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First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our
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September 4, 2008
How “the rich get richer” in reading for understanding
In response to yesterday's post about the Core Knowledge Reading Program, reader Smith asks, Is he saying their is a core set of content that would prepare a student to understand a randomly selected reading passage on a standardized test? Could someone explain this idea to a non-ELA teacher? I’ve always assumed those reading passages could range from “The Mysteries of Ancient Egpyt” to “Sally’s Bad Day at School” to “Roger’s Time Machine Adventure”. How is content selected? Great question. It's true that the content of test reading passages varies, and I don't think anyone believes that a child can be prepared with content knowledge specific to every possible topic. Rather, some children enter school knowing thousands more words than others, and this difference compounds over years of schooling in a "rich get richer" scenario called the "Matthew Effect" by researchers. (Don't take my word for it: this study, one of many, found that by age 3, children of parents with smaller vocabularies not only knew fewer words, used fewer words per hour, and used a smaller variety of words per hour, "but they were also adding words more slowly.") Hirsch summarized this effect in a 2006 article in American Educator: Many specialists estimate that a child (or an adult) needs to understand a minimum of 90 percent of the words in a passage in order to understand the passage and thus begin to learn the other 10 percent of the words. Moreover, it’s not just the words that the student has to grasp the meaning of—it’s also the kind of reality that the words are referring to.... When a child doesn’t understand those word meanings and those referred-to realities, being good at sounding out words is a dead end. Reading becomes a kind of Catch-22: In order to become better at reading with understanding, you already have to be able to read with understanding.
September 3, 2008
E.D. Hirsch: Content knowledge “terribly important for social justice”
A week after Sol Stern argued in City Journal that New York City should create an office of reading improvement and provide low class sizes and scientifically-based reading instruction in high-poverty, low-scoring schools, the DOE announced a new reading initiative: teachers at 10 pilot schools will implement the new Core Knowledge Reading Program (CKRP) in grades K-2. Education historian Diane Ravitch wrote in favor of the program in the Post on Monday, saying it's a smarter choice than the "unproven" Balanced Literacy curriculum that Klein introduced in 2003. "Balanced Literacy doesn't stress content knowledge, vocabulary or phonics. And we now know that it didn't work," she says, citing flat reading scores on the 4th and 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). What will the new reading program look like?
September 3, 2008
Reading, writing, and riding: Getting to school in an era of fear
The award for most sensational start-of-school headline goes to the Associated Press, which asks, "Back-to-school, but how? Parents fear walking, bus." Photo courtesy of ##http://www.livablestreets.com/streetswiki##Streetswiki## Compared with all of the stresses of returning to school — making friends, encountering a new teacher, getting more homework — walking doesn't seem like too serious of a problem. Still, decisions about how to get to school are major ones in many families, and they can be fraught with fear. The AP article describes how parents across the country eschew walking or biking for their children because they fear abduction and unsafe streets. Even here in New York, where kids learn how to navigate public transportation from an early age, many parents are apprehensive about putting their kids on a city bus alone each morning. Last year, New York Sun columnist Lenore Skenazy made waves when she let her then-9-year-old son find his way home alone from Midtown Manhattan, with only a Metrocard and subway map for guidance; some critics even accused her of child abuse. Skenazy appears at the end of the AP article, explaining that her son usually walks home from school on his own both out of necessity — his parents are at work when school lets out — and because she wants to take a stand against the culture of fear that has permeated parenting.
September 2, 2008
A snapshot of Brooklyn Tech on the first day of school
Scenes this morning from around the perimeter of Brooklyn Tech, the huge specialized high school located in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood, highlight the…
August 29, 2008
It’s Friday, just show a video: Back to school in the Blackboard Jungle
An Oscar-nominated take on teaching in NYC, and one of Sidney Poitier’s early films.
August 26, 2008
Words of wisdom for teachers from around the web
What does NBA player Tim Duncan have to do with teaching? ##http://thejosevilson.com/blog/2008/08/05/a-letter-to-a-new-nyc-teaching-fellow/##It's all about the poker face, says Jose Vilson.## The start of school is fast-approaching, and teachers around the "edusphere" are offering advice to newbies. Here in NYC, Jose Vilson writes a sharp, good-humored letter to new Teaching Fellows, advising them to be humble, reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, observe other teachers, keep emotions in check, and stay out of school politics. Coach Brown, starting his eighth year in California, says it's all about doing what's best for kids, and this takes hard work, preparation, finding your own style of teaching, and knowing how to pick your battles. Don't waste your students' time, he warns: Students are some of the best judges of good teaching that exist. 95% of all students actually want to learn. They tell you in means that are not typical but will tell you immediately if you are doing it "wrong". ...However, students will always have a positive response to work they find meaningful. Jamie Huston, a high school literature teacher in Las Vegas, offers 50 Things New Teachers Need to Know.
