our emotions should be involved). Your students are made in the image of God. This is not contingent on whether or not they believe in Him. Interact with love.

Ask how your non-Christian students celebrate religious holidays. This isn’t the time for an apologetics lesson, it’s a time to listen with care. Acknowledge and appreciate shared values. Prioritize the relationship, value the student over being right.

Image and Disposition

The most common challenge teachers face will be difficult students. Like before, we must remember that these students are still made in the image of God, even when they make our teaching lives miserable. Therefore they are still worthy of respect when they talk back, disrupt their classmates’ learning, or disrespect you or their classmates.

This is not to say that you let those problems slide. After all, letting sin slide is unhelpful at best. But it is to say that even when our students put us in a difficult situation that requires discipline, we must treat them with love and respect.

An Implication of God’s Image

As should now be clear, being made in God’s image requires us to love others. In my next post, I will explore how the doctrine of love applies to teaching.

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses
Part 4: Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education


Kilner, J. F. (2015). Dignity and destiny: Humanity in the image of God. Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans Pub. Company.

Abraham Kuyper: Prime Minister, Theologian, Journalist, and School Choice Advocate

Abraham Kuyper was a remarkable man. He lived from 1837-1920. He was Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901-1905.
He founded the Dutch Reformed Church, De Standaard (a newspaper) in 1872, the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) in 1879, and the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880. He kept busy.
One thing he advocated for in his time with the ARP, as Prime Minister, and in his many newspaper articles was school choice for all. 
His rationale was complex and revolved around ideas of “neutral” schools, parental rights, and perhaps most surprisingly, national unity. 

“Neutral Schools”

The idea of neutral schools is certainly attractive. Who wants their child to be indoctrinated into a wrong belief system? What progressive wants their child to constantly hear about the glories of conservatism? What conservative wants their child to be constantly taught as if the progressive worldview was the truth?

This idea runs deep in America. We typically support the idea of neutral schooling as the way to build a peaceful democracy within a diverse society.

The problem is that it is philosophically impossible for there to be a neutral schooling system. Any teaching of morals, any having of rules removes the possibility of neutrality. And, to problematize the idea to a neutral school even further, how can a neutral school possibly justify its stance? Any appeal to natural law, public consensus, God/s, etc takes a stance, removing neutrality.

Kuyper sees this, and calls the idea of neutral schools out for the farce it is.

“How can a teacher nurture and form character,” he asked, “and at the same time be neutral?” After all, “there is no neutral education that is not governed by a spirit of its own. And precisely that spirit of the religiously neutral school militates against every positive faith.” (p47-48)

And, because the principles enacted by neutral schools are not in fact, neutral, they have an unequal impact on society.

When we look at Galston’s statement, a contemporary of Kuyper, we see how easy it is to apply this to the American schooling system.

“Galston points out, “the more one examines putatively neutral liberal principles and public discourse, the more impressed one is likely to become by their decidedly nonneutral impact on different parts of diverse societies. Liberalism is not and cannot be the universal response, equally acceptable to all, to the challenge of social diversity. It is ultimately a partisan stance” (p55). 

Neutral schools attempt to be acceptable and non offensive to everyone, but in doing so, neutral schools minimize the importance of our differences.

“Thus, so-called neutral schools, which sought to please all by separating instruction from a child’s particular religious experience, had hindered thousands of children from developing the mindset, initiative, and skills needed to sustain a strong civil society.” (p35)

Parental Rights

Kuyper viewed education as primarily the responsibility of the parent,

“The father is the only lawful person, called by nature and called to this task, to determine the choice of school for his child. To this we must hold fast. This is the prime truth in the whole schools issue. If there is any axiom in the area of education, this is it. … The parental rights must be seen as a sovereign right in this sense, that it is not delegated by any other authority, that it is inherent in fatherhood and motherhood, and that it is given directly from God to the father and mother.” (p28)

One large problem with having a single schooling system is that the system only serves one group of parents and children well. For example, the “neutral” system only serves parents who believe in neutrality. A Christian education system only serves Christian parents well, a Muslim system Muslim parents, and so on. So, in order for most parents to educate their children in line with their beliefs, they are required to pay twice, once in taxes to the state system and once in fees to their private school.

“The crucial point was that when the government now provided an education which was suited for only one part of the populace, it violated the conscience of all others: “Wherever we recognize a fundamental right for our citizens to provide their children with an alternative means of ‘enlightenment,’ then it becomes clear that requiring those citizens to pay for education twice, while others only have to pay once, is unjust.” (p37)

With this approach to school choice, Kuyper was not advocating for a partisan school system, he was advocating for a system that would provide choice for all beliefs and socioeconomic levels where it would be possible to honor the rights of all parents. 

“Some men…want to work to expand freedom for the middle class but…they leave unmet the need for freedom of conscience among the poor…. But it seems to me, Mr. Chairman, that there is no nobler struggle than for the freedom of conscience, particularly for the poor. Government money is well spent for that.” (p36)

In addition, this approach to education helps the development of the child. Personal growth and academic growth happen concurrently and are interconnected. It is not helpful for the child to have one foundational set of rules and morals at home and a completely different set at school.

“Life itself requires that both the personal formation and the academic learning happen at the same time. Both are so interconnected; and thus not only the family, but also the school is called to help complete the general formation of the child as a unity. The child is not divided into compartments; an intellectual compartment, a moral compartment, a religious compartment, a compartment of character, and a compartment for practical skills. The child is one, and must be formed in this unity. Otherwise the left will tear down what the right has built up and there develops in the child the hopeless and unnerving confusion which prevents the development of all firmness of character.
From this comes the requirement that there be agreement between the nurture in the school and the nurture in the home, and that they fit together. The school must not only build on the foundations that have been laid in the home, but also stay connected with the nurture that continues to happen in the home.” (p23)

We can move towards greater national unity when schools and parents work together to ensure a child’s personal and academic growth happen in unity, with the same foundations.

