The Big Test Is Over!!

So, the big state test is over. I can't wait to find out if my second grade students know how to read a histogram! There were so many questions with charts! And they are tricky! Like, how many bottles did so-and-so collect? Look at the chart….One bottle equals ten bottles. Good luck!

Who the hell cares if an eight-year-old can read a complicated chart? And if they can't, what does that mean? Maybe test them again in a few years when chart reading is something they can actually do, and use? Nah. Let's pigeon-hole them now, offer nothing to them in terms of widening their universe, and then test how wide their universe is. Now that should make for some shitty scores, and then the public schools can be privatized! Great idea!


Another Academic for Teachers!

This article is enlightening, about a California High School, and how, when the teachers were given more control, student performance improved! Don't say I never told ya so!

Update: Seems like some think this guy is a hack. I don't know. I think things are so screwed up we are all searching for, and maybe even clinging to, whatever is different, and seemingly effective.

More Curricular Nonsense, Brought To You By Your Government

Yet another bit of evidence that all the legislated curricular nonsense is just that--NONSENSE!! When are we, the educators, going to stand up, and shout, at the top of our lungs, "We're mad as hell, and we are not going to accept NCLB sanctions that require us to adopt unproven, costly curricular materials!"

More here.


Wanna Help Keep A Teacher at a School (or just help)?

The best way for a parent or community member to help a teacher is to write a letter to the principal and superintendent expressing your profound gratitude, and amazement at how the teacher performs. Tell about all the exciting things your child talks about at home that have nothing to do with school. Write about the academic language your child is able to use and understand. Write about how excited your child is every day to go to school, because they love their teacher. Write about it. All of it. Often. Ask for replies back from the administrators you write to about the great teacher.

It is the only proof there is that we are doing anything good!

Update: Give the teacher a copy!

The Curriculum of Sanction: Lucy Calkins (updated)

Many school districts are forced to purchase, institute, and receive staff development on, new curricular materials due to failing to meet NCLB targets. Here is all you need to know about one of the most popular choices of districts: The Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop, a useless heap of crap that no self-respecting teacher would rely on. Sure, there are a couple of good nuggets, but that's about it. You can get those nuggets from any veteran teacher, without the million dollar price tag. Here is the money section from a Hoover Institute review of Lucy's material:

So Do Her Methods Work?

Calkins is shaping the education of millions of children, yet no independent research backs the efficacy of her programs. Aside from grumblings from the New York City teachers required to work under her system, there has been remarkably little open debate about the basic premises behind Calkins’s approach, or even feedback on how the programs are faring in the classroom.

What controversy exists generally centers around two concerns: First, her programs do not explicitly teach phonics—which she calls “drill and kill.” She favors a “whole language” approach to literacy, which builds on the premise that reading and writing develop naturally in children. Her detractors argue that this lack of direct instruction leaves many children, especially those who already struggle, at a disadvantage.

The other argument, perhaps resonating with a larger audience, is that her methodology lacks real content, has no reference to any knowledge that should be learned. In The Art of Teaching Reading, she explains that she doesn’t want “all reading and writing to be in the service of thematic studies” but instead seeks to “spotlight reading and writing in and of themselves.” Calkins’s insistence that students should focus mostly on writing about their lives rankles the many educators who believe that curriculum should be focused on content-rich material, and that students should read and write about information outside of their own personal lives. Broadening one’s knowledge base strengthens reading comprehension, builds vocabulary, and deepens knowledge of the world, all of which help students understand the text, but also, as E. D. Hirsch writes, “what the text implies but doesn’t say.”

What has not been openly questioned is the assumption that Calkins has retained her ordinal stance, that it is the teacher’s job to midwife a child’s own, often richly imaginative voice, rather than impose her own. Calkins’s program originally gained its popularity, at least in part, because of its mission to help children make their distinct voices heard. She was known as a champion for flexible, creative teaching, uniquely attuned to children. “If we adults listen and watch closely,” she wrote in 1986, “our children will invite us to share their worlds and their ways of living in the world.” And while this impulse continues to inform aspects of her approach, she has tended over time to become increasingly focused on enforcing her own methodology; many of her techniques limit children’s genuine engagement with reading and writing. This insistence on only one way to do things, not surprisingly, has translated into a demand that teachers quiet their own impulses, gifts, and experiences, and speak in one, mandated voice.

