31 August 2007

Bibliophilia

When I was two, I taught myself how to read. I've been a book lover ever since that time. I've carried this passion with me into the classroom---not just in terms of books to share with students, but books that engage and challenge my professional thinking. As each semester of my EdD arrives, it brings a box of new reading. Not all of it has been great, but the latest batch has some potential.

  • Teaching in the Knowledge Society: Education in the Age of Insecurity by Andy Hargreaves (2003). For those of us who are looking ahead (with trepidation) to "Classroom 2.0," I think this book might provide some interesting ideas. How will we teach kids to prosper in the information age?
  • The Culturally Proficient School: An Implementation Guide for School Leaders by Lindsey, Roberts, and Campbell-Jones (2004). I find this subject very relevant and intriguing. It is certainly a focus within our district and I am looking forward to learning more.
  • Strengthening the Heartbeat: Leading and Learning Together in Schools by Sergiovanni (2004). I'm not so sure about this one. It looks a little too woo-woo for me. I'll give it a chance.
  • Teaching as Inquiry: Asking Hard Questions to Improve Practice and Student Achievement by Weinbaum, Allen, Blythe, Simon, Seidel, and Rubin (2004). This one definitely piques my interest. Maybe it's because I like to get down and dirty with hard questions. I also think that we as teachers have lots of questions about student achievement, but not very many of them are significant. For example, I recently listened to a teacher rattle off all sorts of questions that could be asked about WASL data (e.g. How does the number of Level 4 kids in Science compare to math?) that were reasonable questions---but I kept thinking "So what?" when they were asked. How will knowing the answer change what happens in the classroom for your kids?
I also have two new books I'm eyeballing. Since tomorrow is payday, perhaps I'll splurge.
  • Differentiation: From Planning to Practice by Rick Wormeli (2007). I like this guy's writing style. I have a couple of his books and they have been very helpful. This one looks like it could be a very handy resource.
  • Inside Words: Tools for Teaching Academic Vocabulary, Grades 6 - 12 by Janet Allen (2007). This author's "Words, Words, Words" book really helped me in the classroom, even though it was targeted for elementary students. Vocabulary acquisition is a challenge for students at all grade and ability levels. Science always has a large amount of vocab for kids to manage. Maybe this book will give me a few more tricks to add to my bag.
If you have a great new find to suggest, leave it in the comments. I'm always looking for something to help me continue to improve.

30 August 2007

Tips from "Old-Timers"

The Salt Lake Tribune ran a very cute story about the advice first graders had for incoming kindergartners who might be scared about their first day of school. Here are some of my favourite comments:

  • "Outline the picture first, then color it inside."
  • "Put antibacterial on your hands so you don't get germs on your snack."
  • "The best thing is that you get to play. The hardest part is that you have to do your work."
  • "Here's how to make friends: Say, 'Do you want to be my friend?' "
  • "Don't be nervous because in school we have fun. Your parents will come back and pick you up after school."
This got me to thinking about the first day of school for new teachers. I have previously listed some pieces of advice and will stick with that (especially the comfy undies and overdose of deodorant). I know that many of you edubloggers out there also have posted your ideas.

The older I get (I'm 37 and about to embark on my 17th year in the classroom), the more I realize that the kids are not the scariest part of things when starting up the year. I know that all of our fussing as teachers in terms of "getting ready" is about plans and bulletin boards and so on. We want things to be just perfect for the kids walking through our doors in a few days because we care about them. The frightening parts are all of the things the kids don't always see---the administrative tasks on our plates, the grading and accountability, and the angry parents or unhappy home lives we may have to work around. It is staring the school year in the face and feeling confident enough to manage all of that so that kids have what they need: a caring teacher in the classroom.


The graphic above was part of this week's Post Secret. The anonymous sender is right---kids can definitely forget that we are people, too. If I might offer some advice, I would like to suggest that teachers not forget this fact no matter how many students do. You are important people. You are more than "just teachers." Remember this year to nurture yourself. Put down that red marking pen and go for a drive, a walk with a friend, or whatever feeds your soul. Write a blog post, make your mark, and strut your stuff. Remind others that you are whole. And if I start to forget---be sure to drop me a line and remind me, too.

29 August 2007

Renewing Habits

A new school year is upon us. Have you let your Education Carnival reading slip over the summer? Today's a great day to get back into the routine of things. Matt Tabor has put together a delightful end of summer read. Won't it feel good to be regular again?

If the Carnival isn't enough for you, or if you prefer a bit of an appetizer before you head over to the feast, here are an article which recently caught my eye:

Massachusetts is struggling with closing the achievement gap. Not news, you say? Well, this is about teachers. More than half of minority teachers in that state are failing the teacher certification exam.

Education officials say the gap is making it harder to bring more diversity to the state's teaching ranks.

The problem is so persistent that a special state task force of teachers, state education officials and hiring directors has been set up to find out why minorities don't do better on the tests.

Sally Diaz, a vice president at Emmanuel College in Boston and a member of the panel, said one test shouldn't make or break a career.

"One of the fallouts which is particularly upsetting in our experience across the colleges is fewer and fewer students of color are even going into teaching because word has gotten out that these tests are very difficult for them," she said.

Some minority applicants say the tests includes questions that white applicants and those with liberal arts backgrounds can more readily identify with, such as questions about ancient literature or investing in the stock market.

Diversity among staff---as well as cultural proficiency skills---are major issues in many schools and districts these days. I don't believe in lowering the bar for certification, but we also need to look at the barriers (perceived and real) that may be present and keeping people from entering the profession.

28 August 2007

Mom Always Said

This morning, I actually heard a teacher say that the district should implement certain things because it makes common sense in the way her mother described. I managed to avoid a John McEnroe style of meltdown and dramatically claim "You cannot be serious!" Federal requirements mandate (I know that's a dirty word) that the things schools implement have a research base. Somehow, "My momma told me." doesn't quite fit that description.

Other teachers joined in with this rallying cry. "We already know what's best." You know what? I agree with that---to a point. No one knows the students sitting in a classroom better than the teacher. The teacher makes hundreds of decisions each day about how to respond to the needs of the kiddos. Here is where the argument breaks down: not a single teacher making that claim today can also state that all of his or her kids perform at standard. Yes, I understand that learning is incumbent upon the student with the teacher as facilitator---but I can tell you that alone will not explain the deficiencies at that school.

There was a slow burn from the staff to Curriculum. One complaint was that they weren't provided time on the optional curriculum-directed day to collaborate with people in the department of their school. I so wanted to ask this woman, "What part of 'optional' and/or 'curriculum directed' aren't you getting?" She doesn't have to go. She and others are welcome to use that time in other ways. I somehow managed to stifle a laugh when teachers at this school went off about how Curriculum never visits them. Hello? This is the one school in the district whose principal excused the staff from attending every district meeting last year...the one where consistent offers went out for support and were met with "We're fine, thanks."