National Unity

That school choice could promote national unity may be perplexing to most Americans. Many of us have only seen how school choice is divisive. How it has been used to promote segregation by race and class. Like any tool, school choice can be abused in these ways. But, do we really want to pretend that our traditional public schools are great integrators? That public schools do not create their own significant divisions between various races and classes? 

I’d rather not lie to myself.

According to Kuyper, what makes public schooling divisive is that its “neutrality” actually picks a side and causes inequitable outcomes as mentioned earlier. This creates a “winner takes all” atmosphere, making only one group happy with the system’s philosophical approach. As he put it, 

“When an elite clique is allowed to impose a worldview on all schools, is it any wonder that a deep animosity and anger results? Kuyper argued that the strongest kind of national unity was one which made room for a multiplicity of communities of faith. Pluriformity, not uniformity, must be the goal, the beauty of a natural forest with all the variety of vegetation and species, rather than that of a garden in which poplar trees were uniformly planted in straight rows.” (p39)

With pluriformity, Kuyper is getting at an old way of seeing diversity, he is emphasizing diversity of thought. Later in the book, he has another, more succinct quote, “Unity must not be sought in uniformity.” (p346)

Echo chambers are no friend of critical thinking.

School choice for all could achieve this because there would be schools for people of different faiths and beliefs. In Kuyper’s theory this would bring about greater national unity because the children would receive an education much more inline with what their family believes and values. This would reduce the bitterness that develops between parents and children because it is removing a likely source of tension. It would also reduce bitterness between parents and the state because the parents would not feel that the state is actively against their deepest beliefs.

“Unity of the nation is not brought into danger by having children attend different kinds of schools but by wounding the right and limiting the freedom so that our citizens are offended not in their material interests but in their deepest life convictions, which is all-determinative for the best of them. That sows bitterness in the hearts and that divides a nation.… Instead of asking what the state school will receive and what the free school will receive, as sons of the same fatherland we should commit to raising the development of our entire nation. Then … the feeling of unity will grow stronger and more inspired.” (p38-39)

Kuyper isn’t advocating for some sort of siloing of society where everyone hides out with their own like minded clique. According to Wendy Naylor and Harry Van Dyke, Kuyper demanded that children communicate with people of other beliefs. He demanded that they both talk and listen to each other. This helps make it apparent that differences in political or social views needn’t be moral failings, but that the differences are caused by different starting points (p34).

Questions to Ponder

“Ask them, he declared,
•​whether the moral calling of the Netherlands allowed us to remove religion from the national schools,
•​whether requiring teachers to teach historical facts devoid of interpretation was an acceptable methodology for schools,
•​whether the Netherlands, known for the strength of its domestic life, should now exclude the family’s identity from the school,
•​whether a free and self-governed nation like the Netherlands could tolerate the complete state control of how children were educated,
•​whether the Dutch people could, in good conscience, deny the lower classes the freedom of conscience that the upper classes enjoyed?” (p40)

Quotes are from “On Education” which is a collection of writings and speeches by Abraham Kuyper. It was edited by Wendy Naylor and Harry Van Dyke. If you are interested in Kuyper, a Christian approach to education, or school-choice, I would highly recommend this book.

Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses

I’ve been talking about how your philosophy of education is not some disembodied idea, it is firmly rooted in your worldview. So, before you can have a philosophy of education that is well thought out and in line with your values, you need to have a well thought out worldview.

I think my setup for this is more or less done and done well, so it is time I came out with my worldview and how that impacts my approach to education.

I am a Christian. But what does that mean? Am I like your crazy aunt on Facebook? Am I that uncle that thumps you with the Bible each and every holiday? Am I a MAGA Christian nationalist? No, I am not that.

In short, I believe that only the Christian God is true, and therefore, all other religions and beliefs about God are false. This is controversial but it really shouldn’t be. Think about it. It is a fundamental impossibility for a Christian and an Atheist to both be right about God. A Muslim and a Buddhist can’t both be right about what to believe. Almost every worldview is incompatible with others at a foundational level. We just don’t see it too often because we generally have a high day to day compatibility with others, even those whose worldview is fundamentally incompatible with ours.  This is why we can work with and have deep friendships with those who have a very different worldview. Back to education.

What Does My Faith Have To Do With My Teaching?

I will offer justifications by starting with broader statements that are representative of traditional Christian doctrine and then I will choose a verse or two as evidence for said doctrine. This will help me avoid the dangers of proof-texting, which is when you use an isolated, out-of-context text to confirm your presuppositions or biases. Each section will be a brief intro with a longer, more in depth post on each topic to follow, eventually.

Doctrine: Humans are made in the image of God

Bible Verse

  1. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

What It Means For The Classroom
I believe that every single human is made in the image of God. Therefore they are worthy of dignity and respect. This applies without any other qualification, regardless of a student’s political beliefs, sexuality, academic prowess, or behavior.

Applying this is complex and depends in large part on context. How old is the student? What is this student’s behavioral history? What is the school culture? 

Doctrine of Love

Bible Verses

  1. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
  2. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-21)
  3. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-6)
  4. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

What It Means For The Classroom

I am required to love my students. God so loved the world, so must I. Now, to be clear, love can mean different things. I love my wife. I love my son. I love America. I love Taiwan. I love hamburgers.

All true, and my love for each is expressed differently. Same goes for my students. But this love isn’t a lovey dovey fluffy fairy-godfather love. It is a love that rejoices with the truth and is powerful enough to bear all things. And because this love rejoices in the truth, occasionally there must be discipline.
While the Christian doctrine of love is simple enough for a child to grasp it, there is also enough depth in it to challenge even the most knowledgeable and loving person. Applying the Christian doctrine of love to education is a complex endeavor.

Doctrine of Original Sin

Bible Verses

  1. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)
  2. “In which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:2-3)

What It Means For The Classroom

Everyone is a sinner and in need of grace. This means that I will sin against my students and my students will sin against me. There will be times where I need to forgive my students and other times where they need to forgive me.

When we remember the doctrine of original sin, we should also remember the central role grace and love play within Christianity. This will help us to be patient with our students. But, again, remembering and applying this daily in the classroom is difficult.

