Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Talks Hit the Mark

I've recently discovered another great teacher blog called The Reading Zone. Stop by for great book reviews on children's books and other fine writing. This fired-up teacher makes a great point about the best way to encourage joyful summer reading. Here's my favorite line.
I do find it interesting that the newest book on the list seems to be the most-read. Yet it is also the longest book! It just shows what a great book talk can do for a book. Kids who would never choose a long book on their own chose it based on the summary I gave. Summer reading lists need to be booktalked!

We have found the same thing to be true. Students will jump all over books with a simple and engaging introduction by an enthusiastic reader.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Time for Clarifying

The long stretch of summer is now coming to a sudden halt on Monday. It's time to winnow down the many ideas floating around in my head to focus on the few Mission Critical initiatives that need to be the theme for my work this year. At this time, my overarching goal is to improve the professional dialogue of teachers and staff with the aim of improving practice. There are some other large content changes (introducing Singapore math across campus and moving from Tungsten Benchmark Assessments to MAPS assessments to name two large elephants), however I can't shake the sense that changing the way teachers think and learn together will have the most dramatic and long term benefit for our school.

This is my favorite time of the year as it affords the rarity of large chunks of uninterrupted time to drink, think, and plan.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

That's what I meant to say

Jay Matthews of the Washington Post has some clear thoughts on the Achievement Gap discussion that just plain make a lot of sense. Citing a study by the Fordham Institute about the impact of NCLB on high-achievers, Matthews thinks the achievement gap focus leads to some strange outcomes.

Here are some ways the gap could narrow: Low-income scores improve but high-incomes scores don't; low-income scores don't change but high-income scores drop; low-income scores drop but high-income scores drop even more. In each of those cases of gap-narrowing, something bad is happening.

Exactly! Narrowing the gap while improving all levels of performance is the obvious preference, but very difficult to attain. He has a better suggestion:

While we are at it, why not curtail all this achievement-gap talk? Let's focus instead on the progress of every child, no matter if she or he starts the year two grades behind classmates or two grades ahead. All children deserve a chance to climb as high as they can.

This is a much healthier approach to school improvement than closing the gap. The only aspect that really ticks me off about this is that my friend and I will need to scrap our idea to publish a breakthrough tome on the subject:

Drop the Top
Closing the Achievement Gap by bringing the high achievers down to size so we can all be in the same boat together (Then we'll have more people to bail the water out of that boat)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Student ownership of learning

In this excellent article by Joe Paterno (yes, the football coach) he expresses the joy of learning to read Virgil in Latin during his high school days and has this insight from his instructor that describes the gradual release of responsibility of learning to the student:

Starting from his first day as a teacher, Father Bermingham always kept an eye out for kids who had begun what he calls the most important task in education: their “self-education.” He meant kids who showed signs of taking responsibility for their own expansion instead of waiting for teachers to do it for them. Even the most talented teacher can try what he or she thinks is “teaching,” but it won’t really take unless the student takes charge of the more important job: learning.

What an excellent goal for every teacher to focus on as the new year gets underway.

(HT to kitchen table math, the sequel)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Isolation should be a thing of the past

Reading David Mccullough's fine book The Great Bridge I've come to learn about some amazing feats of engineering of the late 19th century. Washington Roebling, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge needed to bury two mammoth towers on each side of the East River and to do this, he used pneumatic caissons. This technology was in its infancy at that time, but there was another engineer, James Eads who was using the same strategy while building a bridge over the Mississippi at St. Louis. The caissons, pictured above were a hollow structure that was lowered to the bottom of the river, then filled with compressed air to drive the water out and allow the laborers to dig deeper into the waterway's floor. The problem that was soon found out on Eads' project is that workers began to get sick from their exposure to the compressed air. Some even died. They were suffering from what later would be termed "The Bends". What's interesting is that Roebling visited Eads' site before starting on his project and was aware of the problems he was facing, but because of fierce competition, pride, and distances not easily overcome, the men did not share notes and details about their experiences. This isolation exacerbated the problem and led to far more suffering than necessary. When I picture these workers far below the surface, working in isolation in these stuffy enclosures, I think about teachers and schools. Traditionally, teachers and schools have been just as isolated as these laborers, but in today's environment, that isolation is no longer necessary. Because of modern tools (video tape, Internet to name just two) we can learn about each others' successes and failures and all improve because of it. The problem is that too many of us are satisfied to wallow in our lonely state for a host of reasons. When we struggle with students who aren't learning, we should eagerly seek out teachers and schools who have had breakthroughs with similar students. Or, we can learn the hard way and the slow way and lose a few more kids in the process.