Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The post prompted me to take an old idea out of my back pocket and toy with it. I've sometimes thought about restructuring my curriculum to make it more circular, where students revisit the same skills over and over throughout the year, in different contexts. It would require me to pare down my curriculum, but if the students really learned those skills, it would be worth it.
Also, the fact that I'm beginning on the reading-to-learn segment of my curriculum makes me want to take summarizing in small doses.
I think I will. I'll introduce summarizing, leave it, and come back to it again and again. I'm determined that my students WILL BE adept note-takers and summarizers, but I'm not sure the best way to go about it. Any thoughts, edublogosphere?
Saturday, August 25, 2007
I feel like I have to make the obvious point: none of these programs have merit by themselves, but only as tools in the hands of good teachers. We use READ 180, a Scholastic progam, at our school. There was a teacher in the past who let the computer program do all the work and didn't get good results. Other teachers have supplemented the program with their own activities and one-on-one help- and that was effective.
I wish READ 180 was included in the report. I'm curious. According to Education Week, "None of the most popular commercial reading programs on the market had sufficiently rigorous studies to be included in the review by the clearinghouse." I don't have a wide enough knowledge of reading programs to say whether or not my school made a good choice. I do know that Read 180 is a class, and not a one-on-one pull-out program (which is what I would want in my perfect school). Just with a quick glance, the higher-rated programs in the study tend to be based on small group or individual tutoring. Not too surprising.
Some of my favorite passages:
Reading her article, it makes it clearer to me why Utah was picked for this voucher plan: It's considered a "small state" by the people who fund All Children Matter, so it would be cheaper here to run a voucher plan through the legislature and past Utah voters, and then use that victory to build momentum for campaigns in bigger states. It means this a national campaign, not just an idea that grew from Utah voters or lawmakers.And what does this say about our legislature, that this organization targeted us -- a small, cheap state -- to pour money into some legislative campaigns in order to protect or win enough votes to get a voucher plan through the assembly? What does it say that for a few million dollars, these people from Michigan got exactly the bill they wanted, House Bill 148, by a one-vote margin in the House this winter?
So within this brief note rests two problems and two solutions, all enunciated clearly by Rep. Hughes. To attract and keep good teachers, we should raise their salaries to a level competitive with surrounding states or with private-sector jobs that require similar education, credentials or experience. To reduce class sizes, we should hire more teachers.If, as Rep. Hughes outlined, those are the two greatest problems facing our public education system in Utah, then is it clear to anyone why we are talking about shifting public tax dollars into private-school vouchers, rather than using them to establish competitive teacher salaries and hiring enough teachers that we really reduce class size? Upon a third careful reading of House Bill 148, I didn't find any provisions that address teacher salaries or class size, either.
If we boiled down today's news, what messages would we find there? One might be that the teachers living in your neighborhood are scary. Another might be that folks sponsoring the voucher plan, and the radio ads, and the nasty-push-polling, have a lot of secrets they don't want us to learn. But surely, the most important message is that we shouldn't pay any attention at all to the substance of the voucher referendum, because we might not like what we find in it.
If you take the time to look into this issue, this is exactly what you find: a lot of out of state money pushing a national agenda that has less to do with helping teachers and students than creating a new business market.
Keep up the good work, Referendum One!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I also like being able to tell them that they are experiencing one of the greatest stages of brain development at this age. It's a use-it-or-lose-it phase with lots of pruning. I hope that knowledge sparks a little metacognition and more than a little motivation to learn.
If you'd like some good brain info and lesson plans, I can recommend these sites: NIH's The Brain, Frontline's Inside the Teenage Brain, and The Secret Life of the Brain.
Monday, August 20, 2007
ANTHONY CODY: No Child Left Behind has cast a pall over the whole urban educational system. It has created unrealistic expectations and punished us for not meeting them. . . .
MADDIE FENNELL: We know that America's public education system is in need of repair, yet classroom teachers have been denied a seat at the table when it comes to shaping and implementing the most influential education reform, No Child Left Behind.If No Child Left Behind stays the way it is, I think the level of frustration is going to cause people to say, "You know what? This is just not worth it. I love my children, but I can't continue to do this when professionally I know this is what's not in the best interests of my students." We're just going to have many more people leaving the profession.