Doctrine of Work

Bible Verses

  1. Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
  2. “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor…So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 31)
  3. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)

What It Means For The Classroom

In the parable of the talents, it becomes clear that Jesus expects us to use our gifts wisely and to grow them. Applied to teaching, this means we shouldn’t be content with our current abilities, we should seek to improve or face God’s anger.

The other verses quoted make clear that there isn’t really a sacred/secular divide. God cares about every aspect of our lives. We should work to become better teachers not only for our neighbors who are our students (1 Corinthians 10) but also for God (Colossians 3, Ephesians 6). In practice, this means becoming more knowledgeable about our subjects, learning and using more effective teaching methods, and becoming better at classroom management. And that is the simple part.

We also need to apply the doctrines previously mentioned to our work. This is no small challenge.

In the future, I hope to expand my thoughts and to better develop my own philosophy of education in a way that doesn’t just state my ideals, but works to explain how to achieve them. A philosophy bounded by an ivory tower deserves to be thrown away.

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses

Standardized Tests: NAEP, PIRLS, TIMSS, PARCC, PISA, ITBS, and CLT

Part 1: In Defense of Standardized Testing
Part 2: Alternatives to Standardized Testing

There are two types of standardized tests, criterion referenced and norm-referenced.
Criterion referenced tests are based on some standard (criteria). The current standards based movement would be a proponent of this approach, and, the tests you make in class likely qualify as criterion based too. It allows you to measure learning based on an external standard that is stable from year to year.
Norm-referenced tests are based on the norm for that particular year. In English, this means that students are compared with each other. So, a score in the 51% percentile, means that the student scored higher than 51% of the test takers for that particular year.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 

According to Daniel Koontz, the NAEP is “widely considered to be a gold standard for evaluating educational trends” (The Testing Charade, Ch 5). One reason it is a gold standard is that its results are not particularly vulnerable to corruption because it is a low-stakes test. This means that students and teachers are not held accountable for the results, so there is little incentive to cheat or overly rely on test prep.

This is important because many state achievement tests are higher stakes for schools and  students and are vulnerable to the aforementioned corruption. So, the NAEP can be used almost as a way to audit the state tests. For example, if students show remarkable growth on the state test, you would also expect to see a level of growth on the NAEP. If there is little or no growth on the corresponding sections of the NAEP, then it is fair to question whether the state is gaming their own test in order to look good and score political points. 

One example of this is New York City. In 2007, Joel Klein was chancellor of the New York school system and, based on the results of the state achievement test, students made excellent progress. However, “when scores on the NAEP were released in 2007, they showed that New York City’s eight-graders had made no progress whatsoever in mathematics on that test over the previous two years, despite their huge gains on the state test” (Koretz, The Testing Charade, Ch. 5). 

A sample of nationally representative groups of grade 4, 8, and 12 students take the NAEP every four years. Each participating state selects 2,500 students per subject to take the test. The NAEP is a criterion-referenced test, so students are not directly compared with each other. Instead, students are compared with an external standard. The NAEP essentially has three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. 

The Proficient level is a bit misleading because it does not correspond with grade level performance, in order to reach Proficient on the NAEP, a student will need to perform higher than grade level. With this high standard, only about ⅓ of American students are considered to be proficient or better.

Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)

TIMSS is an international test put on by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) at Boston College and that is taken in over 60 countries. In America, it is taken by a nationally representative sampling of about 10,000 students in fourth grade and 10,000 in eighth grade (FAQ). As it is based on voluntary participation and sampling, this is a low stakes test for both schools and students.

TIMSS is a low-stakes criterion referenced exam, it uses the International Baccalaureate (IB) standard and divides achievement into four levels: Advanced, High, Intermediate, and Low (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Hooper, 2016). If you are interested in what each benchmark means, check out page 19 of this report. Based on my understanding, I’d say that intermediate should be the minimum acceptable level, meaning that we should essentially be aiming for 100% of students to be at this level or better.

The results of TIMSS paint a much more favorable picture of U.S. education than the NAEP. Though, we should expect better results, since the standard (criterion) of TIMSS is more aligned with grade-level expectations. In the past 20 years, Math, for both 4th and 8th grade, the U.S. has increased the percentage of students achieving at Intermediate or better by nearly 10%. This is good progress. However, we have seen less gains in science. We have essentially remained stagnant in 4th grade and seen moderate improvements in 8th grade.

When we compare the U.S. with other countries that took the TIMSS, we see that we are above average, but below the top tier.

Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS)

Like TIMSS, PIRLS is put on by IEA at Boston College and is considered to be a low-stakes test that is criterion-referenced, with the same benchmarks of Advanced, High, Intermediate, and Low. If you are interested in what each benchmark means, click here. Unlike TIMSS, PIRLS is given every 5 years instead of every 4. A sample of nationally representative fourth graders take the test. Students are assessed on an informational text and literary text. In 2016, there were 61 participating countries.

When compared with the NAEP, PIRLS was found to have readings that were easier by about one grade level (FAQ). So, we should expect better results and that is exactly what we find. 

While 35% of fourth grade students are deemed proficient by the NAEP, PIRLS found that 83% of students achieved at the Intermediate benchmark or better (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Hooper, 2017).

Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)

PISA is a low-stakes, norm-referenced international test started by the OECD in 2000 and assesses a sampling of 15 year olds’ reading, math, and science literacy every three years. 600,000 students took the test in 2018, representing 79 countries or education systems. 

It has also been divided into various norm-referenced proficiency levels in an attempt to classify students. Being norm-referenced, these proficiency levels will differ slightly from year to year because the cohorts of students will be different, meaning that the average scores will be different.

The test makers note that, “There are no natural breaking points to mark borderlines between stages along this continuum. Dividing the continuum into levels, though useful for communication about students’ development, is essentially arbitrary. Like the definition of units on, for example, a scale of length, there is no fundamental difference between 1 metre and 1.5 metres – it is a matter of degree. It is useful, however, to define stages, or levels along the continua, because they enable us to communicate about the proficiency of students in terms other than continuous numbers. This is a rather common concept, an approach we all know from categorising shoes or shirts by size (S, M, L, XL, etc.).” 