There were continued comments about how math and science graduation requirements (also blamed on Curriculum) were impeding learning. How selfish is that? Children are held accountable for those standards. We may not like the laws, but you know, we already have our diplomas. The kids do not. Why would any teacher blame other teachers for the fact kids have to take more math and science?

My overall impression today (formed among the 8 additional PowerPoints to yesterday's 9) is that many of the teachers at that school think very small...and are very selfish. I can't deny that my time out of the classroom that has coloured my vision. I tend to look at things in a much more global way these days...and I admit that gives me a bit of an attitude about things. But these experiences make me want to shake some teachers until they rattle. "Wake up! What happens in the classroom is not about you. It's about kids. Every kid...every day. It's okay not to know all of the answers---nobody does. But to claim you do based on the sole observations and experiences behind your classroom door while allowing some kids to fail does not impress anyone."

Then again, maybe their mothers are proud.

27 August 2007

Powerpoint ≠ Good Instruction

The idea of Death by Powerpoint is not a new one on this blog. Neither is Death by Meeting. Put the two together and you really do give meaning to the term "overkill."

Among all of the back-to-school things today, I sat through no less than eight (8!!!) PowerPoint presentations in 3 hours. I counted them, just to give myself something to do and avoid the urge to poke out my eyes with my pencil, shoot spitwads at the posters on the walls, and bang my head on the table out of frustration. When did PowerPoint become equated with engaging presentations and instruction...and how do we dissuade this unholy alliance from being fostered?

On the positive side of things, I do have to say that only one used every cutesy transition and trick in the book. ("No...no...I'm begging you...not another fade!" I wanted to cry.)

I really worried, however, that these same people who were up there listing all of the reasons why the school's poop doesn't stink weren't able to model effective instructional techniques. (My favourite quotes from today: "We're light years ahead of every other building in terms of cultural proficiency." and "Oh, that other school is having a big regional meeting so they can figure out how to be less pitiful.")

I know teachers are tired of the same old, same old at the beginning of the year. So, why not mix it up a bit? Why not extend yourself as a presenter and model some diverse and appropriate instruction? Do things to make people excited about coming back to work. As it is, this school seems to be following the maxim of "If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a terrible warning."

Maybe I'll see if I can hide the remotes in the future. :)

26 August 2007

Thanks, But No Thanks

This was part of a letter mailed to some high school staff in the area:

Another important thing to remember as you determine your grading criteria is the appropriateness of using participation as a grading criteria. We all know it is important for students to attend class daily and engage actively in class each day. Participation points are an excellent way to provide an incentive for students to be in class and to help hold them accountable for class attendance and participation. Consider adding participation points in your grading criteria if it is not already included.

If you've been reading here, then you can already guess that these statements didn't sit well with me. In fact, I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

The first sentence was okay. But instead of mentioning that grading participation was in no way appropriate, it got worse. Grading kids for behavior was suggested as something excellent. Furthermore, grades should be used to help hold kids accountable for attendance...fer cryin' out loud. Don't we have behavioral (and legal) policy for that?

I can't tell you that I have ever been or may ever be the perfect teacher. I freely admit that I have had some bad practices in the classroom---including my grading policies. I still have a lot to learn about working with kids. But it breaks my heart to read the words of an instructional leader that are so...off. How many teachers and students will be impacted by this? I hope that many of them read that paragraph and think "Thanks, but no thanks." to the idea.

25 August 2007

The Life Span of a Teaching Career

I know that Betty Steffy and others have done work to look at the various career stages a teacher may experience. Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that one is "normal" as you journey through the profession; but I am still fuzzy on what sorts of conditions allow a teacher to be happy in the classroom over several decades. I am in awe of those who do it---those who get enthused at this time of year, get in there with the kids, and do so again and again.

Steffy suggests that at each crossroad in the stages, an administrator needs to be vigilant about helping a teacher reflect and renew---rather than stagnate and rot (my term). Without placing blame on already overburdened admins, is this really the reason so many teachers don't make it 20 or 30 or 40 years into the job?

What happens to that sense of optimism and challenge we have as beginners? Why is it that about 7 or 8 years into the job, we start to become dissatisfied with being good at our jobs? Whose responsibility is it to nurture these precious resources? How long can a teacher be effective in the classroom?

I realize these questions are rhetorical. It is likely impossible to pinpoint the perfect storm which leads to an extensive and rewarding career. We know a lot about why people quit before they reach five years into the profession. Do we know why they stop before 10, 15, or 20 years?

I think that what may be missing from Steffy's analysis is that at some point, every teacher is going to look around and ask "Is that all there is?" Can we say "Yes." and provide some significant reasons why this is satisfactory?

24 August 2007

Where's the Beef, er, Science?

If you've been reading along here recently, you'll likely have noticed that there's been an awful lot of posts about general education topics...and precious little science. Seems like a bit of false advertising for a Science Goddess not to sprinkle in more science, don't you think?

My new favourite site, via Pharyngula, is Zooillogix. It's a site devoted all manner of animal curiosities. The main page currently includes an Insect Jukebox (oh, what fun you could have with this in cubicle land), a story about a Hollywood bug wrangler and painter (he has insects walk around in paint, then on paper), wonders where have all the monster bugs gone, and tells us all about where Great White Sharks go to hook up (check out the captions).

23 August 2007

Assessments and the Single Teacher

Clix has posted two excellent questions this morning. One in particular caught my eye:

About grading - I like the idea of not docking points for summative assignments turned in late, as the focus should be on learning AT ALL, not necessarily learning at the same time as everyone else. However, I can monitor work that is completed in class to be sure that it reflects that student's own mastery. How can I ensure the same level of validity on work that is finished at home? This actually applies both to late work and to make-up work, now that I think about it.

I am certainly thinking about how to make this kind of game plan work, too, in the sense that the answer needs to be manageable for the teacher. If you're a secondary teacher, you already feel beleaguered keeping up with the marking that you have...and depending upon your policy, you know the crush of late work that magically arrives in your inbox at the end of a reporting period. Sure, it's important to honor the differentiated needs of the students, but criminy...how can I possibly commit to even more grading?!

One thing I have been thinking about is student-teacher contracts. I want to do something based off of this resource I have which shows the relationship between Bloom's Taxonomy levels, "verbs" (such as describe, judge, compare...), and appropriate products. There is an additional page of just student products, too. Many many options for kids---although certainly not all are appropriate for every learning target. Is it too much, I wonder, to ask a student to individually have a quick conference about what standards are "not there yet," look at the tool together so that the student understands how it works, and then send them off with it and a contract to fill out and return within the next couple of days? Once the terms (timeline, teacher agrees with the product and level of work) have been decided, it's up to the kid to make things happen.