My opinion can be summed up with one phrase from a very wise PTA mom: If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. This mom spent a lot of effort making our school nice for the teachers, because she believed that if we take care of teachers, the teachers will take care of the kids. And she was right. She created a wonderful atmosphere at our school, and made us feel special and honored. We turned around and passed that straight to the kids. A happy teacher is a powerful force for good in a child's life.
We know that teachers make the weather in their own classrooms. NCLB demoralizes teachers. It makes us choose between what is meaningful and what is likely to be on the test. I don't care what Secretary Spellings says. I read my tests every year and if I taught to that test I would be a poor teacher indeed.
The title of the original post is NCLB Reform: Teachers Can Lead the Way. As well we should. How can teachers become the ones in charge of education?
Also check out today's post on Eduwonk: The Teacher Voice in Data-Driven Accountability.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
If you were filming in my room, you would see a classroom government and jobs system, set up and managed by the students, who get paid every Friday (after paying taxes, utilities, and desk rental of course). Lessons would begin as a conversation, then go in the direction of the learner (ie- what do you know about fractions? Show me what you know- do it any way you wish-take it as far as you want to go….some will write songs about fractions, some make moviemaker stories about fractions, some write a fictional book with fractions as characters, etc) Where am I in the room? Well, usually not in front- most of the time off to the side working with a small group, or doing informal assessment, or re-directing a group or student who is stuck in the process. Products vary according to the learner, but every student is exposed to the same basic content. My lesson plans look like a big laundry list- what I need to do (find web resources, provide extra coaching and support for a student, meet with groups to set project deadlines) and what they need to do (blog, work on math project, continue publishing journal story). The only time I am really directing them as a whole group is for about 10 minutes every morning where we review the “to do” list. The rest of the day is theirs for the most part. I train experts for every tool- camera, video camera, scanner, printer, ppt, etc. so when someone gets stuck they ask each other and not me. It is a lot of work at the beginning of the year, but then it is AWESOME! Did I mention they are 8 years old? Hope that was what you were eagerly awaiting…
This comment gave me all kinds of good ideas for my classroom. I hope others find it just as inspiring.
Apparently, SLC mom Kerstin Koldewyn doesn't feel the need for such divine intervention. In her letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, she states
It seems to me voucher supporters feel their strongest argument lies in the "failing public schools" they feel are prevalent in Utah. I live in Rose Park where my three children attend public school. We are a Title I school, which means a big majority of our students receive free or reduced cost lunch. We are a diverse population with Caucasian children in the minority. Yet, we have won, so far, two national competitions, beating every other elementary school in the nation, in science.
We live in what voucher supporters call a "poor area," where we should welcome help to send our children to private school. No thanks. Where are these horrible public schools voucher supporters keep referencing?
Thursday, August 16, 2007
The methods and ideas surrounding inquiry all bring me back to constructivism. Did inquiry learning come out of constructivism? Or is it the same theory repackaged?
I've been putting together a kickstarter unit- Mind Your Brain- on the learning brain for my new eighth graders. At this point, I'm in danger of losing my focus in the process of planning it (too much stuff!). And snap!
That's learning lure #1- offering new knowledge. I'll show students new ways to use technology, and then let them play with it. I'll widen their knowledge base with facts and trivia. Thanks to Ed Darrell's mother at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub for her idea of using Trivial Pursuit cards. We'll dig into topics of interest and keep asking questions.
Which brings me to learning lure #2- show where to get more. My mind immediately jumps to technology. Chris Sloan at Sloanspace points out the uses of Google Reader to promote inquiry.
Inquiry and technology seem to be perfectly paired for encouraging brains at play. I myself would love to stay and play, but right now my brain demands rest. This is definitely a topic I'll be returning to, though. And if any reader out there can point me in some good directions, I'd certainly appreciate it.
Friday, August 10, 2007
I'm not getting those dreams this summer. This is odd. Normally, for me, they start three weeks after school lets out. This summer, not a thing. I think I know why.