When you look at America’s results, you see that they are more or less in line with the OECD average, while lagging a bit in math. One thing that makes the PISA useful, beyond comparing different education systems, is that it breaks the data down by the student’s socioeconomic status. This is important because it helps us see how well we are teaching different groups of students. The OECD’s report found that the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students in America is 11 points larger than the OECD average. It also breaks down performance based on gender. In 2018, girls performed 24 points better than boys in reading. This “gender gap” is better than the OECD average of 30 points. The performance gender gap in math favored boys by 9 points, larger than the OECD average of 5 points. In science, American boys and girls performed roughly the same.

In reading, 81% of American students were able to at least reach level 2 proficiency, compared with the OECD average of 77%. Essentially, this means that 81% of our students can “At a minimum, these students can identify the main idea in a text of moderate length, find information based on explicit, though sometimes complex criteria, and can reflect on the purpose and form of texts when explicitly directed to do so.”

In math, 73% of our students reached level 2 proficiency or higher, slightly lower than the OECD average of 76%. Essentially, this means that 73% of our students can “interpret and recognise, without direct instructions, how a (simple) situation can be represented mathematically (e.g. comparing the total distance across two alternative routes, or converting prices into a different currency).”

In science, 81% of our students reached level 2 proficiency or higher, slightly better than the OECD average of 78%. Essentially, this means that 81% of our students can, “recognise the correct explanation for familiar scientific phenomena and can use such knowledge to identify, in simple cases, whether a conclusion is valid based on the data provided.”

Summary of International Standardized Tests

When we look over results from the international standardized tests, we can take a level of comfort. Even though America has substantial room for improvement, no matter which test you are looking at, we are roughly in line with other higher performing countries. We should recognize this. It is not only doom and gloom. 

But, we should also take a good hard look at the criterion referenced ones (NAEP, TIMSS, PIRLS). The NAEP is a very high standard, so there is not necessarily a need to fret about the low percentage of students who are measured proficient in that test. But both TIMSS and PIRLS are aligned to grade level standards and both show that we fail to get 20-30% of students to achieve at an acceptable level.

Iowa Assessments, formerly Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) 

While the Iowa Assessments started in Iowa, hence the “Iowa” in its name, it has a national reach. The Iowa Assessments are taken every year from kindergarten through eighth grade and they assess Language Arts, Reading, Math, Science, and Social Studies. The test underwent a transformation between the 2011-2012 school year in order to be better aligned with the Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Exam (other state standardized tests). To go along with the change in focus, the ITBS was renamed Iowa Assessments.

This is a norm-referenced test, meaning that students are compared with each other, not to an outside standard, which allows for comparisons between students by using a percentile score. Essentially, if your child receives a score in the 50th percentile, then he/she scored higher than 50% of the test takers in that year, if your child scored in the 86% percentile, then he/she scored higher than 86% of the test takers in that year. 

Given the norm-referenced format, the Iowa Assessments are not so easy to compare with each other over time, because each year involves a different set of students, and therefore, a different norm. They are best used to compare with students in the same year who took the same test. If you are looking at the test results over time, I would suggest taking them with a grain of salt.

The Iowa test is not high stakes, but it does have more of an impact on the students than the NAEP, TIMSS, PIRLS, or PISA. Schools will commonly use results from the Iowa Assessments as one factor to place students in talented and gifted programs. As this test has real-life impacts on students, it is particularly important that the test makers check for content bias.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

The PARCC is given to a representative sample of students in grades 3-11 annually and assesses mathematics along with English/Language Arts and is in alignment with the Common Core Standards.

PARCC is a criterion referenced test (the Common Core is the criterion) and students are assigned performance levels between 1 and 5 with Level 3 and above considered to be passing.
Level 1: Did not yet meet expectations
Level 2: Partially met expectations
Level 3: Approached expectations
Level 4: Met expectations
Level 5: Exceeded expectations

If you want more information about what these performance levels actually mean, click here. If you want to really nerd out, check out this nearly 500 page technical report. Section 9.5, section 10 and section 11 are most relevant.

The PARCC results do not paint a particularly pretty picture of American education. For the 2015-2016 school year, the percent of students who met or exceeded expectations hovered around 40% at all grade levels for ELA and Math starts at 42.5% who at least meet expectations, but that lowly result plummets over time, finishing at 25.9% in 8th grade. Go ahead and look at the graphs. If you are interested in a breakdown by state or ethnicity, check out this pdf.

This is all the more concerning because the PARCC is aligned with the Common Core Standards, meaning that the tests are at grade level.

PARCC is a high-stakes test. Students may be held back if they do poorly. This makes concerns about bias extremely important.

The Classic Learning Test (CLT)

Meet CLT, the new kid on the block. It was started in 2015 with the intention of providing an alternative to the bigger, more famous standardized tests. It features, “passages selected from great works across a variety of disciplines, the CLT suite of assessments provide a highly accurate and rigorous measure of reasoning, aptitude, and academic formation for students from diverse educational backgrounds.”

The CLT is offered as an alternative to the SAT and ACT, so the CLT is high stakes. However, our focus will be on their other tests. The CLT8 and CLT10 are standardized tests for 8th and 10th graders. These tests are norm-referenced, with the norm being based on a nationally representative sample of the CLT10 population. 

Content wise, the CLT10 and CLT8 cover verbal reasoning (reading comprehension), grammar, writing, and quantitative reasoning (math). These exams are designed to be comparable to the PSAT, and the scores between the tests can be compared. If you are interested in comparing the scores, look at pages 29-33 of this link. If you are interested in how students performed based on income or race, look at Chapter 10 of the technical report. Unfortunately the scores for race are only broken down into two categories, white and non-white. I would guess that this is due to sample size issues and that future reports will offer more detailed breakdowns, sample allowing.

