Friday, February 22, 2008

Prisons and Schools

California is having quite the budget deficit for the coming year, but one segment of our state government is expecting another raise (5% proposed for 2007-08). While most schools are sending layoff notifications to their teachers and plenty of other staff, our prison guards will be offered that 5% raise if the legislators approve the Governor's last best offer. This raise will add to their base salary that ranges from $45,00 to $70,000, which was supplemented by an average of $16,000 per employee during the 2006-07 fiscal year. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm very happy we have lots of folks willing and able to handle the prisons. That's not a job I would personally volunteer for. However, one has to wonder if the current offer is necessary in dire financial times when the state is receiving 130,000 applicants a year for these much sought after positions. Could it be that a sound investment in education might have a positive effect on keeping some folks out of prison?

Reason #285...

... why number #1 son should be attending Halecrest in the fall.

Dad, we did a creative writing assignment today.

Really, son what would that be?

Our teacher told us to write out our class rules in cursive.

And your teacher called this Creative Writing?


Well, there you have it. I think I'll go bang my head against the wall.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chart Mutiny

My teachers can tell you that I really love charts filled with data. They are all so neat and orderly and, at a glance, I can tell if we are on track as a school and where we might need to give more attention. However, I'm willing to chuck the infamous reading charts* if my teachers can guarantee a positive response on the following three questions about reading from every student:

  1. Have you ever secretly read under your desk in school because the teacher was boring and you were dying to finish the book you were reading?
  2. Have you eve been scolded for reading at the dinner table?
  3. Have you ever read secretly under the covers after being told to go to bed?

These questions were created by the students of Rafe Esquith who shares this rubric in his excellent book, Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire. His point is that students who are so engaged in reading that is takes a prominent place in their lives are what we ought to be developing, and I wholeheartedly agree. That's the beauty of our upcoming Halecrest Reading Challenge. I can't wait to see more and more kids get excited about books and begin to eat, drink, and sleep reading.

*OK, I won't actually chuck the charts, but I might lay off the teacher who can prove her students' worth with the questions.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My second conclusion

Coming to Elementary from Secondary Education, I have been slow to make pronouncements about what is needed in all classrooms. Some of my teachers would probably disagree with that "slow to make pronouncements" statement. If they had any guts they would read this blog and share their opinions with the world - or at least my three readers (including me). After my first couple years, I came to my first conclusion. Reading widely through read alouds, guided reading, and indpendent reading is the most crucial element of literacy development. I've written about before several times in this space.

So, now nearly four years into this job, I've come to my second momentous conclusion. You can only teach reading well if you have large amounts of time in small group instruction. That may be a no brainer for some of you, but it has become crystal clear to me in the past few months as we have focused on good reading instruction at our school. The classes where students progress the most always have some form of small group instruction that allows the teacher time to get to know the students as readers and target the instruction at a variety of levels. Well, there you have it, my second commandment. Now, how to help all teachers incorporate that good small group instruction into their routines is the next challenge.