I am starting over this year, new grade, new curriculum, three preps (my school just switched from middle to junior high). I think I'm having the dreams because I'm living them. I really am walking into a classroom to teach an unfamiliar subject to 8th graders who will likely mutiny.
I feel (and I'm not alone in this) that despite the numbers of hours I've put in over the summer, I'm staring up at a gravel mountain of work. Every time I try to climb up, I slide back down.
Of course, I tell myself that things will be okay. I know these kids. I taught them in sixth grade. I am excited about my new curriculum. I have gotten a lot of work done. I have some fun new tech-toys.
Is it a bad idea, though, to ask for one teensy little nightmare? Just an old standard, to show my pysched-out pysche that this year really is no different, that I will be completely rejuvinated once I meet those kids and parents on Back to School night.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
As an English teacher, my curriculum mostly consists of teaching students to read and write well. What they read and write about varies. How are these skills measured? Right now, by multiple-choice tests heavy on synonym-antonym questions- one of the few things in the English core that can be easily tested using a bubble sheet.
A true measure of testing writing ability is to have the students write. And we do. The state writing test gives the students 45 minutes to pencil out a 1.5 page persuasive essay with these characteristics. Each year, I wave goodbye to the tests, never to hear from them again. Honestly, I don't blame the state office of education. It must be a nightmare getting all those papers graded.
Which brings us to the central issue, doesn't it? Assessment needs to be better, more meaningful, than endless bubble sheets on synonyms and antonyms. But bubble sheets take so much less time and effort to grade.
I don't see how you could pay an English teacher based on his or her performance without a lot of time and effort. You would need to establish that students read and write better on exit than they did on entrance. (I do that myself, of course, but my classroom data doesn't count in any of the perfomance pay models I've seen). I'd like to believe that it can be done. Even more so, I'd like to believe that we as a society are willing to invest that time and effort.
This post began as a reaction to this post at Building the Teaching Profession.
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
I'm a Utah teacher, but I've never met Kim Burningham. Now I really want to. He heads the Utah Board of Education and it sounds like he doesn't take any crap. Despite that, Rep John Dougall kept throwing some around:
"He's full of crap," says Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, of Burningham's fears of separation. "He's naive if he believes that. Vouchers will undo a lot of the segregation that already exists in the public schools. When you are free to go to any school you want, that will eliminate any segregation."Huh? Since when are voucher students free to go to any school they want? You mean a school they still can't afford, even with a voucher? You mean a school that could turn them away due to poor academic performance or attendance? You mean a school that may just be full already? Those schools? Since when do private schools accept everyone who walks through the door? One of the slickest myths the pro-voucher folks have sold is that a voucher gives a parent an automatic ticket to a private school. Parents don't choose private schools- private schools choose the parents.
Speaking of slick, check out Rep. Steve Urquhart's comments: "Public education is doing a wonderful job, but it's a huge system. It's going to have a few things fall through the cracks. If a wealthy kid is falling through the cracks, his parents can save him. I want the same thing for poor parents."
Urquhart saves himself a lot of grief by discarding the most controversial free-market rhetoric. But does his watered-down version match the souped-up bill? If he wants vouchers mainly for poor parents in the inner city, why is this a state-wide bill? Really, how much inner city does Utah have? Probably as much as the number of private schools- very, very little.
My very favorite part- when Dougall called the referendum a "travesty of the law." A representative bashing a petition that got Utahns involved in their government in a way never before seen. Nice.
Almost anyone who is in a public school classroom today would agree that tests are becoming the point. If our teaching performance were to be evaluated according to our students’ test scores, tests would become the point once and for all. . . . And yet my inner Billy Beane asks, "Given that the tests are far from perfect and given that you have limited control over student performance, aren’t students supposed to learn knowledge and skills in your classroom? Is there a better statistic to evaluate your performance by than your students’ test scores?" Not really.
“Any education reform that requires all teachers to be Jaimie Escalante isn’t really an education reform.” Goldstein conceded that point, but contended that schools need to be restructured to be more accommodating toward those teachers who are willing – in his words – “to pull an Escalante.”