There Are No Better Options

The data we get from the NAEP, TIMSS, PIRLS, PISA, and PARCC leaves plenty of room for concern. Internationally, we are essentially average in education, nothing to brag about. But, when we look at how our students perform at grade level assessments, there is real cause for concern according to the PARCC exam, only around 40% of our students meet or exceed the standard from grades 3-8 in English Language Arts. In math, the story is much worse. Without these standardized tests we would only have a vague idea about these problems, so, until there is a better option, I am for standardized tests. It is important for us to know where educational inequalities and inefficiencies exist. Currently, if we were to replace standardized tests with any alternative, at best we would get fuzzier data.


Koretz, D. (2017). The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. University of Chicago Press.

Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2016). TIMSS 2015 International Results in Mathematics. Retrieved from Boston College, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center website: http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timss2015/international-results/

Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2017). PIRLS 2016 International Results in Reading. Retrieved from Boston College, TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center website: http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/pirls2016/international-results/

Alternatives to Standardized Testing

Part 1: In Defense of Standardized Testing
Part 2: Alternatives to Standardized Testing
Part 3: Standardized Tests: NAEP, PIRLS, TIMSS, PARCC, PISA, ITBS, and CLT

Standardized testing comes with a sordid history of intentional discrimination, perverse incentives, suspicious discrepancies in scores, and outright cheating. What are the alternatives?

In my research for this blog series, a 2015 article by NPR about alternatives to standardized testing was referenced repeatedly. There were four main alternatives.
1. Sampling
Summary: This is essentially the same as standardized testing, but instead of testing all students, it would test a statistically representative group of students. This is what the NAEP and PISA do.
My Thoughts: I am not completely against this approach. It could be a decent compromise. But I would want my child to be assessed each year. I think it is valuable to see where my child stands in relation to children in the school, district, state, and nationally. This isn’t an attempt to boast about the score, it gives valuable information to parents because the tests give a reference point that is beyond the classroom grades and that is comparable with other locations. Does the test score roughly match my child’s grades? This ERIC Digest provides an excellent summary of how to use/interpret the results of a standardized test.
2. Stealth Assessment
Summary: This is basically gamification. Assessing students with their performance on a computer program.
My Thoughts: Technology can be amazing. But I don’t think this would be a wise direction to move towards. I have not seen any data on the validity of stealth assessment (I don’t think there is much research here yet). It would also bring up even more equity issues than the current set of standardized tests.
3. Multiple Measures
Summary: Instead of measuring based on one assessment (the test) it could use social and emotional skills surveys, game-based assessments (stealth assessment) and performance or portfolio-based assessments.
My Thoughts: There is important data here that would help parents, teachers, administrators, and policy makers, and it would seem obvious to me that we should assess schools and teachers on multiple measures. But wouldn’t the same accusations of bias involved in standardized testing be there for the surveys as well? And, since they are about social and emotional skills/norms, wouldn’t that be even more controversial than standardized academic tests?
Portfolio assessments should not be considered as a replacement for standardized tests because, based on what they are, it is impossible to standardize them. They can be great tools at the teacher/school level though.
I’ll spend some space talking about performance assessments later. They are the most promising alternative.
4. Inspections
Summary: An inspector will come and assess a variety of factors in the school.
My Thoughts: Even with observations, we cannot reliably assess individual teachers because there are so many variables (Wiliam, Leadership for Teacher Learning, Ch 2). Evaluating an entire school or school system in this manner would be exponentially more difficult.
Using inspections would give us good data (we should have some sort of inspection data as part of a multiple measures approach), but it would be much more expensive than standardized testing due to the required man hours and would be a very different type of data. It would not tell us much about what students are or are not learning.

The Most Promising Alternative

The specific alternative to standardized tests I find most promising is a type of performance based assessment. Though there are very significant challenges that performance assessments will have to hurdle before I would be willing to consider replacing standardized tests with performance assessments. 

The performance assessment would have to be externally imposed on schools in a similar way standardized tests currently are. The assessment would also have to be standardized. The purpose here is two-fold. Standardization allows for comparisons between different groups of students and it helps control the bias.

If the assessment is not standardized and given in a standardized manner, then the data generated will not be very useful for anything broader than the context the assessment was given in. There would be too many variables. The performance assessment should also be externally imposed because these assessments should function as a type of audit on the system. Is it working? Are all students being educated?

The last hurdle may be the largest. There is a paucity of research on performance assessments, and alternatives to standardized tests in general (Garcia & Pearson, 1994). I was not able to find anything more recent. It could be that I just don’t know the right search terms. If you are aware of more recent research on possible replacements for standardized tests, please send it my way either in the comments below or on Twitter (@Teacher_Fulton). We should not replace standardized tests with performance assessments until they have developed a track record at least as reliable as standardized tests.

The next post in this series will give an overview of several common standardized tests. (coming soon)

William, D. (2016). Leadership for Teacher Learning: Creating a Culture Where All Teachers Improve So That All Students Succeed. Learning Sciences International.

In Defense of Standardized Testing

This series of articles is primarily concerned with standardized tests in compulsory education (Iowa Test of Basic Skills, PISA, TIMSS, PIRLS, NAEP). These tests differ from college entrance exams (ACT, SAT) in that, except for some state achievement tests, the tests tend to be low or no stakes for both the students and schools. 

Many educators have an aversion to standardized testing, and this is not without reason. Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time preparing their students for many of these tests and beyond that, these tests have led to a narrowing of the curriculum. This happens in the misguided attempt to focus on reading and math by reducing the time spent on science, social studies, art, etc (sometimes drastically!). This is misguided because, while it makes sense that you could increase these scores by spending more time on said subjects, doing so actually reduces background knowledge, which, after decoding, is the key to comprehension. 

But It Gets Worse

Standardized tests have been intentionally used by educators to exclude minorities. For one example, you can look into the case of Larry P, a black student in California who was wrongly sent into special education. You can also read this article from Time Magazine for an overview of the negatives.