Ah, you point out, that doesn't really address the grading issue. You're still going to have miscellaneous things floating in for assessment. My hope is that by frontloading the terms of the contract, the grading would actually be simplified. The contract is already a bit of a rubric---you just need to see that what the kid submits meets the stated criteria.

I know Clix (and others) worry about parent or peer, um, "help" in completing things. My personal opinion is that parents are less of a concern in this respect for secondary assignments and having kids design their own assignment makes peer interference less of a concern. It's always going to be an issue. The only thing I can think of to put one's mind to rest is to just have a short conversation about the student work with the student either when they turn it in or at another point. (Maybe an appointment to discuss the work should be part of the contract.)

The fact is, there are always going to be extreme cases we teachers are going to have to sort out. I also think that having all of the answers ahead of time makes things a bit of a bore. :) Good thing being in the classroom is never dull. I will always have a lot to learn.

22 August 2007

Time Out

I don't know if you saw the story today about the man who's set to be the oldest college football player in history, but when I did---I laughed. You see, when I originally clicked the link, I was just interested in the headline. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this is happening in the tiny town I grew up in...the one where I was visiting just a few days ago for my 20 year high school reunion...the university where my dad taught and where I earned both my teaching certificate and Master's Degree. And see the photo AP is using? My mom took it, fer cryin' out loud (although no one is sure how the larger media got their hands on it). She is retiring at the end of next week from 25 years working in news and publications, but is definitely having a good time with this last big story. (I just called to ask her if she was going to play football, too.) She said the phone was ringing off the hook today---CBS, ABC, ESPN...and one call she answered was from the Ellen De Generes show.

My mother was full of all manner of inside information. They tried to keep the story quiet. There are bunches of e-mails flying around between people who went to school with the guy (when he was first at the university). How she's off to photograph him again at the scrimmages on Saturday, as one of her last official duties.

I guess one is never too old to be beneath the Friday Night Lights (or in the case of college: Saturday). I love it.

Hearty Carnival

Vivek has done a tremendous job this week with hosting the Carnival of Education. I know that some of you are going to say I'm a carnival snob, but I best like those carnivals where there's enough information about the posts to pique your interest and get your fingers to do some clicking. This is just one of those carnivals. As someone who has hosted these beasts, I can attest that it is no simple feat.

I submitted my post from a few days ago that has my draft of a standards-based grading policy. For those of you who might be interested in where I next took my thinking, have a look at my brand spankin' new gradebook. There are four worksheets in the file:

  • One is for tracking formative assessments. I plan to record a score of 1 - 4 for these, but interestingly enough, I do not plan to show the score to students. I will provide two kinds of feedback on these assignments for students consisting of (1) specific example(s) of what was done well and (2) a question to prompt thinking. Why keep a score for myself? Because I still need to keep my eye on the big picture. For example, how many kids look like Level Two students? To paraphrase The Shrub, "Is my children learning?" I do not plan on using the scores to assign a final grade for kids---this is just for my own reference in planning.
  • The second worksheet is for tracking summative assessment scores. These will be used to calculate report card grades. Although there are 3 cells available for both the formative and summative worksheets, this is just a starting point. I can adjust as necessary. I like using Excel for this because it will easily show me the median within a set of scores and/or quickly graph scores so that I can look for trends.
  • I have another worksheet where I can keep track of which assessment is which. I will then transpose the corresponding item number into either the formative or summative sheets.
  • Finally, there is a worksheet for anecdotal evidence. I was thinking about using a system similar to this one for classroom walkthroughs in order to keep track of things I informally see or hear when kids are working in class. But I need an way to organize and store that. So, I'm going to try an Excel worksheet in the gradebook.
It's possible that I may add other worksheets with student data (e.g. standardized test scores) as the year goes on. Obviously, I would not use this data in order to determine grades. Like the formative assessment data, they would be reference points for me.

I like that this makes my gradebook more "portable." I can use it on nearly every computer and don't need any special program to access it. As always, any ideas and/or feedback you have are much appreciated.

21 August 2007

Equal and Fair 2007

I don't think I'm alone in saying that I am a teacher who has struggled to appropriately distinguish between the terms equal and fair. I was moved to post about this a little over two years ago in reference to an AP teacher who believed entry into AP classes should be competitive. Recently, I've been thinking about these concepts because of my interest in standards-based grading. Like one of the participants mentioned over on the edubloggers wiki discussion of standards-based grading, a teacher may view giving a student a zero for a late assignment as fair. The other students turned in their work on time---how can it be fair to allow another student more time and the equal opportunity for a grade? I think that these kinds of concerns are among the biggest barriers to adoption of the standards-based philosophy at the secondary level.

I've been reading Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom by Rick Wormeli. I like this example he gives in order to illustrate the difference between equal and fair:

Two students are seated at the back of the classroom. One of them is nearsighted and cannot see anything clearly that is more than a few feet away. He wears glasses. The teacher asks both students to read, record, and learn the same information written in small print on the front board, on the opposite side of the room. In order to make things equal, however, the teacher removes the nearsighted child's glasses and asks both students to get started. The child needing glasses squints but can't read anything on the board.

The idea here, of course, is that the teacher has made the conditions equal (as well as the expectations for learning), but unfair in the sense that one student is at a disadvantage: s/he needs some "scaffolding" in order to meet the expectations set by the teacher. Okay, I think I have a better grip on things.

Next question: Will kids have the same understanding of equal and fair?

Yes, I know I can help them shape these; but I'm thinking about the perspectives they may hold at the beginning. I certainly understand how I have looked at it as a teacher. I also have had plenty of experience with the familiar teen whine of "That's not faaaiiirr." Can I help them see that although my expectations for all of them are equal (they must meet the standards), that to be fair I will respect their individual differences in getting there? Will I have a lot of hurt feelings to sort out if some students have additional opportunities to show what they know? Will they understand that it's fair for students to earn grades in different ways---and honor my discretion to do that? Should be interesting for us to find out.

