Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nonfiction and the Common Core Standards

Ed Week has a discussion today about whether or not English teachers should have to teach nonfiction here since an ability to read nonfiction is required by the Common Core Standards.  There is much discussion about which books to use:

The problem here is that this is the same old template for teaching English that has been used for a hundred years.  Choose a book, drag the class through it, and then use it to “teach skills.”

Stephen Krashen, the UCLS researcher, says categorically that teaching skills is just testing skills.  Kids acquire skills through wide, avid reading.

And this is the catch—the elephant in the living room:  Assigning these difficult “texts” (I hate that word) makes all but the best readers dislike reading.  Mediocre readers don’t do much of the assigned reading (Do anonymous surveys of your students; you’ll see) and won’t read anything else, with an assigned book hanging over their heads.  So they read nothing.

The only solution is to open up curricula to student-selected reading.  Once kids start avidly reading, their skills soar.  Then, no matter what kind of fiction or non-fiction common core testing throws at them, they’ll do fine.  

Educating Disabled Students

Governor Jeb Bush has an editorial in the CNN Schools of Thought Blog here.  He is espousing the value of giving students choice in schools.  He gives the example of a girl named Kaleigh who used an on-line academy for high school since she had a medical condition that made it impossible for her to attend her local school:

It’s hard to know where to start with this editorial by Governor Bush.

First, and most importantly, Kaleigh’s choice was not one of an on-line academy or no school.  She is protected both by the federal special ed. law, as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Her school district was required to provide services for her.

My hope is that this on-line learning was coordinated by the school district, so she had access to support systems (i.e. tutors, guidance counselors etc.)  While I was teaching I often worked with students who could not physically attend school.  I visited them, we used tutors, and we e-mailed. I visited kids at home, in hospitals, and once in prison.  Sometimes we became very close.   

The online learning is a nice addition, but surely Governor Bush is not suggesting that high school kids, esp. those with serious medical problems, are better off taking on-line courses by themselves, with no help, from some private, out-of-state for-profit academy than they are staying within the umbrella of their local schools, where they can get a full range of services.

I am not against students having choice, but I don’t like how this editorial makes it sound like her local school district was simply walking away from her, and this private academy came galloping to the rescue.  I’ve taught for too long, in too many schools, to believe it happened like that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Memoir Writing

In Ed Week there is a nice piece by Greg Graham here describing how encouraging memoir writing often helps students emotionally as well as academically.  My comment:

Yes, I agree.  But I also told my high school students that I would not share their writing with anyone UNLESS it seemed to me that it raised a flag that they were a danger to themselves or others.  I would try to get them first, but if I couldn't, I would alert their parents and the Guidance office.

I had to do this a number of times.  On awful time I was reading a paper over the weekend and it was story about a suicide attempt.  I was a little uneasy:  should I call?  But it was just a story.  I should have called, because that weekend the girl did make a suicide attempt which, thank you, thank you God, was not successful.  But boy, after that I never hesitated, and often walked students up to Guidance myself.    

Plus, if the student is a minor, every teacher is a mandated reporter if there is any suspicion of abuse.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mainstream Authors Self-publishing

The Wall Street Journal has an article today titled "Does an Author Need a Publisher?" here.  The article mostly compares a self-published book, by an established author, with other books on the same subject that have been published by mainstream publishing houses.  My comment:

I am also an author who was first published by Crown Publishing, and now is self-publishing e-books.  I had an excellent editor at Crown, and was very well taken care of.  But the economics of mainstream publishing make it difficult for anyone but a famous author to make a living at it.

E-books can be very profitable for authors.  You can price your book low, and then get a big enough percentage (often seventy percent) of the price so that you’re making more than you made with a ten dollar paperback published by a mainstream publisher.  Plus now your book won’t go out of print.

I’m having so much fun with this!  I’m a fanatic about getting kids reading, and now I can publish books that are as radical as I want.  Or not!  It’s fascinating to think what the effect on current thought and reading habits will be with the new ease of self-publishing.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Should Teachers Resist the Common Core Standards?

The EdWeek  blog is starting a discussion on whether or not teachers should resist teaching the common core standards here.  It is really interesting and features such researchers as Stephen Krashen, a fierce advocate of the necessity of what he calls "free voluntary reading."  He's my hero!

This is what I learned in 37 years of teaching high school English:

Many (perhaps most) students avoid assigned reading by reading internet summaries or just listening in class. 

Even when a student is not doing the assigned reading, just the fact that he has assigned reading hanging over his head will drive out all other reading.  So he's reading nothing.

I've done much interviewing of my students with advanced reading skills.  Without exception, they acquired those skills through wide, avid reading.  They hate comprehension and skill exercises and avoid them at all costs.

It seems to me that the unintended consequences of these language arts common core standards will be to drive kids away from pleasure reading.  And with the culture now awash in movies on demand and held held devices with video games, schools are the only place where most kids have a chance of falling in love with books.    

Children with Developmental Problems

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article today here with advice for parents of children with developmental problems.  The author, Avery Johnson, provides links to agencies that can provide help, as well as discussing the issue of dealing with education and health providers:

I agree that the article contains excellent advice.  I would just add two things.  Be in touch with your public school system as soon as your child is diagnosed, even if the child is still an infant.  You can get valuable advice and references, and the system will be better prepared to help your child when your child becomes eligible for services.

My second piece of advice is that--if your child is at all able to engage with you as far as reading goes--read to your child as much as you possibly can.  It will develop listening comprehension skills, as well as foster a love of books.  You might even be able to teach early reading skills, which will go a long way towards making your child's school experience better. 

Same Old Same Old on School Reform

The Washington Times has an editorial by Eric Telford on school reform here.  Essentially he wants states to increase the funding of charters, provide vouchers, and tie teacher evaluation to outcomes:

Hmmm.  A suggestion that school improvement depends on expanding charters and vouchers, and changing the teacher evaluation system.  Not much new here.

What would fundamentally change schools is a change in how literacy is viewed.  Now the entrenched belief, in all schools whether they are charters or public schools or private schools, is that literacy skills need to be directly taught by making all students read the books that are currently in vogue as being worthwhile.

This isn’t working.  Over the last forty years, SAT verbal scores have slipped, while math scores have gone up a little.  Kids are just as smart, but they aren’t reading as well.

There is a mountain of research showing that only avid readers are sophisticated, advanced readers.  To raise reading scores we need to nurture avid-reading behavior in students.