Sunday, November 25, 2007

Catching the Bug

Genuine enthusiasm for the topic is an instructional strategy that doesn' get enough attention. Just think back to the most influential teachers and professors in your life and I'll bet that the vast majority of those teachers had enthusiasm. This month's Educational Leadership magazine from ASCD has some great articles on math, but it was one of their inserts that caught my eye. Take a look at this "Aha" moment from Jeremy Kippatrick, Regents Professor of Mathematics Education at the Univesity of Georgia.

Although I did well in mathematics in high school, it was not until I went to Chaffey College, a two-year college then located in Ontario, California, and took calculus from Arthur E. Flum, that I discovered that learning mathematics could be simultaneously difficult and enjoyable, elegant and fascinating. The moment I realized all this came during the first week of class, when Mr. Flum's infectious enthusiasm for the subject we were about to work on together became apparent. Calculus was a new world for us, but under his guidance, we would succeed not only in learning it but in seeing its power and elegance. I ended up taking every mathematics course I could from Mr. Flum, and when I transferred as a junior to Cal Berkeley, mathematics was the obvious subject in which to major.

When I learned later that research on effective teachers has repeatedly shown that enthusiasm is one of their signature traits, I thought of Mr. Flum. In all that he did—coaching the tennis team, sponsoring the booster club, teaching mathematics—he had a flair for pushing you harder while helping you enjoy what you were doing. Successful mathematics teachers are enthusiastic about mathematics, and that enthusiasm is contagious.

Without a doubt, all of life's challenges will be more successful and fulfilling when we embark on them with enthusiasm. Professor Kilpatrick used the word infectious which describes it beautifully. The receiver doesn't have to do too much to "catch" a cold or flu. One needs only come in contact with someone with the disease. Are you contagious with the love of learning today?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Cool, we should all be able to read this...

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A Gift for my teachers

Browsing through our local Barnes and Noble with the family tonight I came across Tim Rasinski's book The Fluent Reader. I noticed that he had a list of the 1st 300 Dolch Instant Words developed into phrases. He states that research indicates that students actually become more fluent and accomplished readers by reading at the phrase level, not the word level. Therefore, someone has gone to the trouble of putting the first 300 words into phrases. How cool is that? Follow this link to the magic list.

Hold your horses. I just went to Rasinski's website and, lo and behold, he has compiled the 1st 600 words. I think I'm going to kiss that guy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

10 Reasons Why Your Child Should Attend Halecrest Elementary

1. It's Free - Basically, if you are sending your child to a local private school you are wasting about $5,000 to $10,000 a year on tuition. For the reasons listed below, the quality of education at this school is better than any private school within 25 miles of our area code. (Which is why my daughter now attends Halecrest!) Now, if you're going there for strictly religious reasons, for example, than you should stay put, because the last time I checked we still have to remain neutral on matters of personal religion.

2. Our Community is Rabid - Led by an energetic and ever-present PTA Board and their volunteer army, we have remarkable school activities and events and a true sense of a small community kinship around campus. Take, for example, our recently completed Fall Festival. We had 3 hours of booths and activities topped off by a fireworks display (OK< the fireworks display was a lucky coincidence since the neighboring high school was having its homecoming celebration, but you get my point).

3. At least 4 people will know your child by name - Obviously, your teacher will know your child's name, but I guarantee you that at least one of our noon duty will get to know you and at least two more people from the front office staff, school psychologist, or Principal will know your child by name. As the Principal I pride myself on knowing every child's name and with 500 kids I probably have about a 95% success rate.

4. Expectations are High - NCLB doesn't call the shots around here because we are well ahead of their targets, yet nobody is complacent. It's all about continuous improvement for every child and the entire school. When I walked on this campus over three years ago this was one of the first things I noticed. From the attitude of the front office and throughout the school, everyone expects excellence and achievement - and we get it.

5. Teachers are learners - Our teachers are constantly looking for any resource, strategy, or idea that will help them reach one more child. They collaborate formally and informally to improve their craft and they are eager to implement ideas from our staff development training.

6. Individualized, differentiated instruction is the expectation - I still can't say that we are differentiating as much as we need to, but we are working together to accomplish this. We have individual goals for every child on this campus in the area of reading improvement and will eventually develop the same plan for math instruction. Percentages and averages are not good enough. Every child needs to grow at least one year and if they are behind at the start of the year, they need to grow one year plus.

7. We have balance - We don't apologize for our academic focus, as many of us believe that this is the primary function of schools, however we do have all students enjoying art, PE, and Music/Drama on a weekly rotations. We also find time to do Ballet Folklorico for 5th grade (during school day) and 6th grade (before school). The teachers that run these programs are dynamic, engaging, and fully committed to Halecrest.

8. We recognize achievement and effort - Both are important to celebrate. We believe that students who achieve a certain standard of excellence should be rewarded, and we also believe that effort and improvement are just as valuable to praise.

9. People enjoy each other - Working at schools is a high stress job. You should just try and be responsible for 20-30 young people for 6.5 hours a day! Tensions could easily run high, and they sometimes do in the best environments. However, for the most part, the staff, students, and parents really like each other and get along. These positive relationships spread from adults to kids and there is a general feeling of safety and warmth, and dare I say, love at Halecrest.

10. Daily assessment is much more important than the end-of-the-year scorecard - We could talk a lot about our state and local results, which are stellar, but those numbers aren't nearly as important as the daily improvement of every child on formal and informal teacher classroom assessments. The purpose of all this assessment is that teachers constantly keep a pulse on students progress toward state standards. T he more precise we are at identifying student needs, the quicker we can turn those needs into strengths with just the right instruction.

So, what do you think? Did I miss some things that are important to parents? If you were looking for a school, what qualities would you be looking for in a school?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Prey seals it

I was poking my guinea pig (AKA Phillip) this evening by giving him some running record passages to see how they are administered and to see how he is progressing. He did a great job on accuracy and fluency scoring 100% on both passages in accuracy and getting 133 and 154 words per minute respectively. He struggled a little with the 5th grade comprehension questions getting only 70% so his parent, teacher clearly has an instructional plan to work with him on those inference questions with 5th grade passages.

So here's what I learned about running records. First of all, they are fun to give (of course, I didn't have 19 or 29 other students to keep productive, but I did have Emily and she counts for more than a couple). Second, and most important, they give you tons of information. Based on this 10 minute assessment I learned that my son can decode just fine and his growth will come from increased vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies that relate to analyzing text for meaning. With a little coaching and discussion, I can really see him growing in this area quite rapidly. If I were his teacher, I couldn't wait to put him in similar passages to practice deciphering meaning from a variety of texts. This gives me a clear roadmap of where to go with his reading instruction.

I also was reminded once again of the value of wide reading for vocabulary and comprehension improvement. One of the questions had to do with the meaning of "prey", which he nailed. His comment was, "I got that from Warriors", which is his current favorite series he's been reading since last spring. Score one for reading quantity once again.