20 August 2007

Memes and Things

Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable---a most apt name for an edublog, don't you think---has tagged me for the meme du jour. What's not to love about a meme for teachers? And who would I be to refuse the offer to play? I'm not dead yet. :)

So, here we go...
  • I am a good teacher because...I honestly believe that what happens in a classroom is about every kid, every day. I'm not there to pick up a paycheck or count off the days until retirement. I thrive on the creativity and the change.
  • If I weren't a teacher, I would be a...forensic anthropologist. Well, that's what I think I would do. :) The more I read about that career, the more it interests me.
  • My teaching style is...to stay involved. I like to circulate and sit in with different groups. I like to tell stories during the times I lecture. I enjoy getting to know students as individuals.
  • My classroom is...organized. LOL Okay, so I'm a bit anal-retentive about things. I don't like clutter or mess. I do, however, believe in having student work up on the walls and easy access to important information for students.
  • My lesson plans are...fluid. I tend to look at whole units at a time and then work backwards to determine what the major targets of each day should be in order to pull things together. However, I often have to make revisions along the way as I get input from kids and adjust to any unscheduled events.
  • One of my teaching goals is...to help see kids see science in their everyday world---to really connect and understand with this relevant topic.
  • The toughest part of teaching is...figuring out how to get a kid who has turned off from school and learning to reconnect. All too often, the reasons for their shutting down are more heartbreaking than the fact that they've abandoned engagement with the classroom.
  • The thing I love about teaching is...being with kids. I really do enjoy watching them develop over the year...and beyond. Their youthful enthusiasm and exuberance keeps me motivated (and exhausted, at times).
  • A common misconception about teaching is...it's easy. You just open the book and follow the plan, right? I don't think the general public realizes just how much of a diagnostician an effective teacher must be...how much knowledge and expertise must be applied to move students forward.
  • The most important thing I've learned since I started teaching is...to be good to myself so that I can give the most I can to my students. Teachers must remember to be whole people in order to model that for kids. As a professional, of course I give the most to the classroom. But I am more than "just a teacher" and need to nurture that.
Do you want to play? It's still summer and there's lots of daylight left. Grab this meme and run with it!

19 August 2007

Calling Upon the Eduverse

With a lot of help from the Repairman, I have drafted a standards-based grading policy to use with secondary students. You can read it here (please feel free to use any of it that you like). Any and all comments are welcomed and appreciated in terms of helping me shape this beast.

I feel comfy with the mechanics of the day-to-day process of formative and summative assessment. I'm not worried about providing constructive feedback to students on assignments. I am, however, a bit stymied as to how to distill this information into a final grade for a report card. This is where I'm really calling upon you for ideas.

In elementary schools, each standard is reported separately. Secondary schools don't have this luxury---all of the standards are mashed into a single letter grade. This also brings up an issue of "translating" a grade from a rubric scale to a letter grade. I know that letters and numbers are just symbols, but my goal here is to use them to communicate something meaningful. Like it or not, parents and students may very well have different ideas about what A, B, C, etc. mean as compared to mine. Here are some brainstormed ideas I've had. Keep in mind that I'm not saying that they're good. :)

  • Determine a percentage which indicates the consistency of meeting the standards. For example, if a student is meeting all assessed standards 75-85% of the time, s/he would be assigned a "B" on the report card.
  • Use power standards as a guideline for the A, B, C scale. Let's say that there are 3 targeted standards in a given quarter. In order to earn an A, a student would have to show mastery of all three.
  • Directly equate a rubric scale of 0 - 4 with F - A. Or, should a score of 0 - 2 (not meeting standard) always equate to an F?
Okay, eduverse---help! How would you assign a report card grade?

Update: If you're so inclined, come over to this later post and see the gradebook I developed to accompany my new policy.

18 August 2007

Sprucing Up the Joint

I've been making some minor changes to my blogroll. Both Mr. Chips and Ogretmen are taking some time off from blogging, so I've temporarily (I hope) deleted them, but I have added some others. The edusphere is an ever changing place---and even if some of these blogs aren't new, they are new-to-me. There are a couple of other blogs out there which are "wait and see" for me. I like blogs that have new posts at least once a week---and preferably more. Even if the quality of the writing is grand, one piece every few weeks just isn't motivating enough to add it to my sidebar. I like my blogs a bit on the provocative side, so if you've seen one recently that pushes your buttons, let me know. I might like to check it out.

I've also been thinking about getting a new template design. I've had this one for two years and I think I'm ready to freshen things up a bit. Any comments on the one shown below?

We're coming up on the last week of summer holiday here, which means that I'm down to my last opportunities to spruce up the old homestead, too. It's time for me to do some paint touch-up, prioritize the last few projects, and see what I can accomplish as the summer winds down. Well, after I take a nap. :)

17 August 2007

Getting In Some Digital Action

When I started on my Master's degree program many moons ago, I sprung for a laptop. I was working full time during the week and then driving three hours to a university for classes that started on Friday nights and continued to Sunday mornings. Having a digital way to keep my life together was of great help. I can also honestly say that it helped pass the time during lectures. A game of solitaire or the ability to work on an essay while the prof droned on was an asset. I can't say that every prof was happy about this, but as long as I was meeting their requirements there wasn't much that could be said.

A recent article on Yahoo! about laptops in the classroom makes it seem as if many students are having the same experience that I did...and professors are still not too happy.

Every professor has tales about the downside of laptops in their classrooms. They say that kids turn off their thinking skills and turn it into a touch typing class. Or that the annoying tap-tap of the keyboard drives them to distraction as they try to frame their next thought. They complain about kids who doze behind their open laptop screens (some report looking out on a sea of open laptop cases with logos) and about kids who IM, shop, and eBay to wile away the class hours.

The article goes on to describe some of the tactics either individual professors or whole campuses are using in order to discourage laptops/cell phones/PDAs in the classroom, as well as some examples of profs who allow them. I see this as a two-way issue. As a teacher, I look to other teachers (including professors) to create engaging lessons for the classroom. If students are surfing the web, snoozing, and so on, then perhaps it's time to rethink what happens during class meetings. You can eliminate the technology, but students will still doodle, nap, or find other ways to fill their time if you don't create the need and interest for them to be there. Students are still not going to be entering into classroom conversations if it's you standing up in front doing all of the talking---laptop or no laptop. I also think that there is a responsibility on the part of the student to engage with what's happening in the classroom. Not everything can be fun or entertaining---sometimes you have to just buckle down. Look around you. Are others participating? Having dialogue with the prof and peers about the issue at hand? Then get off your computer and join in.

I don't think that student owned technology is going to go anywhere. I don't think that banning these kinds of items will really solve any student engagement issues. I do hope, however, that getting in on some digital action in the classroom finds a peaceful place to be.

16 August 2007

Drawing the Line

In a couple of weeks, many students in this school district will be at new schools. Some are changing due to moving up in grade level; but many children will be in unfamiliar territory due to the closure of two schools and subsequent boundary changes. Families were allowed to "appeal" any changes, but I'm not sure how many were accommodated. My understanding is that the majority of people who asked for reconsideration of placement were those with two or more elementary school aged children. This is because parents wanted their sixth grade students to finish at the school where they started and it was easiest to have the younger ones still assigned to that school. It's understandable, and yet, if you accommodate the eldest child, can you ever defend drawing a line and not following the same course of action for the younger ones? Does a district ever "force" a family to accept the boundary change?

In one district, the answer appears to be "yes." In the Williamsburg-James City area, "a single mom hopes a third appeal is a charm in her effort to persuade school district officials to let her two teenage daughters attend the same high school for just one year." Things aren't looking to be in the mother's favour. The school board has yet to overturn any administrative recommendation in this regard. (You can read the full article here.)

"I'm a single mother," she said. "My ex-husband lives in Texas. One hundred percent of my family lives in California. We've got one car in our household. "I can't express enough the difficulties that taking my children to two high schools will cause."

