June 28, 2012

Teach students how to choose the right books

With a little help from Nancie Atwell's The Reading Zone, I started teaching my students how to categorize books, and it's been great for them. Teach your students the 5-finger test and book categories, and watch them flourish.

June 27, 2012

Learning for learning's sake

Photo credit: The Learning Institute
Several times, I've commented on posts at Joanne Jacobs' blog that a teacher's ultimate goal should be to create a love of learning in students.

Students should want to learn for learning's sake -- not because I tell them to learn something and certainly not for a grade.

My contention that creating a lifelong love of learning is paramount is often a point of contention in the blogosphere.

"Why should creating independent learners be the ultimate goal in education?" one inquisitive reader recently asked.

This seems so easy that I'm amazed by the question.

Is there another, better, goal for teachers?

June 26, 2012

Why can't change be this easy?

This video by my friend, Angela Maiers, will clarify the question asked in the title of this post.

So, why can't it be this easy?

June 23, 2012

Am I an awful teacher or a great one?

The new trend in public education is to measure teacher accountability, based on standardized test results. Using this year's results, the state of Ohio must deem me an awful teacher. Wait a minute, Ohio must think I'm a great teacher. Hmm., which am I?

The list of problems with this ill-conceived system is far too long to place in one blog  post, so I'll discuss the one issue that would top the list that makes teacher accountability based on a test impossible.

I call this issue, uncontrollable factors.

For example, one of my students who failed the reading test -- solely my fault, according to the state of Ohio -- had many personal problems that severely minimized her interest in language arts and other subjects. She missed 25 days of school. She was suspended from school four times. She received 14 grades of D or F on her report card throughout the year. Her parents never responded to any of my innumerable calls during the second half of the year.

While my average student read 28 books during the school year, she read two.What could possibly motivate this child to put in her best effort on a two and a half hour reading test?

Conversely, I have many students who scored close to perfect on the reading test. They are avid readers, scholar-athletes, student government leaders and have marvelous parents who encourage a love of  learning both in and out of school. According to the state of Ohio, I am solely responsible for their fine efforts on the achievement test.

I have little, if any, control over the out-of-class lives of either the poor students or the excellent ones.

So, am I an awful teacher or am I a great one?

June 19, 2012

Race to nowhere touts new homework policy

This remarkable video will be presented by the organization Race to Nowhere to the National PTA. Readers here know my feelings on homework, but this video does a remarkable job of summing up my opinions on the deleterious effects of homework on our children.

June 15, 2012

Five reasons I hate the Common Core

It seems that educators and bureaucrats nationwide are putting every spin possible on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), in an effort to get teachers to accept the idea that the common core movement will revolutionize education. I, for one, am not buying this. In fact, I'll give you five reasons I hate the common core.

5 -- Common Core State Standards discourage creativity. Teachers have been teaching X + Y = Z forever. However, the way a teacher in Ohio teaches it will, in most cases, be far different from how a teacher in Florida teaches it. Isn't this what makes education unique and interesting?
4 -- Common Core State Standards discourage reading fiction - By 2015, the goal is that 70 percent of what students read will be nonfiction. A love of reading helps students learn. My 105 students read over 3,000 books this school year. Eighty percent of those were novels.
3 -- Common Core State Standards narrow the curriculum - It's difficult to explore the nuances of a subject, when you are chained to a book of standards that administrators say must be taught in one 9-month school year.
2 -- Common Core State Standards are poorly written - This is a second-grade standard:
"Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section."
Seriously? Did a second-grader write this?
1 -- Common Core State Standards are unnecessary - The notions that accountability is necessary and that students are achieving less than in past years are created by bureaucrats and encouraged by the publishing lobby. College enrollment was at an all-time high in 2009 and is holding steady in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fewer students are dropping out of high school now than they did prior to No Child Left Behind. So, why do we need Common Core State Standards? Could it be to build the coffers of the publishing companies, who create the "teach-to-the-test" tutorial programs?

This is cross posted at ASCD Edge

June 6, 2012

Promotion with honors

Today, the eighth graders at the junior high where I teach participated in a promotion ceremony. The band  played, students delivered speeches and everyone paraded up to the podium to greet teachers and administrators when their names were announced to a capacity crowd.

I  had the distinct pleasure of calling the roll, a simple task, as long as you don't miss the designations of "M" and "H" at the end of many surnames.

A student with an "H" is promoted "with honors," meaning her GPA was 3.5 or higher. The "M's" are "with merit."

As I announced the names, in my best emcee voice, I wondered what inflection I should use for an "average" student (no H) and an "Honors Student." Should I use a monotone voice for the riffraff that dared to march with student royalty? Perhaps a pregnant pause, prior to shouting "With Honors," in my best vibrato.

In the end, I decided to use the same voice for all students. After all, I couldn't see a difference in them, before the medals were handed out.

June 4, 2012

Homework rants

As one school year ends and talk of another begins, I'm already wondering how I can convince my colleagues that assigning traditional nightly homework is a waste of time and a practice that has absolutely no effect on achievement.

Thought I'd begin here:
 Don't worry, if this doesn't sway them, I've got more.

June 1, 2012

Why are reluctant learners better at self-evaluation?

The school year is ending, and we're completing our final self-evaluations for a report card grade. Throughout the marking period, I conference with students about their activities and projects and leave plenty of narrative feedback. There are no number or letter grades. At the end of the grading period, I ask students to complete a self-evaluation, reviewing their work and assigning an appropriate report card grade.

Although most students come remarkably close to the grade I would have provided, some are so conditioned to the value of grades that they overvalue their work and give themselves inaccurate grades.

Surprisingly, my most reluctant learners almost never do this.

They are the most honest, when it comes to self-evaluation, while honors-level students are the ones who may tend to "stretch" the grade. There is something strange about this. Most people who know I allow my students to grad themselves believe that students who have suffered through years  of D's and F's are the first to give themselves A's and B's. This is not the case at all, according to my own experience.

So, why are reluctant learners better at self-evaluation.