August 26, 2008
New strategy for middle school engagement: iPods for all
iPod Touch by ##http://flickr.com/photos/rohdesign/##Mike Rohde## Looks like I was born too soon — my middle school is considering giving an iPod touch to…
August 25, 2008
Department of Education welcomes teachers
<em>The PS 22 Chorus performing last year at the Tribute WTC Museum. Courtesy of ##http://ps22chorus.blogspot.com##PS 22 Chorus##</em> "A week from tomorrow, the games begin," Chancellor Joel Klein told an audience of a few hundred teachers at a welcome event this morning at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. Speaking of New York City students as "my kids," Klein encouraged teachers to "teach them well and they will do well on these exams." In addition to speeches by Klein, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, and others, the event featured performances by city students, including the music of the PS 22 chorus from Staten Island, double dutch by Stan's Pepper Steppers, and foxtrot, swing, and mambo by the Dancing Classrooms Youth Dance Company. Pointing to the accomplishments of his fifth grade choristers, music teacher and chorus director Gregg Breinberg told the audience, "I know many of you are entering the profession, and I just want to tell you — reach, reach, reach." Other speakers echoed that message of high expectations for students — and for oneself as a teacher. "Quite frankly, we don't have room for so-so teachers, we don't have room for that mediocrity in our schools," Deputy Chancellor Marcia Lyles said. She recalled the way her sixth grade teacher made each child feel like her favorite. Lyles honored 33 teachers chosen for the Gotham Graduates Give Back Award, a $1,000 prize given to select teachers who graduated from New York City public schools.
August 22, 2008
It’s Friday, just show a video: School Day
A little rock’n’roll as summer comes to a close……
August 21, 2008
How do you decide what’s developmentally appropriate?
How do you know when something is developmentally appropriate? asks the Science Goddess. My first thought was, I'll bet Daniel T. Willingham has addressed this one. Willingham, from the University of Virginia, writes a regular column in American Educator called "Ask the Cognitive Scientist," and sure enough, his column this summer asks, "What is developmentally appropriate practice?" Willingham writes that research has disproved some key assumptions behind the "developmentally appropriate" concept. The problem is that cognitive development does not seem amenable to a simple descriptive set of principles that teachers can use to guide their instruction. Far from proceeding in discrete stages with pervasive effects, cognitive development appears to be quite variable--depending on the child, the task, even the day (since children may solve a problem correctly one day and incorrectly the next).
August 21, 2008
An interactive whiteboard for the DIY teacher
(And really, what other kind of teacher is there?) Via DC Education Blog, instructions for making your own interactive whiteboard using a Wiimote, an…
August 21, 2008
More resources for creating a safe, productive school environment
With the start of the school year fast approaching, and the list of "persistently dangerous" schools released yesterday by the state, student behavior is on the mind of many educators and parents. New and returning teachers alike plan procedures and systems to help their students focus on learning, and many wonder how they will be supported as they try to create a positive classroom environment. Class rules, <em>by ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindah/113841605/##LindaH##</em> In response to last week's post about restorative justice, a reader sent me a link to the Dignity In Schools website, which includes an annotated list of resources for schools that want to implement strong, positive behavior management systems, improve family involvement, and make schools safer. Worth a look; I could imagine whole schools or grade teams coming together to study and implement some of these ideas.
August 20, 2008
Wanted: An urban planning activist-educator for LivableStreets.com
Anyone who’s spent time observing children watch “Sesame Street” or “Blue’s Clues” knows that kids enjoy learning most when topics are made fun for…
August 15, 2008
Restorative justice: An alternative method to make schools safer?
Yesterday's Student Safety Act rally brings to light the need to explore alternatives to policing for making schools safer. Few would dispute the need for school safety agents to handle the most serious incidents of violence, but what options exist for resolving the low-level incidents that characterize many school environments and make students feel unsafe on a day-to-day basis? Could school safety agents and others in schools play a different role in resolving conflicts? Finally, how can schools prevent problems and resolve underlying issues? This post takes a look at one possibility — expect more in coming weeks. What is restorative justice? An article about restorative justice in Rethinking Schools describes what happened when a student who broke a window at Humanities Prep in Manhattan went before the school's "Fairness Committee": During that session, the members of the committee found out that the day before he broke the window, his family received notice that they were being kicked out of their shelter and had no place to go. While this did not fully excuse his actions, we were able to discuss more fully and fairly what the consequences should be, as well as discuss more constructive ways to deal with anger. We jointly decided that he needed to give back to the school community in some way. Knowing that it would be ridiculous to ask a student who was homeless to pay for the window, we all agreed he would help answer the phone after school for a month. In the meantime, his advisor and the school social worker were able to reach out to his family and offer support. If the fairness committee had been a systematic, rigid mechanism, we would not have been able to brainstorm these solutions. "Restorative justice" refers to interventions like that conference that facilitate discussion among the offending student, those harmed by his or her actions, and others with significant relationships to either the victim or offender, such as family members. The process seeks to make the offender aware of the harm he or she has caused, take responsibility for it, and try to repair that harm to the extent possible by making reparation to the victim or community.
August 13, 2008
Online student-teacher friendships: pedagogically sound or just too risky?
Research shows that when teachers develop personal connections with their students, often by sharing information about their personal experiences and feelings, their…
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