Her family's circumstances, she said, distinguish her from many other parents, including board member Ron Vaught, whose children will attend separate high schools. Vaught, who couldn't be reached for comment, will have one child at Warhill and another at Lafayette.


"I have no problem academically with her being at Lafayette," Allen said of her daughter Julia, "but it's just - for this one year while I have one still at Jamestown - the challenges I have of parenting them both, the extracurriculars, being involved in two PTAs. I can't do it.

"I'm trying to get them to (prove) that point: What harm does it cause everyone else to honor my request? Yet, I can prove that it's causing me harm and limiting opportunities for my children if they split us up."

I understand the need for consistency. I can also see why the school board might feel that in honoring one appeal, they might have to honor them all. But I also wonder if this situation might not merit a case-by-case examination of some sort. Is there some way to balance the needs of the individual within the global needs of the school district? We'll know in a few weeks how the realities of boundary changes are shaking out here. I hope that things run more smoothly for our families than they appear to be for the Virginia district.

15 August 2007

Bonus Carnival

I usually take the easy way out on Wednesdays and just direct my readers to the current Carnival of Education. I am certainly doing that---and it's a great Carnival to spend some time with---but I saw an article yesterday that caught my eye. I thought I might share it, too.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post is reporting the results of a study in which "researchers examined what happened to 4,248 families that were randomly given or denied federal housing vouchers to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods." Interestingly enough, seven years later, it was determined that changing neighbourhoods for families did not lead to higher student achievement.

Some critics, and the researchers themselves, suggest that the new neighborhoods may not have been good enough to make a difference. Under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity program, one group of families received vouchers that could be used only to move to neighborhoods with poverty rates below 10 percent, one group got vouchers without that restriction and one group did not receive vouchers. Families with the restricted vouchers moved to neighborhoods with poverty rates averaging 12.6 percent lower than those of similar families that did not move, but not the most affluent suburbs with the highest-performing schools.

"There is a wide body of evidence going back several decades to suggest that low-income students perform better in middle-class schools," said Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Washington-based Century Foundation. "But, in practice, Moving to Opportunity was more like moving to mediocrity."

Harvard University sociologist William Julius Wilson said that although the families that were studied moved to neighborhoods that weren't as poor, they still had many disadvantages. Three-fifths of the families relocated to neighborhoods that were still "highly racially segregated," he said, and "as many as 41 percent of those who entered low-poverty neighborhoods subsequently moved back to more-disadvantaged neighborhoods."..

They cite several possible explanations why students' performance did not improve when their families moved to less poverty-stricken neighborhoods in the Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York areas. Some families returned to poorer neighborhoods after sampling a more middle-class environment. "For many families who remained in their new tracts, the poverty rate in their neighborhood increased around them," the researchers said.

Stefanie DeLuca, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who wrote the second report based on interviews of Moving to Opportunity families in Baltimore, said many of the parents had little faith that better teaching in better schools would help their children. They felt it was up to their children to make education work.

I'm still pondering what all of this might mean. Student achievement is such a network of factors. Teacher quality is said to have the largest impact---and many studies have claimed that children in high-poverty areas have fewer highly qualified teachers than students in other areas. So, if moving kids to a place where there are (ostensibly) better teachers didn't raise achievement, what's the deal? Did the last statement in the article (up to children to make education work) represent a factor which over-rode what happened in the classroom? Was moving the family away from its known environment and support system too much "culture shock" to overcome? What do we do in order to ensure that all students have access to a high quality education?

14 August 2007

Speaking in Tongues

I had an interesting thing happen at the post office last week. I was there to prepare the mailing of a birthday gift to Canada. While I was standing there sorting out the forms and other information, an older woman approached me with a stack of mail. She gestured that she needed help with her mail. As it turned out, she was a native Spanish speaker (my hunch is she was from somewhere in Central America). She could sound out the words written in English on the envelopes, but didn't understand what they meant. When she discovered that I knew a bit of Spanish, she was quite happy to make me go through the entire stack of mail with her. Between my pigeon Spanish and her pigeon English, we managed rather well; however, I was clueless how to translate "air miles" and "credit card offer" into Spanish, much less the survey the postal service wanted her to complete. "Basura" (Trash), we decided for that one. Amongst her mail was her green card (I got lots of hugs from this stranger for that), some information on health insurance, and a transponder for her car window which would eliminate having to stop to pay a bridge toll. That particular piece of the conversation was a stretch to manage, mainly because I felt so naughty in the process. You see, although "coche" is "car" in Spanish, along the Tex-Mex border, it means something very different: it's a slang word for the, um, physical act of love. (Family blog, remember?) I kept expecting someone to come over and wash my mouth out with soap for telling this woman what to do with her sticker.

This experience brought a smile to my face, and also a reminder about the English Language Learners (ELL) I have had over the years. I have had only a couple of them while living in Washington. My time in the post office called to mind that particular stage in language acquisition where one may understand a great deal of the "new" language being spoken to them, but doesn't feel comfortable enough in their own facility with it to use it. This lady and I were both at that point. I understood her Spanish quite well---but I had a difficult time stringing together the right responses. My mind was a big foggy (that may have something to do with the mixing in my mind with French words). She understood my English, but didn't use many words of her own in that language.

I remember one particular ELL student I had when I taught in New Mexico. She was incredibly bright and was so frustrated with her inability to communicate. When we did labs, she followed the diagrams and pictures and was far better at problem solving issues than her partners. Ryan recently wrote about the War on the Gifted and one of the things his post called to my mind was the ineffective identification process we have in place. I tried to get this young woman tested for the gifted program to no avail: the placement tests weren't available in Spanish and no one wanted to find a way to make accommodations. I hated that this child was excluded from consideration of services merely because she hadn't become proficient in English yet.

There are some great edubloggers around who teach World Languages. (I know...we usually refer to them as "Foreign Languages," but during my early days in this district, one of the schools had a portable that had "Forign Languages" stenciled on it---and we referred to it as the "friggin' language portable." I'm trying to be more pc with the terminology.) I think that even a year or two of coursework is something which helps students expand their horizons and gives them some tools which allow them to seek to understand---not judge---other people and cultures. (Not to mention impromptu conversations at the post office.) Speaking in tongues should be an asset, not a hindrance, for our students and us.

13 August 2007

Good to Be Back Home Again

The idea of "home" is a relative concept, no pun intended. When I'm in my own house, I refer to it as being home...but I am asked if I am going home when the holidays or summer arrive, meaning "going to visit family." I've had some of each over the last few days.

I spent an extended weekend in Texas attending my 20-year high school reunion. It was home-y, after a fashion. I haven't seen most of these people in 10 (and in some cases, 20) years. It was fun to reminisce, but also nice to get to know them a bit as adults. The men were more difficult to recognize than the women. I think that the only shocking aspect to the whole weekend was the number of people who believed that Coors Light and Bud Light qualify as beer.