I have increased my ability to do many things that count in the classroom, but I have lost in some other areas, particularly my willingness to devote more than 50 hours a week to my students’ academic success. Most veterans are like that. If we are entering an era where the most valuable asset a teacher has to offer is not experience, but rather a willingness to work killer hours, then teachers will actually become less valuable later in their careers, when their capacity for long hours diminishes. How long before the powers that be get wise, recognize me as the ass-dragging fossil that I am, and cut my salary?
Well, Jim, I am the killer-work-hour young teacher and I have the same fears. How long before someone realizes that my 60-hours weeks don't result in educational miracles (even the 70- or 80-hour weeks don't)? How long before I get sick of working them?
Eduwonk responds here with a link to an article subtitled- "America's public schools are failing." Hmph. (And you have to create an account to read it- more hmph.)
Monday, August 6, 2007
I am excited about using these podcasts in my classroom (somehow):
The Princeton Review Vocab Minute
Radio WillowWeb- as an excellent example of what can be done.
Teacher Created Materials- they just got started podcasting, but good stuff so far!
Reading Rockets Interviews- Meet the Author
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Also looks interesting: TeacherCast- the News Hour Podcast with Jim Lehrer
I'm looking at Driving Questions, but my home PC doesn't like Itunes video much. I'll have to wait.
You can subscribe to any of these podcasts with Itunes. Just open Itunes, go to the podcasts section, and these are in the top 100. Or just search for them.
Click on subscribe, and they'll send all the new podcasts to you automatically (for free, of course).
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Anybody who believes the system is completely broken has not spent much time in suburban private and public schools occupied by the children of the great American middle class. I have compared the ratings of private and public high schools on the AP and IB participation index I use in Newsweek and the Washington Post, and there are no significant differences between schools of similar socioeconomic characters. This is true, by the way, on both the top and bottom of the socioeconomic scale, although of course we cannot go too far down the scale because there are very few private schools that cater to low-income children. Upper middle class kids are learning a lot more than upper middle class kids of my generation. Any parent with kids in AP or IB knows that. The stagnation is in the middle, among average kids of average income not being challenged, and low income kids. But sending them to private schools won't help, since the private schools at that income level do not do any better.
Those stagnant educational outcomes over the last few decades are true, but not the result of schools getting worse. Instead, the number of poor and minority test takers---particularly immigrants---has been growing, pulling down the average on tests like the SAT that used to be given mostly to white boys with college educated parents like me. If you simply look at the level of learning in our best suburban public schools and our most selective colleges these days, producing a boom of bright executives in a dozen new industries, you can see that we middle class types are doing well with the schools we have. We don't need vouchers, which is one more barrier in the way of their future growth.
There is nothing about the way private schools teach that is noticeably better than the way public schools teach, which leads me to fear that a rapid growth of voucher schools would be as disappointing in many cases as the rapid growth of charters. . . .And the latest federal mega-study on this issue seems to buttress the notion that public and private schools produce pretty much the same results when they have the same kids. [link added]
After studying privately donated tuition programs in three cities, a team of voucher proponents recently announced that poor children who transferred to private schools succeed. But data on which they relied show only that some black transfer students scored higher. Others did not. Hispanic students did no better in private schools than in public ones.
More evidence that the Utah voucher debate is about ideology, not reality.
Read Rothstein's piece for the Economic Policy Institute for more.
Link to this report from the Utah State Office of Education to check public school demographics.
- Public education is failing; the quality of education has declined.
- Public schools waste money; private schools will teach them efficiency.
- Competition will improve the public schools.
- Parents are best equipped to make choices regarding their child's education.
- Vouchers create a variety of schooling options.
These reasons do not hold true in Utah.
#1: Public education is not failing in Utah. Utah has some of the best schools in the country. In Measuring Up: The National Report Card on Higher Education, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gives Utah an A in preparing its students for college (Utah is one of only seven states given that highest rank). Utah has the nation's top graduation rate- 84% (and even more exceptional, that number doesn't vary based on who's reporting it- the state, the US Dept. of Education, or Education Week).