Other times, the blind spots of the test writers caused them to discriminate against girls as Garcia and Pearson (1994) note,

“When girls outscored boys on the 1916 version of the test designers, apparently operating under the assumption that girls could not be more intelligent than boys, concluded that the test had serious faults. When they revised the 1937 version, they eliminated those items on which girls outperformed boys. By contrast, they did not revise or eliminate items that favored urban over rural children or children of professional fathers over children day laborers (Mercer, 1989); these cultural differences apparently matched developers’ expectations of how intelligence and achievement ought to be distributed across groups (Kamin, 1974; Karier, 1973a, 1973b; Mercer, 1989).”

Whether these blind spots are willful or simply ignorant is irrelevant for our purposes. What is important is that we acknowledge that this type of discriminatory bias is still a possibility in standardized tests today. 

Content Bias

This is the type of bias that is most often pointed out in standardized tests. Content bias is simply when the content of the test favors one particular culture over another, typically favoring the majority culture. This, by default, disadvantages minorities and so it is important to be able to counter content bias if we want standardized tests to be meaningful.

Thankfully, modern standardized test creators take bias seriously.

They “have used a variety of techniques to create unbiased tests (Cole & Moss, 1989; Linn, 1983; Oakland & Matuszek, 1977). Among others, they have examined item selection procedures, examiner characteristics, and language used on the tests as possible sources of bias. One of the most common methods used to control for test bias is that of examining the concurrent or predictive validity of individual tests for different groups through correlational or regression analysis.” (Garcia and Pearson, 1994).

For more detail on what this looks like in practice, read this EdSurge article. Managing content bias will always be a challenge, even with knowledge of history, advanced statistical tools, and a good heart.

Perverse Incentives

Many standardized tests also suffer from the Cambell effect. This simply means that when tests are important (high-stakes) for students or teachers, then it is more likely for the results to be corrupted by any number of means. 

Think about it, when teachers and schools are assessed based on their students’ performance, they will do what they can to look good. And when your job is on the line, you may be driven to take certain….“shortcuts”.

This often leads to the aforementioned narrowing of the curriculum, which disproportionately affects students in impoverished areas. 

On top of this, there are numerous cases of outright illegal behavior. Schools engaged in the practice of scrubbing, unenrolling students or encouraging a temporary truancy. There have also been cases of students being held back in grade 9 and then, after repeating said year, they jump up to grade 11, conveniently skipping the standardized tests (Koretz, The Testing Charade, Ch 5).

And then there are the cases of traditional cheating. The most famous of which is the disaster in Atlanta where 11 educators were given felony convictions and 22 other teachers reached plea agreements. 

We know that cheating is unfortunately not an isolated problem, it has been estimated that, on the low end, at least 5% of these high-stakes standardized tests involve cheating in some fashion (Jacob & Levitt, 2003).

Discrepancies in Test Scores

Poor students tend to score lower than wealthy students. Minority students tend to score lower than white students. This certainly should raise some red flags because it shows that there are real problems somewhere, though not necessarily with the test itself. Once we work to reduce the variables and compare students of different ethnicities who share a similar socioeconomic status and language level, the achievement gap is greatly decreased, but still significant (Garcia & Pearson, 1994), showing that there is at least one other, but likely multiple significant problems, somewhere.

The challenge here is two-fold. Is the primary problem with the standardized tests themselves or with unequal schools, differing home situations, etc? Both?

The Importance of Standardization

In America, 80% of teachers are white (NCES, 2019). Even if you choose to assume the best, it is foolish to assume that the average teacher is knowledgeable about every culture and can adequately adjust for content bias.

Standardization allows for a level of control over the bias because you only need to provide oversight to one group, not millions of teachers. In addition the makers of standardized tests are specifically trained to create them and to analyze them for bias. This doesn’t mean they are perfect, but they are certainly better at making tests and adjusting for bias than the average teacher.

The main value provided by standardized tests is that they give data. Without this data, we would not be aware of the discrepancies in performance based on race or income mentioned above.

Now, we tend to use the data in order to make excuses. “These disparities exist because of economic inequality, we really need to fix that.” And, true enough. But economic inequality is not relevant for teachers to do their job. Our job is to teach students as they are. We need to get results with the students we have in the schools we’re at. If you use a student’s social situation to excuse their lack of learning, get out of education. Social situations provide context, not excuses. 

The data shows where teachers and schools are failing to educate their students. The data shows where problems are. We should use this to help schools help children. We should use this data as a tool to help us identify successful teaching methods. If we get rid of standardized assessments, we also get rid of this data. To do so is to choose to make ourselves blind, not a wise choice.

The scope of the problem is huge. Are there valid alternatives to standardized testing? (coming soon)

America fails too many of her students, but it isn’t all doom and gloom, though there is a fair share of it. Just take a look at how her students perform (coming soon).

Part 1: In Defense of Standardized Testing
Part 2: Alternatives to Standardized Testing
Part 3: Standardized Tests: NAEP, PIRLS, TIMSS, PARCC, PISA, ITBS, and CLT

García, G. E., & Pearson, P. D. (1994). Chapter 8: Assessment and Diversity. Review of Research in Education, 20(1), 337–391. https://doi.org/10.3102/0091732X020001337
Jacob, Brian A. and Steven D. Levitt. “Rotten Apples: An Investigation Of The Prevalence And Predictors Of Teacher Cheating,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2003, v118(3,Aug), 843-878.
Koretz, D. (2017). The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. University of Chicago Press.

Science Labs in Primary School: Structure and Routine

Process and content knowledge are in the foreground because they are what students do or produce. But, both become possible only when structure and routine are operating in the background.

One of the primary ways teachers can shape the structure of their class is by how they manage it. How you choose to reinforce positive behavior and discipline negative behavior has a substantial effect on learning. There are many ways and approaches to this, but the best fall closely in line with the approach of authoritative parenting. Warm/Strict is a popular application of this method. For more, you can read about it here, here, and here.