While there, I picked up a new print for my house...my home:
Perhaps you can take the girl out of Texas, but not the Texas out of the girl (at least not entirely). I have a variety of southwestern art in my house and I am anxious to hang this piece up. (For more by this artist, visit Desert Dada.)

I am very glad to be back home. It was a whirlwind of a visit and a perfect cap to the summer holiday; but, I feel more comfortable here. I like my view of the water from my kitchen and the lushness of the landscape. I enjoy my friends. And yes, the beer is good, too.

I'll make an effort to be back home at my blog tomorrow---something more relevant to the educational community at large. I hope "y'all" are enjoying being at home, too, wherever that may be.

11 August 2007

Got Contract?

The teachers in this district apparently have a new contract to ratify. The scuttlebutt is that negotiations ended in the wee hours of last weekend. The Union's Little Dictator even showed up at the administrators' meeting this week---though not everyone believed she had reason to be present. Everyone is feeling rather smug, as some districts in the state are having trouble getting to this point.

I haven't seen or heard any specifics of the newly negotiated working conditions for us, but teachers in Bethel aren't cottoning to the idea of using WASL scores as a component of teacher evaluation. They have agreed to enter into mediation with the district in order to resolve sticky issues in time for the start of school. (Jim has more on the story over at WA Teachers.)

Other districts, including Arlington, Edmonds, and Mukilteo, have also been engaging in negotiations throughout the summer. They seem to have been able to reach an agreeable conclusion, although the rank and file has yet to put their seal of approval on things.

I had heard that The Union here was unwilling to move through negotiations too quickly as they wanted to see what other districts were offering within their contracts. It would not surprise me to learn that they were specifically looking for protections for ineffective teachers. Someone recently mentioned to me that one of our elementary teachers recently made a point of taking on roles within The Union because she realized that she wasn't a good teacher. Having Union visibility would be the only way to keep her job.

Is anyone looking out for kids in all of this?

10 August 2007

The Power of the Net Can and Should Be Used

When I lived and worked in the south, school boards operated in a very different manner than they do where I live now. A position on the school board in the south is one of both power and status---and is often held by someone who has a particular axe to grind, as opposed to representing a constituency. Imagine my surprise to arrive here and find a genial group of intelligent people who have a great love of students and teachers...who continue to grow in their knowledge of best practices...and who are very visible at all of the school sites. The board is integral to the function of the district and is much appreciated.

On a broader scale, the National School Boards Association has just published a new study that suggests "The internet isn't as dangerous as people think, and teachers should let students use social networks at school." They recommend the use of social networking within schools, including uploading/downloading music and/or video, blogging (!), creating new characters, and more.

It warns that many fears about the internet are just overblown. "School district leaders seem to believe that negative experiences with social networking are more common than students and parents report," the study reports. For example, more than half the districts think sharing personal information has been "a significant problem" in their schools — "yet only 3% of students say they've ever given out their email addresses, instant messaging screen names or other personal information to strangers."

In fact, the Association and resesearchers at Grunwald Associates LLC surveyed 1,277 students online (between the ages of 9 and 17) — along with 1,039 parents, and 250 school district leaders "who make decisions on internet policy." And the students reported big differences from the adults' concerns. Only 20% said they'd seen "inappropriate" pictures on social networking sites in the last 3 months. (And only 11% of parents concur, even for the last 6 months.) Only 18% of the students said they'd seen "inappropriate" language, and just 7% reported they'd been "cyberbullied," or asked about their personal identity on a social networking site.

Furthermore, the numbers got even smaller when the students were asked about more worrisome situations. Only 4% of the students said they'd ever had an online conversation that made them uncomfortable, and only 2% said an online stranger tried to meet them in person. In fact, after surveying 1,277 students, the researchers found exactly one who reported they'd actually met a person from the internet without their parents' permission — and described this as "0.08 percent of all students."

"Only a minority of students has had any kind of negative experience with social networking in the last three months," the study concludes. "Even fewer parents report that their children have had a negative experience over a longer 6-month period."

The researchers concluded that the vast majority of students "seem to be living by the online safety behaviors they learn at home and at school." Many students even reported that they were using the social networks to discuss their schoolwork or other education-related topics.

Yet fear of safety for children continues to haunt policy — both at school boards and the national level. (In May, a Senate resolution co-sponsored by Barack Obama and Joe Lieberman highlighting how dangerous they thought the internet could be.) The National School Boards Association found strict controls had taken hold at most schools over student internet access.

  • 84% of school districts have rules against online chatting in school
  • 81% have rules against instant messaging in school
  • 62% prohibit blogging or participating in online discussion boards at school.
  • 60% prohibit sending and receiving email in school
  • 52% prohibit any social networking sites in school

"Students and parents report fewer recent or current problems, such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying and unwelcome personal encounters than school fears and policies seem to imply," the study notes.

My experiences in this district echo the controls above. Longtime readers here know that I valiantly tried to incorporate blogging into my class two years ago, only to be completely stalled by our technology directors. The main reason I was given was that there was fear that a pop-up ad with pornography might cause a physical reaction in male students. I kid you not. Beyond that, there were some safety concerns---which I appreciate and endorse; but I don't think we're doing our kids any favours when they are moving out into a social networking world and we do nothing to help support them in this.

I sincerely hope that someone on the current school board here sees this article and poses some questions to the school district. Are we using the power of the internet to do the best we can for our students?

09 August 2007

Making Chicken Salad

There's an old saying that "You can't make chicken salad out of chicken s--t." I pull out that time honoured chestnut because it was what came to mind after listening to a recent conversation between some admins.

A question was posed to a more experienced admin about why a district's leadership doesn't often take the step of getting rid of an ineffective principal. After all, those in administration don't have protection in the same way teachers might through their unions: contracts are a year-by-year affair. On the surface, it seems simple enough for a district to tell a consistently underperforming principal "buh-bye."

The answer to this question was two-fold. One part was simply avoiding the embarrassment of admitting that the district made a poor hiring decision. (Although another person in the conversation pointed out that with a district's central office administration regularly turning over, there should be less of that sense---after all, they didn't do the hiring.) The main crux of the response, however, is that education is a "helping profession." We are not programmed as educators to view anyone as a lost cause. We are not willing to admit defeat. A person higher up in the administration may well look at a struggling principal in the same way a teacher looks at a struggling student with the knowledge that everyone has value: there has to be something to help the person shine. They think they know the right recipe for making chicken salad.

Long ago and far away on this blog, I wrote that one of the hardest lessons I learned as a new teacher was that I couldn't save all of my students. This didn't mean that every child didn't have worth...or that there wasn't someone out there who would make all of the difference in a particular kid's life...just that I, personally, was not going to be able to be the change in 100% of my students. I continued to try to do just that, because you can't ever predict what it will be that lights a fire in a person, but for the ones I didn't do that for, I always hoped that they found that connection with another teacher or adult.

