Monday, June 24, 2013

Exciting Summer Programs

Ed Week has an article here describing the effort of school districts to change traditional summer remedial programs into more exciting offerings that combine academics with enrichment activities.  Because of funding limitations, these districts are actively seeking partnerships with community resources, such as zoos and museums.

This is exciting.  One only wonders why the whole school year can’t be a mixture of enrichment and academics.  After all, the distinguishing feature of most academically advanced students is their exposure to enrichment activities through their homes.  It is usually through parental involvement that high-achieving children learn a love of reading and learning.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Catholic School Fires Woman Abused by her Husband

The Huffington Post has an article here describing how a Catholic school in San Diego fired a teacher, and threw her children out of the school, because the school was afraid of her abuser, and other parents had threatened to withdraw their children if this teacher were permitted to stay.  The termination letter she received noted that no school in the diocese would be permitted to hire her, or enroll her children: 

“We know from the most recent incident involving you and Mrs. Wright (the principal) while you were still physically at Holy Trinity School, that the temporary restraining order in effect were not a deterrent to him. Although we understand he is current incarcerated, we have no way of knowing how long or short a time he will actually serve and we understand from court files that he may be released as early as next fall. In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there, or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese.” 

Words fail here.  Since this is a Catholic school, perhaps the best words are in Matthew 25:  41-46:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

Test Prep for the Common Core

Ed Week has a lengthy feature piece here on how a particular school, and teacher, are working to get their students ready for the common core assessments. They are doing what you would expect--lots of drill, having students do close reading of teacher-selected texts, etc.

Everyone is clearly working so hard—the teachers, the students, and the administrators.  It’s just so incredibly sad and frustrating that all of this effort—and money spent—will have such little payoff.

Professor Stephen Krashen, from the University of Southern California, has brought together all of the research on reading, and it clearly shows that teaching skills is just testing skills.  Kids acquire advanced reading skills through wide, avid reading.  Sure, you might get a little gain with this kind of intensive test prep.  But it’s short term, and not at all life changing.

During the 37 years I taught high school English, my best students were the avid readers.  They could effortlessly do close reading of any text.  The mediocre and poor readers were the kids who never read for pleasure.  With much effort I could get them to do a close reading of a particular text, but the skills didn’t transfer.

The best way to raise reading scores—and to enable students to do close reading—is to spend most of the school year having the kids find books they love, and spend hours every week hunched over those books.  Then spend a couple of days before the tests going over some sample ones, showing the students what the tests are looking for.  I did that for years, and never had a student fail the state assessment tests—even though I taught classes that initially had the poorest readers.

Turning students into avid readers will not only enable them to pass the common core tests, it will change their lives.  Every subject will be easier for them.  Their academic futures will be unlimited.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ability Grouping

The New York Times has an article today here on the resurgence of ability grouping in elementary school classrooms.

The need for ability grouping is driven by subject area and curriculum.  It’s hard to see how kids at completely different levels in math do well by being taught together.  But in reading, if children are allowed to choose their books, instead of reading books assigned by the teacher, then children with varying levels of reading competency can do well together.

Not only does allowing children to choose their own books to read help develop them as avid readers, it neatly sidesteps the problem of ability grouping.

And why is that teacher directly teaching vocabulary anyway?  Kids acquire a sophisticated vocabulary through wide, avid reading.  Making kids do vocabulary exercises is a waste of time, and discourages the development of a love of reading.

The National Discussion on Education

The Washington Post has an interesting column here that makes the argument that even when solutions to problems are proposed they were disagree with, the fact of the discussion around these issues is valuable.  The author identifies two issues that are currently generating much discussion:  the Common Core Standards, and the parent trigger laws.  Here is my take on things:

I am upset that the national discussion—including this column—does not address the issue of how to develop a love of learning in children.

There are push and pull methods of motivating people.  The Common Core is all push.  Students had better learn this material and teachers had better teach this material because graduation and jobs are dependent upon it.  If push methods worked, fine, but there is no evidence that they do.

A pull method would be to engage a student’s interest and passion.  Talk to a child about his hobby or an activity he loves.  You’ll be amazed at the level of detail he knows, and the depth of his understanding.  His love of that activity pulls him into knowledge.

In my 37 years of teaching high school English, it became clear to me that my advanced readers—the students with a sophisticated understanding of all we read—were the kids who somewhere along the line fell in love with books.  They were avid readers, and, through their years of avid reading, had acquired a sense of tone and plot and character development and theme that allowed them to read anything—fiction or nonfiction—with a completely different level of understanding than their peers.  Their love of reading pulled them into this competence.