Sunday, January 29, 2006

High Stakes Learning

I was reading an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning on the high school drop out problem, an issue that I became all too familiar with during my years in high school. I was intrigued by one stat that was quoted for the article. I'm familiar with the usual comparisons of graduates earning more money over a lifetime than non graduates, but this quote really caught my eye.
High school graduates live an average of 9 years longer than non-graduates.

Wow! There's an eye opener. Why is this important for Halecrest Elementary? Well, let me make the connection. Most students who drop out of high school drop out in their 9th grade year. They hit high school with either major gaps in their learning or face life-changing events or make bad choices (e.g. drugs). These students that have major gaps in their learning come from middle school where they are often socially promoted. I worked at a school that regularly sent approximately 15% - 20% of its 8th grade to high school as social promotions. These same students usually left elementary school well below grade level for a multitude of reasons. That brings us to our little cherubs. If we don't help students overcome learning gaps that surface in the primary grades, we are creating an almost surefire drop out! We must have a sense of urgency that every student leaves each grade at grade level or move heaven and earth to make it happen. Understand that the stakes are high. Not to be overly dramatic, but our students' very lives are depending on it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A challenge to my thinking

My wife handed me a book this weekend by Susan Ohanian which I couldn't put down. Ms. Ohanian has some strong opinions about the Standards movement. Although I think her response to the standards movement is a little harsh (The use of the term Standardisto occurs approximately 279 times in the book - I confess I didn't actually count, but I think I'm close.), she makes some excellent points about keeping students in mind. I can hear a few of our Halecrest staff cheering in the background :). I'll post more on this here later this week - time permitting.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

It's the principles, stupid!

Here Fountas and Pinnell describe the goal of our word study instruction.
The goal in phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction is to help upper elementary students expand the categories (in their head) by making connections among words and drawing out important principles that they know in a deep way.

I'm wondering how much we focus on these principles of phonics, vocabulary, and spelling versus memorizing a list of words for a weekly test?

What does word study look like?

My Principal Peer Group is reading sections of Guiding Readers and Writers by Fountas and Pinnell. This month we are reading the chapter entitled Teaching for Word-Solving: Phonics, Spelling, and Vocabulary. I'll be sharing some excerpts from this chapter followed by some thoughts and reflections. Here's a good introduction to the chapter.
Word study is not so much about learning individual words as it is about learning how written language is organized - how written language "works." There are many word-solving strategies you can teach students to help them learn important concepts related to decoding, spelling, and vocabulary. You can also support word solving during reading and writing.

It seems to me that the main idea of this chapter is that teachers increase students' knowledge of words by explicitly teaching word-solving strategies and helping students apply these strategies as they read and write.