Is there ever a time, however, that with adults we just agree that no matter what we add, chicken salad just ain't gonna happen? How many cooks does it take to give things a try---is there a limit? How do we way the needs of children against the investment in an experienced administrator? Do we ever give up on a principal?

08 August 2007

Get Thee to a Carnival

Look...there's just no other way to really say it: click over to this week's Carnival of Education. Every Wednesday, someone steps up to the plate to host a compendium of posts gathered from the four corners of the blogosphere. Mike has done a fine job of compiling these digital solid gold hits. Show him a little appreciation and contribute to your own edification in the process. I didn't feel like I had anything stellar to offer this week, so I'm going to sit on the sidelines and cheer on the others. Get thee to the Carnival!

07 August 2007

Tuesday Randomness

I'm waiting for the paint to dry on my front door---it's a nice rich red. Perhaps people will mistake me for kin to Elizabeth Arden. Or maybe they'll just think I'm superstitious and painted my door for that colour for good luck. The fact is, the red makes a great contrast with the green the house was painted and makes the entry stand out. (I'll leave the symbolism to others.)

In the meantime, I was thinking that I might share a few thoughts on using FTP to publish a blog. I switched over a couple of months ago. Having a site outside of blogger was something I had thought about for some time, mainly because I wanted the capability to share files, not just links. I have not done much of that yet, but once the school year kicks off, I hope to make the tools I use in my work available here for others. The biggest lesson I've learned is that FTP publishing is not for the faint of heart. I can't tell you the number of times I've felt a bit panicky because blogger and my FTP server weren't playing well together---I couldn't get a post to publish. There are all manner of terrible thoughts that run through one's head at those times, most importantly "What if I can't ever publish to my blog again?!" Even now, every time I hit the "publish post" button I feel like it's a crapshoot. Blogger tech support is notoriously poor. If you can't figure things out on your own, well, it sucks to be you.

My particular style of blogging is just to do my posts as "quick writes." I have my idea, I try to capture it in a post, and I publish. There is not much in the way of the revision process involved; however, I do occasionally find typos, grammar errors, or poor wording that I want to go in and tweak afterwards. FTP isn't as friendly for this because of the reasons above.

I have also learned that up until the "new" blogger platform was in place, once you started publishing via FTP, you could never go back to just having your blog show up at a blogspot address. You can now, but it's still fussy. "whatitslikeontheinside.blogspot.com" was automatically redirected by Google to my new URL home...but "www.whatitslikeontheinside.blogspot.com" was not. According to Blogger, the "www" shouldn't matter, but the fact is that it does. If I ever decide not to publish via FTP, the second blogspot URL will still be hosting my posts. In the meantime, I have installed some javascript code (another learning curve) to take care of all redirects. This has the unfortunate side effect of endlessly redirecting (and reloading the page) if I don't temporarily remove the code every time I publish a comment or post. It's a bit of a pain.

I don't regret my choice to change my publishing format, in spite of the problems I've encountered over the summer. There's a certain freedom and security in having planted my own flag on an unclaimed spot in cyberspace. It feels like the next logical step in my blogging. Not only can I continue to reflect and write about the things I see in my professional life, but I can also have a way to share more of the documentation and expand the conversation. I also like being able to have my own "favicon," which is the little red book you see (depending upon your browser version) beside my URL.

Yesterday, I mentioned some nostalgia about high school and my upcoming reunion. I picked up another piece of nostalgia today: the Flash Gordon Saviour of the Universe DVD. I remember going to see this movie on a Friday night with my parents...the teen girls in the audience howling and whistling every time Sam Jones made an appearance on the screen.

My current grad class is winding down. I finish it a week from Sunday and pick up with the next one Labour Day weekend. I revised my paper for the class today. I feel like it's the best paper I've ever done for my degree program, although it remains to be seen what the prof thinks about it. I need to get back to writing up my dissertation proposal and things organized for my study this year. I picked up the information from the district about conducting research, so at least I know and understand the hoops that lay ahead. I hope to jump them early.

It's back to the paint can for now. Who knows? After another coat, perhaps I'll come back and add on to this bit of randomness. If FTP publishing allows me, that is.

06 August 2007

Nostalgia Isn't Always a Pain

The Wikipedia---that bastion of quick reference (and occasionally dubious sources) on the net---has this to say about nostalgia: The term was originally coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer (1669-1752), a Swiss medical student. The word is made up of two Greek roots (νόστος = nostos = returning home, and άλγος = algos = pain/longing), to refer to "the pain a sick person feels because he wishes to return to his native land, and fears never to see it again." In today's common parlance it is a feeling, a yearning for a lost time and place, usually located in the near past. Homesickness is often given as a synonym for nostalgia.

This is the week my 20th high school reunion is scheduled. I can't help but feel a bit nostalgic, although I would hardly call myself "homesick." You must understand that the majority of my public school years were spent with a class of less than 60 others. So many years together provided an odd sense of siblinghood...a bond of experience and background that no one else has.

We had a reunion at 10 years. A glorious one that, for me, still stands as one of my favourite moments of adulthood. It took place over the July 4th holiday weekend. I remember catching up with friends at the town celebration in the park, meeting their spouses and/or children. It felt good to reconnect with something I thought had been lost. Some feeling that couldn't be recaptured.

I'm not one of these people who thinks my high school years were my best years. I don't want to go back and relive them. But there is something in being able to spend time again with people who share my history...who know a "me" that no one here knows. This is what I'm feeling nostalgic for at the moment. If nostalgia is supposed to engender pain, then call me a masochist. The thought of this particular event makes me smile.

05 August 2007

That Reminds Me of a Story

Repairman has posted the picture below in reference to a post about the new hot wiki in edublogging. I, however, had an entirely different thought when I saw it.

Image Credit Unknown

In the good old days, when I taught in a junior high, there were always some junior high type shenanigans among the staff. One day, Terry brought an habenero pepper to school. Knowing that his buddy Brad was a wimp where the Scoville scale was concerned, Terry chopped up the pepper, snuck down to the staff room, and sprinkled this muy caliente veggie into Brad's lunch.

Terry did not wash his hands after he did this.

Later, Terry went to use the restroom. And that chile oil that was still on his fingertips from chopping up the pepper? Well, it touched a very sensitive area of his anatomy during his visit to the bathroom. His practical joke ended up being on him. Literally. As you might imagine, he was quite miserable finishing out the day in his classroom.

And Brad? After Terry's experience, he told Brad what he had intended to do and Brad was able to avoid having a bad lunch.