#2: Public schools will never be as cheap to run as private schools unless they cut mandated programs. I can tell you how Utah public education "wastes" taxpayer dollars: free lunch programs, school nurses, school psychologists, busing, computers, and other needless things. A public school will always cost more to run than a private school. If that idea is so bothersome, why do the same legislators who push for vouchers push for more services to be offered at public schools? If we have to test the kids in every subjet, provide for needy students, a keep a staff of paraprofessionals, etc, how can we operate more cheaply than a school that does none of those things? This argument for vouchers may be on its way out.
#2: Utah the most "efficient" public school system in the nation. Utah still maintains the lowest per-pupil spending. So in terms of public education, we do the most with the least.
#3: Intelligent and targeted help, not competition, will improve Utah schools and school districts. We know what makes a good school: good teachers, high standards, parental support, and adequate resources. If you want to improve Utah schools, then you must ensure those things (and lowering class sizes would be really, really lovely). Why trust that competition will make our problems disappear, when we have viable solutions within our grasp? As to the arguments about how Milwaukee vouchers improved public school quality, I'll let Martin Conroy speak to that:
The evidence for vouchers’ positive competition effects on public schools is just as weak. This goes both for Chile, where, after 26 years of vouchers, 47 percent of students now attend private schools, and for the United States. Belfield and Levin review a whole series of studies in the U.S. and come to the conclusion that if there is a competition effect on public schools, it is very small. Carolyn Hoxby estimates sizable gains in public school test scores in Milwaukee after the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision of 1998 opened the doors to using vouchers in religious schools. But as I show in an upcoming study, this was a one-time only effect, and may or may not have been due to increased competition from private voucher schools. Milwaukee is an interesting case because traditional public schools face competition not just from lots of private voucher schools, but from charters, public magnet schools, suburban schools, and, with open enrollment, from other public neighborhood schools. After an initial jump in test scores, Milwaukee’s public school students did not make further gains in their academic performance over the next seven years even as competition increased.
Read the rest of his post on vouchers, it is excellent.
#4: Parents should be making the choices regarding their child's education. Yes. Definitely. Voucher advocates make it sound like schools rip the little ones out of their parents' arms and whisk them away without a backward glance. No one in Utah forces a parent to send their child to a particular school. Parents can home school, co-op, go to private school, or transfer to any public school of their choice. That’s right, Utah has open enrollment. Any parent coming to my school has eight other options within ten miles. How is that not choice?
It may be a good time for a side note on supply and demand. If parents demand a choice (and if choice can only be truly defined as a private school), why are there not more private schools in Utah? Surely we can afford them- have you seen the houses here. So why such little demand? Twenty-one out of twenty-nine counties do not have even one private school. My district serves 25,000 students and has only one private school. Only 2.8% of Utah children attend private schools, compared with 10% nationally. Maybe the demand for good schools has already been met by
#5 Public, not private, schools are known for variety. We need a variety of schooling options. Kids and parents need to find where they fit best. Innovation and variety have long been the hallmarks of Utah public schools, though. It's the public school system that has created math and engineering-focused charter schools and arts magnet schools. It's the public school system that offers more AP and IB programs. It's the public school system that offers more concurrent college enrollment courses. In my town, the public high school even runs its own TV and radio station! It's also the public schools that attract the teachers most likely and most able to differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of various children.
So why vouchers for Utah? The only reason left seems to be that some people really, really want it. That tells me that creating a voucher program in Utah is more about justifying some peoples' ideology than about meeting any practical needs. And while everyone likes getting what they want, let's focus our state money on giving ourselves what we need. We don't need vouchers.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Some of these artists are the same as on Columbus's Ipod. Dufay, Desprez, Ockeghem were the most famous composers of their time, and so their music would have been more widespread.
The music in Italy at the time was moving from frottolas to early madrigals, so any examples of these musical forms would also work well.
Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)
Heinrich Isaac (c.1450-1517)
Josquin Desprez (c.1455-1521)
Johannes Ockeghem (c.1410-1497)
Antoine Busnoys (c.1430-1492)
Alexander Agricola (1446-1506)
Jacob Obrecht (1457/8-1505)
Bartolomeo Tromboncino (1470-1535)
Marchetto Cara (1470-1525)
Filippo de Lurano (1475-1520)
Philippe Verdelot (1480?-1532?)