Recently, Common Good, a bipartisan organization committed to “restoring common sense to American law” asked New York City public school teachers to keep a diary for 10 days and consider specifically “how bureaucracy impacts everyday teaching.” The results were presented in a town hall–style meeting attended by more than a hundred educators and union representatives. One of the topics was “mandated teaching,” which referred specifically to the required presence of Calkins and Teachers College in city schools. The responses were almost universally negative.

This entry from a teacher’s diary is typical: “Administrators expect all our reading and writing workshops to adhere to an unvarying and strict script.…For example: ‘Writers, today and everyday you should remember to revise your writing by adding personal comments about the facts.’ Sometimes I feel like I’m a robot regurgitating the scripted dialogue that’s expected of us day in and day out.”

A kindergarten teacher reported how she was instructed to ask her students, on the third day of class, “to reflect on how they’d grown as writers.” She explained that the children were still preoccupied with missing their mothers and felt the assignment was “ridiculous.”

The truth is there isn’t one way to teach writing, or a limited number of ways to have conversations with children about their imaginative work and their lives. Calkins would have done well to heed the counsel of Donald Murray, whose prescient caution she quotes in The Art of Teaching Reading: “Watch out lest we suffer hardening of the ideologies. Watch out lest we lose the pioneer spirit which has made this field a great one.”

Barbara Feinberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times and the Boston Globe. She is the author of Welcome to Lizard Motel: Protecting the Imaginative Lives of Children, Beacon Press, 2005.

So, citizens, inform yourselves. Stop voting for a board of education that has no clue about education. Hold your superintendents responsible for implementing mandatory crap and calling it a best practice. Talk to a teacher about this stuff. Find out how we really feel (promise to keep conversations private, because we all fear for our jobs).

UPDATE: There are some folks who really like Lucy Calkins, and they feel as if those of us who rail against it are being unfair, or trying to hurt feelings, or something. This is a pretty silly way to get your point across. If you think Lucy Calkins--a whole language advocate--is the best way to go, then state why, don't whine and say it works for you, therefore it should work for all.

Also, let's make it clear that the program has different assets and liabilities depending on what age students are using the program, the competence of the teacher, the background knowledge of the teacher regarding the teaching of reading and writing (besides LC) and myriad other considerations.

My state scores for my 2nd graders the last 2 years in a row have far exceeded the state, district, and grade-level average in my own school--by and average of 10 points! I shun Lucy Calkins, I shun Everyday Math and Scott Forseman Math. Why am I successful? Honestly, it doesn't take much more than being smart yourself, learning a little theory, finding out what standards need to be met, and then teaching the kids! If you can't do it, well, then, you just can't do it. I believe teachers are born, not molded!

More railing against Lucy Calkins here. Some of the problems folks are having with these reviews are that they emanate from right-wing machines. Just because someone is Right, doesn't make them always wrong. People are simply more complicated than that (yes, simply complicated. it works)!


Are You a Closeted Gay Christian?

Pat Condell on DVD

If you have never seen Pat Condell in action, you are definitely missing something. Richard Dawkins and Josh Timonen have had the good sense to collect his work on DVD. Sales of the DVD help support the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Here's a glimpse of the man at work:

Links Fixed!!


The Big Test Starts Today......

Today is the first of four days we in second (and 3rd, 4th, and 5th) grade will begin the high-stakes test. I must cover all the stuff on my classroom walls that might help the kids. So, I am supposed to spend all year teaching kids how to use tools, and we discuss rules of writing and mathematics; we make charts and rule sheets, and then I have to cover them up so they can't be used during the test. Makes you wonder about the efficacy of using them in the first place, no?

Anyway, just thought someone would like to know a little nugget about how we implement the test, and what ridiculousness goes into testing little 7 & 8 year olds on math, writing, science and social studies. I hope they remember how many cups to a pint!

I hate this crap! 2 hours a day for 4 days. Test. Test. Test. Test. (times 2).

And I must make sure the 3 or 4 kids that have no chance of getting more than 30% correct don't feel like shit. And I have to keep the smartie-pants' quiet when they finish in 3 minutes, and then have to sit silently for the rest of the hour. What the hell is society doing to its children (and teachers?)

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