04 August 2007

When Two Out of Three Is Bad

Two out of three can be a good thing. Maybe it's the basis of the recommendation for the toothpaste you're using. Or perhaps you won a prize for having the best outcome in two out of three tries. In the workplace, however, these odds might not be all that desirable. A study being presented at the Academy of Management meetings next week will claim that nearly two out of three workers have had experiences where bad bosses were either never penalized or they were rewarded. (Nearly all of the article has been reprinted below.)

How do people get ahead in the workplace? One way seems to be by making their subordinates miserable, according to a study released on Friday.

In the study to be presented at a conference on management this weekend, almost two-thirds of the 240 participants in an online survey said the local workplace tyrant was either never censured or was promoted for domineering ways.

"The fact that 64.2 percent of the respondents indicated that either nothing at all or something positive happened to the bad leader is rather remarkable -- remarkably disturbing," wrote the study's authors, Anthony Don Erickson, Ben Shaw and Zha Agabe of Bond University in Australia.

Despite their success in the office, spiteful supervisors can cause serious malaise for their subordinates, the study suggested, citing nightmares, insomnia, depression and exhaustion as symptoms of serving a brutal boss.

The authors advocated immediate intervention by industry chiefs to stop fledgling office authoritarians from rising up the ranks.

"As with any sort of cancer, the best alternative to prevention is early detection," they wrote.

They faulted senior managers for not recognizing the signs of workplace strife wrought by bad bosses. "The leaders above them who did nothing, who rewarded and promoted bad leaders ... represent an additional problem."

Would this hold true for educational leadership, too, I wonder? While I can claim to have seen some incompetent choices over the years, l'enfant terrible as boss has (thankfully) been a very rare occurrence. I suppose that still puts me in the majority, however, which is really rather sad. It would be interesting to learn about the qualities people had in mind when they thought of a "bad boss." The adjectives used in the article (tyrannical, brutal, spiteful) conjure up the vision of someone who is cruel, rather than simply inadequate. It seems like there needs to be some serious changes in the culture of the workplace and the values we place upon selecting leadership in order to prevent more bullies from getting to the top.

03 August 2007

Can You Read Me Now?

Image Credit Unknown

There is an interesting summary in this month's Scientific American about a study identifying factors that affect reading rate. Researchers at NYU identified phonics, context clues, and holistic word recognition (overall shape of words) as the three main factors which influence how fast one reads material. (You can geek out over the published study here.)

Using passages from author Mary Higgins Clark's murder mystery Loves Music, Loves to Dance, Pelli and study co-author, undergraduate Katharine Tillman, manipulated passages to block readers from using each of the word-deciphering processes. 

To muffle context clues, they shuffled words in a sentence ("contribute others. The of Reading measured"); discrimination via word shape was covered up by inserting random capital letters ("ThIS tExT AlTeRnAtEs iN CaSe."); and to eliminate letter by letter decoding, they substituted similar-looking letters into a word, thereby retaining the ability to use word shape and context, once a reader figured out a previous word ("Tbis sartcrec bes lctfan suhsfitufas"). 

In an effort to determine the impact of the absence of each aid, researchers directed 11 subjects to read passages that were either pure text, had one alteration or two of these manipulations combined. Their findings: that phonics, not surprisingly, the largest component of reading speed, determined 62 percent of the rate. The stunner was that the other two processes consistently contributed the same amounts to reading speed. (Context clues controlled 22 percent of reading speed and word shape governed 16 percent, according to the study.)

Pelli says this research paves the way toward better understanding and addressing the deficiencies of young students who fall behind early in reading. 

"It's possible that doing the phonics intervention is the ideal intervention," he says of the most common type of reading training. But "it would be interesting to know how phonics is affecting the other two processes rather than just overall reading speed. We think that it would be very interesting to break down reading rate into these three components in the evaluations of [possible] interventions."

It doesn't appear that the researchers considered an outcome of reading which I think would be more important than rate: comprehension. Does anyone know why rate would be a more desirable aspect of reading to impact with young readers (or, I suppose, anyone of any age learning to read)?

02 August 2007

Math and Science Requirements

Minimum graduation requirements vary from state to state (and even district to district). In Washington, the traditional readin', writin', and 'rithematic areas stand at 3 credits for English/Language Arts, two for math, two for science, and three for social studies. Many districts (92%) in Washington choose to exceed the requirements for English while few (18%) do so for science. The state will be adding a third credit of math to its requirements around 2012, but there is no agreement about what coursework might qualify. Science, the ever present stepchild, isn't mentioned. (There's more on WA requirements and changes to math here, if you're interested.)

I have no doubt that the news to the increased requirements is good news for math teachers---and certainly more math can lead to better college success for those who attend. But I have to wonder if anyone has thought about all of the impacts to other teachers and programs that this increased math demand will have. As it is now, kids might not have the three credit requirement, but if they don't meet the standards on the state math test, they have to stay continuously enrolled in a "rigorous" math program as an alternative path to earning a diploma. Districts are already having quite a time trying to fill their math positions with qualified teachers. When they need more, where will they come from? How many fewer world language programs will we have as a result of the fewer number of children available to enroll in electives? (It isn't clear from the article linked above if the increase to math credits will be matched by a decrease in some other area...like electives.)

I am, of course, a proponent of more science requirements for high school graduation; but at some point, I think we have to consider what kind of science that will be. It's one thing to say "three credits" and quite another to think about what modes of thinking we need to help develop in kids to be successful after high school. I think that's true for any subject area. Can we say with any certainty now that we know the skills graduates will need for those kiddos who will be entering kindergarten in the fall? How do we do that? Can we even anticipate the changes in technology over the next thirteen years? Educational systems are woefully slow to change---can we make good decisions "in time"?

01 August 2007

Friends and Neighbours

You all know what time it is, right? It's time to stop by and visit this week's Carnival of Education. It's hosted by Dr. Homeslice, who claims that it's hot in the city. (Thanks, Homie...now I've got a Billy Idol song stuck in my head for the day.) As always, this is a great opportunity to make the rounds and visit with your friends and neighbours. Darren's post about the NEA and Democracy (or lack thereof) had me cheering. While I can't claim to be looking at it through his Republican lens, I can certainly sympathize with having to deal with the "U-bot" hypocrisy.

Speaking of friends and neighbours, I've been taking some time this week to catch up with some "ex-pats" from the office: people who have moved on to other roles or districts. I think my favourite quote so far has been that "there is life outside of the district and healthy cultures do exist (and kids, not adults, are a focus)!" It does my heart good to know that they're well and happy. I always think that I'll do a better job during the school year of keeping up with these contacts, but I have to admit I don't do as well as I would like. Schedules are full and there is rarely time for more than anything other than a quick e-mail or phone call. Someone once told me that you make time for the things you want to make time for---to say that you don't have time to foster relationships is a copout. He was right, and yet there is only so much time and energy to go around. Sigh.

Anyway, I'm heading back to the Carnival to read a few posts and then it's out into the day to see what promise it holds for me. I hope you get out and visit with your friends and neighbours, too.