Some Principles of Classroom Management

Essentially this means teachers should manage the class…

  • with clear, high expectations (behavioral and academic)
  • with support students to help them achieve expectations
  • with clear, fair rules enforced with fair consequences
  • with an understanding of extenuating circumstances
  • with everything done in genuine warmth towards the students

The bookends to the above list are the most important because when paired, they make the rest possible. High expectations without genuine warmth all too often leads to more authoritarian approaches. And, to say it simply, genuine warmth towards students without high expectations is flat out impossible. This is a false warmth. If you are treating students “warmly” but not demanding students work towards a high bar, you aren’t being kind or caring for them. Instead, you are actively working to reduce their potential.

Structure Puts Principles Action

Principles are not put into actions by pasting posters on the wall or even by telling students the rules and enforcing them. They are only put into action if you model the principles and support students as they strive towards them, providing discipline when needed.

One simple way to put the first three principles in action is with facial expressions and gestures. It may sound strange, but getting a variety of expressions and gestures down will make your life as a teacher better and will make handling disruptions smoother. These small routines provide structure that gives your students the support they need to reach the high expectations we must have.

When a student is off task, catch their eyes and give them the look. When they acknowledge you, nod and move on.
When a student isn’t writing and they should be, catch their eyes and pantomime writing with one hand holding a pen and the other being paper.

What is key here is that students understand what the signals mean. If students are guessing the purpose, it will not be effective. Introduce the signals and tell students what they mean. Take guesswork out of the equation. This allows you to redirect students quickly, directly, and subtly.
*Note: These work best for minor disruptions, you will need other tools to deal with more significant problems.

In addition, these signals make transitions easier. Something as simple as a 3, 2, 1 Stop! (slightly increased pitch on the “Stop”) accompanied with a hand countdown makes it very clear to students that they need to finish and look at you. Whatever you choose to use for transitions, be consistent and make sure students know what the signals mean.

These structures are supports. They allow students to put their efforts towards achieving academically because they provide focus. They allow students to reach that high behavior bar you set because they provide clear direction, making it easier for students to stay on task.

Structure in the Lab

We must bring these established structures and routines to the lab with our class. The strategies are versatile enough to survive the new and exciting environment. As you enter the lab, expect for your students to be excited and to need a bit more correcting and time to settle in/transition than normal.

Stick to your already established structures and routines. Your students will adjust. Labs are naturally a bit more chaotic than a normal class. This makes structure and routines all the more important. Settle your students down by using the countdown or some other method. Then give instructions (verbally and written). It will be best if you can pass out a small sheet of paper with the instructions. This gives students a reminder that stays right in front of them.

Make sure all eyes are on you as you model step one. Be explicit about your directions. Say something like, “You have 15 seconds to set up step one, Go!” Then bring attention back to you with whatever already established method you’ve chosen. Once everyone is refocused, go on to the next step, and so on.

Keep a snappy pace. This will keep faster students focused. And students who move more slowly will be able to follow along just fine because they will have your model for each step.

Transitioning into Less-Structured Activities

Follow a similar structure when you are moving from one part of the lab to another. Once the setup is done and the experiment is ready to begin, you will still want to have teacher led transitions. This reduces confusion. 

Chaos is more susceptible when students are making observations or inferences. There is only so much we can do here. I like to preface these activities by briefly reviewing whatever we have learned and having students reread their hypotheses. I find that this helps transition their minds go from setting up the lab to being ready to actually do it. Then I say, “You will have 2 minutes to make observations. You have to talk to your partners, but you must talk like you are in a library. Do you understand?” 

My students are familiar with this routine and know to respond with a whispered, “Yes, we understand.” I often have to repeat this part a second time because they respond at a normal or even excited volume. But, this makes my expectations explicit. There is no guesswork and, as a result, my students work quietly and are focused during observation time. Then I set them loose to make observations or inferences with a hand signal.

Long Term Goals

Remember, we have primary students, they are not experts in the lab. The lab is still relatively new and mysterious to them. The structure is there to help them succeed. As you do more labs, you can gradually give students more freedom. But make sure they can succeed with it. We don’t want free students that drown in freedom. We want them to swim in it. And the best way to do that is for them to internalize the high expectations, structures, and routines you choose to create.

So give your students freedom by ensuring they have the necessary process knowledge and content knowledge for the lab. Give your students freedom by providing structure and routines. When they are ready, let them swim.

Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Part 1 of this series explains why having a worldview is inevitable and that this shapes your approach to teaching
Part 2 makes the case for deeply understanding your worldview and philosophy of education

There are numerous benefits that come along for the ride when you have a well thought out worldview and philosophy of education. For the teacher, most of the benefits are between you and your students. 

Clarity and Confidence

We should be relatively confident in applying our philosophy of education. If you are not, then you should search for a more robust one you are able to trust because teaching from a place of doubt isn’t enjoyable. It will also likely lead to inconsistencies in your methods causing confusion for your students and stress for you.

When we understand our philosophy of education, we can move forward with confidence because we have looked it over and found it to be consistent with our worldview, research, and practice. When we trust our philosophy, we are much more likely to consistently apply it. This consistency helps our students understand the rules and routines, which better allows for them to focus on learning.

However, there is one aspect in particular that affects other teachers.

A Clear Discourse

Too often people simply talk past one another and in doing so they each win the argument but everybody ends up being the loser. To improve the discourse, clarify what you believe.

When we have thought out our underlying worldview, we will be able to articulate it in an understandable way. Once we have applied its implications to our teaching, we should also be able to explain our philosophy of education in an accessible manner.

When both parties have done this, there tends to be less talking past each other. Positions are made clear. More clarifying questions are asked. And, even if this only happens on one side, clarity is still gained.

One Sided Clarity

If one side relies upon fallacies or supports their philosophy with inconsistent logic, you still gain clarity by engaging them with your own philosophy. You now know where the other person stands. You have tested your approach against theirs and found theirs to be wanting. We must be humble when we are doing this though. If we lack humility we will only help them see our side as mean or whatever negative adjective they prefer to use.

In addition, we should be humble enough to see the grains of truth in approaches we consider to be wrong. We should use these grains to improve our own philosophy.

If your philosophy never changes you must think it is perfect. But why on Earth would that be a reasonable assumption?

Part 1: Worldview and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education

In part 1 of this series I explained that having a worldview is inevitable and that your worldview will profoundly shape your teaching practice. However, while having one is inevitable, we are not guaranteed to have one that is well thought out. In fact, the default is to fall into an unthoughtful fuzzy genericism that works well enough to get us through the day, but would fall apart if we ever cared to inspect it.

Our approach to education, or our educational philosophy is rooted in our broader worldview. So, before we can effectively work out our own teaching philosophy we must work out our worldview.

Appropriated Worldviews Make Poor Anchors

When we don’t analyze what we believe, we lack a sound worldview, we lack an anchor, so we must appropriate one. The place we appropriate a worldview tends to be from whatever subculture we most identify with; whether that’s democrat, republican, religious, environmentalist, etc. Worldview appropriation always causes problems. 

Problems arise because we don’t “own” an appropriated worldview, this means we are not anchored to the ground, we are anchored to some larger ship and we will move with it. This causes us to have a fuzzy worldview, because we are simply relying on a larger group for our ethics. This leads to a blind or semi-blind following of the culture. Our morality shifts this way as well (blindly shifting morality is bad). Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. 

We can skate by with an appropriated worldview (I think most people live like this) but those with an appropriated worldview will likely struggle to produce thought out, internally consistent answers to the following questions.

Does anything objectively matter? Why/why not?
What is the purpose in life?
How do you justify your own morality?
Is human flourishing good? Why/why not?
Is suffering bad? Why/why not?
Why is “cultural hot topic” a step in the right/wrong direction?

Appropriated Philosophies of Education 

When we don’t think about our philosophy of education, we appropriate one from whatever educational subculture we happen to lean towards. This causes similar problems as an appropriated worldview. Our views and educational approaches will shift with the educational culture around us. We won’t really control the changes because our philosophy will remain vague and fuzzy to us. 

Before you can purposefully change and improve your philosophy of education, you must work to remove aspects that are vague and fuzzy by bringing them into focus and defining them because it is nearly impossible to change a vague problem. Think about it. How do you fix something that is bothering you when you don’t know what that something is, but you know you are bothered? You have to figure out what is bothering you first!

Owning Your Philosophy of Education

Work out your worldview so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than culture. Work out your philosophy of education so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than an educational subculture.

Make it specific so you can make purposeful changes as you learn more. This process happens through a lot of reading, thinking, and talking.

Here are some questions to think about as you define your philosophy of education.

What is the primary purpose of education? Why?
How do humans learn?

How do you encourage creativity? Why?
What are your views on having children of all ages memorize information?
How should you reinforce rules?
What is the best way to manage disruptive behavior?
What types of punishments are acceptable? Why?
What role should educational research play into your approach as a teacher? Why?

Part 1: Worldview and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Science Labs in Primary School: Content Knowledge

This is part two in a three part series.

Part 1. Science Labs in Primary Schools: Process Knowledge

The Second Key: Content Knowledge

If you want your students to be able to succeed in the lab, they need to know the science. Do not have your students “discover” the main idea or key concepts in the lab. This will work for some students, but not for struggling students. Teaching with this type of discovery in mind widens the achievement gap. Instead, teach your students the key vocabulary words and concepts before the lab. 

Giving Content Knowledge Requires Structure

The best way to give your students knowledge and skills involves a structured approach to teaching (The Third Key). This structure need not create a stiff, cold environment. In fact, if your structure creates this type of environment, I’d argue that your structure is bad and that you need to adjust your approach to classroom management.

Essentially, this means being an authoritative teacher. Or, in the vernacular of Teach Like a Champion, it means being warm/strict. But more on this in post three.

Instruction and Content Knowledge

We must help our students become critical thinkers if we want them to have a chance in the lab, because a lab is essentially applying background knowledge through critical thinking in order to solve a problem. Luckily for us, the research here is relatively clear. Critical thinking happens with what we already know (Willingham, 2007). 

A tried and true method that helps students learn more is the I do, We do, You do model. In this, we essentially do what it says. The teacher explains and demonstrates, then there is some sort of group work, and after several checks for understanding and feedback, students are ready for independent work.

I am partial to the Explicit Instruction model, which is essentially a detailed version of I do, We do, You do. Here is an overview of Explicit Instruction.

Checks for Understanding: No-Stakes Quizzes

One way I like to check for understanding is by giving a few no-stakes quizzes in the week or two leading up to a lab. Click here to see how I go about using no-stakes quizzes. In our checks for understanding, regardless of the format this takes (quiz, groupwork, assignment, etc) we should mix in a  variety of factual recall and transfer (application) questions covering the same content in different contexts.

Factual Recall Examples:

What is a convection current?
What causes a convection current to form?
Why does change in temperature cause convection currents to form?

Transfer (Application) Examples:

Describe how a convection current forms in our atmosphere.
How does a convection current form in the geosphere?
Explain how convection currents affect the ocean.
Why does your soup have convection currents?

This mix of questions helps to make knowledge flexible, meaning that students will be more likely to successfully apply what they have learned both in the lab and in their daily lives. This is the goal right?

Knowledge in the Lab

So, after we have taught in a way to ensure our students know about the content, they are ready to test and apply it in the lab. By having background knowledge, we are changing the type of questions our students will ask and therefore, we are changing their hypotheses.

For example, if we take a more discovery based approach to labs, we may have our students investigate the following question, “What happens when a heater is placed under a glass of water with dye at the bottom?” 

Whereas if we use a more explicit approach, our students will not ask this question, because they will already know what will happen and why it will happen.

Instead, students with greater background knowledge can ask more involved questions such as, “Will a larger temperature difference change the size or speed of the convection current?” “How will obstacles affect convection currents?” and many more.

This type of question is worth spending a lab on. The first question, “What happens when a heater…” is not worth a lab. It is worth a teacher demonstration. 

Help your students think critically, redeem labs by teaching knowledge. Give your students knowledge so that they may apply it.